Rubin

"Rob Zacny" on Alpha Centauri

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Yeah, SMAC definitely grew into that 98 it got from PC Gamer. The more time that has gone by, the more I’ve appreciated the game’s atmosphere, story, and intelligence.

 

What I really found haunting about the game was that it was fundamentally subverting your experience. You approached it like a Civilization game, researching techs to unlock new units and make your faction wealthier, smarter, more productive, and all the other things we assume to be goods. In Civ, that may hold true. But not in Alpha Centauri.

 

Somewhere along the line it dawns on you that while you’re making progress and winning the game, the society you are building is a nightmare. Dissidents are nerve-stapled. Science has broken all of its ethical boundaries. The bodies of the dead are a resource. Minds are routinely invaded and fused to machines. Your character, the faction leader, never dies and must go on existing for all time.

 

And if you win, the chances are that you will ultimately lose as Planet rallies to eliminate the human plague. If you get the correct victory (transcendence), you complete the process that has been happening since Turn 1: humanity ceases to be human.

 

This is one of the responses to the Planetfall review at Flashofsteel.

 

I find this reply oddly resounding.

 

In a nutshell, this is what Alpha Centauri is all about--stripped of its thematic bonds to the Civilization series. The launch of the U.N.S. Unity marks the start of the end of humanity; at least, as we perceive it.

 

For a few years, I've been tumbling with the premises of Alpha Centauri. Here's the "opening" quote:

 

EARTH 2060

A small group of colonists leaves the ravages of Earth for a distant planet orbiting Alpha Centauri’s primary star. Their ship, the United Nations Starship Unity, carries them on their journey to a new world and a new hope for human kind.

 

Along the way, a reactor malfunction damages the Unity, precipitating a crisis among the ship’s seven most powerful leaders. As they enter the Alpha Centauri System, the crew splits into seven distinct factions, divided not by nationality but by ideology and their vision for the new world.

 

After the ship breaks apart, the seven leaders guide their chosen crew down to the surface of Planet, seeking their destiny beneath an alien sky.

 

Is this Civilization in space? No, but that is very easy to miss.

 

It's actually so simple that I overlooked it for many years: Humans are not just abandoning Earth, they are abandoning defining traits of "contemporary humanity"--the most remarkable one being attachment to human history. While human history still a plays role, it is significantly insignificant! The absolute detachment from Earth civilization didn't occur to me for many years.

 

The "new hope" is really a new beginning; nationality does not apply anymore. The evolved(sic!) human species now rally around ideologies. What does this imply? Well, the stupid individuals (the rabble) have been taken out of the equation, and we are dealing with superior psychological traits for defining a community. Power is no longer a physical factor, rather it is a psychological trait.

 

When the definition of humanity shifts from a physical existence to a refined mental endeavor, I would conclude that humanity, as we know it, ceases to exist. The whole point of transcending in the game is to detach (and get rid of) the physical part of existence.

 

With the launch of Civ4, I asked some SMAC fans about Civ4. This response (as simple as it is) really made me think:

 

Half-dressed well muscled men don't do it for me: gotta have that environmental suit with the rebreather and phase plasma rifle!

 

This illustrates the schisma between the physical and the mental. SMAC/X fans, like most Civilization fans, get a kick out of power--but not physical power. SMAC/X fans get turned on by the mental or intellectual superiority to signify power. ...and maybe ideally, the power to detach ourselves from the mundane trivialities and embark on a journey to the stars to find the answers. A detachment from historical humanity to find freedom in the idealistic potential of humanity!

 

Basically, I agree with Rob Zacny, except that I think he should loosen up on the ethical restaints and re-evaluate the "nightmare" vision.

 

Is the Alpha Centauri setting a nightmare or the ultimate dream?

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Is the Alpha Centauri setting a nightmare or the ultimate dream?

 

Let's see. Fungus. Mindworms that caused an extremely unpleasant death. Miriam. Yang. Morgan.

 

It is the ultimate nightmare.

 

Although Alpha Centauri is considered a sci fi game, it is more a horror game.

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It depends on how you like to play it. None of this reflects how I play. My faction is ethical, if a teeny bit ruthless, and evolves at the end.

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It depends on how you like to play it. None of this reflects how I play. My faction is ethical' date=' if a teeny bit ruthless, and [i']evolves[/i] at the end.

 

Care to elaborate on that?

 

If you by "ethical" mean no punishment spheres or nerve stapling or nerve gas--or simply no Yang(!), does this mean that you serve Planet... or humanity? How you like to play it?

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If you by "ethical" mean no punishment spheres or nerve stapling or nerve gas--or simply no Yang(!), does this mean that you serve Planet... or humanity? How you like to play it?

 

Is it ethical to plant forests in a native ecosystem?

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Care to elaborate on that?

 

If you by "ethical" mean no punishment spheres or nerve stapling or nerve gas--or simply no Yang(!), does this mean that you serve Planet... or humanity? How you like to play it?

I play it something like I like to think I'd behave in real life. Nothing that would make my mother ashamed of me; so none of those things and I serve humanity.

 

The quote in the OP simply doesn't apply to my experience of the saga.

Is it ethical to plant forests in a native ecosystem?

This is a complex issue, but I suppose I came down on the fair use (exploitation) of nature side when I boarded the starship. I had no business making the trip just to suffocate or die, and no going there at all if it wasn't to make a home.

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Is it ethical to plant forests in a native ecosystem?

 

Is it unethical to change the ecosystem to one that better serves humanity's needs?

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On an alien planet?

 

Isn't that the same argument that allowed European settlers (oops, are you European?:)) to exploit the New World and drive out the indigenous population?

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What would you do after landing on Planet (or America's shores, whatever)? Roll over and die?

 

 

Partially I'm playing devil's advocate. I'm wondering how people would actually envision 'living in harmony with Planet'? How does that work concretely? Is it possible at all?

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I never said I was ethical.

 

However, look at the Gaians or the Cult.

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Is it unethical to change the ecosystem to one that better serves humanity's needs?

 

That's one of the points of this thread. Humanity's needs are no longer tied to our "usual" interpretation. Define humanity's needs in the Alpha Centauri setting--you cannot just revert to "Earth dogmas" on this. That's far too cheap. ([Edit] and basically missing the whole point.)

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[...]

 

The quote in the OP simply doesn't apply to my experience of the saga.

 

This is a complex issue' date=' but I suppose I came down on the fair use (exploitation) of nature side when I boarded the starship. I had no business making the trip just to suffocate or die, and no going there at all if it wasn't to make a home.[/quote']

 

Very interesting! So, do you belong to the group that thinks the sentient "Planet" (and fungus, mind worms, etc.) should be exterminated or contained?

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That's one of the points of this thread. Humanity's needs are no longer tied to our "usual" interpretation. Define humanity's needs in the Alpha Centauri setting--you cannot just revert to "Earth dogmas" on this. That's far too cheap.

 

Perhaps faction-to-faction diplomacy might be more based on ideology, but faction-versus-Planet certainly not. Especially in the early years on Planet, it would be raw survival, a focus on physical needs. It's us against the mindworms!

 

([Edit] and basically missing the whole point.)

 

I don't know what your intentions are for this thread.

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Perhaps faction-to-faction diplomacy might be more based on ideology, but faction-versus-Planet certainly not. Especially in the early years on Planet, it would be raw survival, a focus on physical needs. It's us against the mindworms!

 

I think survival is one aspect of humanity we cannot ignore. Today, we'd like to preserve predators (lions, for example), but that is due to a shift in survival (lions no longer cause a threat).

 

I don't know what your intentions are for this thread.

 

"When the definition of humanity shifts from a physical existence to a refined mental endeavor, I would conclude that humanity, as we know it, ceases to exist."

 

As such, values of (secular?) humanity cannot be regarded. We'd have to make up a new set of values, a new paradigm for humanity.

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You want to discuss the meaning of life? :D

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You want to discuss the meaning of life? :D

 

Haha, no! I want to discuss, among a few things, the philosophical point of Alpha Cenaturi; in particular with regards to humanity in the eyes of the player.

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I think if you play Gaians and you refrain from planting forests which crowd out fungus and you research the centauri techs, you are being ethical with regard to Planet.

 

If you only attack when attacked, then you are ethical in your dealings with the other factions.

 

When you reach transcend, you will be ethical but no longer human ...

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Very interesting! So, do you belong to the group that thinks the sentient "Planet" (and fungus, mind worms, etc.) should be exterminated or contained?
No, I play green (red) factions by preference going back many years- and I suppose I never thought much about it. Gaians are the default faction, and Diedre the most pleasant leader to look at- all by design, in my opinion. Reaching an accomodation with Planet is clearly the most enlightened victory, in the context of the game. None of which I could have expected when I boarded the ship- though clearly the Gaians think ecological harmony is necessary to the long-term survival of man in his surrondings, surely from a bad example of man's place on Earth when they left.

 

I was replying to vyeh's ethical question with practicalities. No, it's not right to **** up the native life on another Planet, but I gotta have food in my belly before I have the luxury of worrying about **** like that.

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Gaians start with 2 nutrients for each fungal square...

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...And I play Gaian, so maybe I have the luxury of worrying...

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Is the Alpha Centauri setting a nightmare or the ultimate dream?

 

Somehow, we got into ethics. Is it a nightmare or a dream?

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No' date=' I play green (red) factions by preference going back many years- and I suppose I never thought much about it. Gaians are the default faction, and Diedre the most pleasant leader to look at- all by design, in my opinion. Reaching an accomodation with Planet is clearly the most enlightened victory, in the context of the game. None of which I could have expected when I boarded the ship- though clearly the Gaians think ecological harmony is necessary to the long-term survival of man in his surrondings, surely from a bad example of man's place on Earth when they left.

 

I was replying to vyeh's ethical question with practicalities. No, it's not right to **** up the native life on another Planet, but I gotta have food in my belly before I have the luxury of worrying about **** like that.[/quote']

 

What am I reading from this is "harmony" and "peace"--even if the result is ceasing to be human (i.e. transcending)? For a human mind, I think, giving up on humanity is similar to suicide (or in this case genocide); much like we try to preserve species just because they are "species"--and killing them off is a bad thing.

 

Transcending may be wonderful, but are you willing to sacrifice "humanity" for this? Even if this involves all humans on Alpha Cenatauri? My point is that the Alpha Centauri setting leads to the end of humanity and the beginning of "transcendence" (at all costs).

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Somehow, we got into ethics. Is it a nightmare or a dream?

 

For me it's a dream. It's grand, epic- the evolution of mankind, with me in the driver's seat.

 

I only claim that would be a dream for me...

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Transcending may be wonderful, but are you willing to sacrifice "humanity" for this?

 

When a boy becomes a man, do we say the boy has died?

 

Giving up humanity may be akin to giving up childishness (and I am making no implication about you).

 

I see transcendence as akin to enlightenment.

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What am I reading from this is "harmony" and "peace"--even if the result is ceasing to be human (i.e. transcending)? For a human mind, I think, giving up on humanity is similar to suicide (or in this case genocide); much like we try to preserve species just because they are "species"--and killing them off is a bad thing.

 

Transcending may be wonderful, but are you willing to sacrifice "humanity" for this? Even if this involves all humans on Alpha Cenatauri? My point is that the Alpha Centauri setting leads to the end of humanity and the beginning of "transcendence" (at all costs).

I think the notion of equating evolving with ceasing to be human is fallacious.

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