Civ 6 and the Failure of Staying Mum on Climate Change

Civilization 6 is getting another huge expansion soon. Gathering Storm will release early next year, and like all other expansions to the Civilization series, promises a lot of new features that will change how the game is played. But the Gathering Storm expansion has a particular theme that has never been addressed in a Civilization game before: the climate. Changing the climate in the game has a chance to comment on real world issues but it’s being used almost purely as a sugarcoated game mechanic, which is wasting its potential.

For the first time in the series, climate change will be a factor players have to consider. Starting from the industrial age, players will have to balance their strategic resources that now create pollution that could have long term effects on the game world. Firaxis claims the game is unmotivated by political overtones but that approach is misguided.

The potential to melt the ice caps and rise the sea levels would do catastrophic damage to coastal cities and empires are examples of the consequences Firaxis is keen to highlight. Other effects the studio has mentioned are river floods, volcanoes, and other natural disasters. While real life governments continue to avoid the issue and the planet is worryingly close to an apocalyptic future, it would be great to have the chance to lead a nation to a green solution.

Mutually Assured Destruction

Weaponizing the Apocalypse in Civ 6

Unfortunately, Firaxis has chosen to weaponize the mechanic, rather than it. From what we know, the possible outcomes of climate changes are not as targeted or precise as the game imagines. Our seas might rise as they will in Gathering Storm, rapidly eroding the coast and displacing millions, but the inland areas would not be a haven from the effects. On top of the political ramifications, climate change is also likely to increase the amount of global heat waves, droughts, and famines as well as their length and intensity. We will also see an increase in natural disasters like hurricanes and intense storms around the world.

If climate change becomes as bad as predicted by the vast majority of scientists and scientific bodies, nowhere will be safe from the terrible consequences of climate change. Civilization as we know it will have to rapidly adapt to changing biomes and resource scarcity on a global level.

But Firaxis hasn’t addressed this when discussing the artificial climate change that Gathering Storm will bring, or at least the studio doesn’t want to talk about it. In fact, it has been suggested that climate change might be viable option for some players. Firaxis has said that land locked empires could purposely trigger sea level rises to destabilize their coastal neighbors.

Waging environmental war on your opponents is an interesting mechanic, but climate change is a weapon that cannot be aimed with laser precision and Gathering Storm should reflect this. While perhaps desperate players could harness the unpredictable forces of the climate in an attempt to redress the playing field, the consequences should always come back to them as well. Purposefully enacting climate change should always be an exercise in mutually assured destruction. While you might be doing tremendous damage to your opponent, you cannot escape unscratched.

It was a concept imagined during the Cold War as a means of insuring a fragile peace. The idea was that it would be impossible to win a nuclear war as both attacker and defender would be annihilated and thus was meant to deter world leaders from ever launching their arsenals. Likewise, the knowledge that anyone that wields the power of climate change will also be destroying themselves should be rooted in Gathering Storm too.

Sustainability Is Global Issue

Gathering Storm will include river floods and famines among its various disasters but it has not been said if and how these will be tied to the climate change system. But climate change is a global issue, and if Gathering Storm is going to implement it into Civ 6, it should do so globally. With education still worryingly lacking, and political and industrial leaders around the world still turning a blind eye to the imminent danger we’re are in, we don’t need another piece of media to only tell us half-truths.

No one and nowhere will be safe from the long-term effects of climate change, and that should be true for Gathering Storm as well. While desperate or despotic players might trigger rising sea levels, the fundamental lesson of Gathering Storm should always be that these effects never exist in isolation. On top of the coastal empires aggressively pushing inland to escape the tides, plagues will arrive in land before their armies do. Famines should ravage the farmlands and floods to wash away the cities.

Firaxis has said that the introduction of a future era will include discoveries and tactics for reversing the effects of climate change. But whether or not these are effective means for survivors to reclaim the earth, Gathering Storm should make it clear that trifling with our climate will be disastrous for everyone.