We got our first “real” computer when I was in high school. It had a two-speed CD ROM and a 435 MB hard drive. It ran Windows 3.11. And it was powerful enough to run Civilization and SimCity 2000. These were, as far as I was concerned, the peak of computer gaming (just as, in opinion, Super Mario Brothers 3 was the peak of console gaming a few years before).
Fast-forward about two decades. Now everyone is running around with supercomputers in their pockets, and there is a version of Civilization for mobile devices called Civilization: Revolution. It’s the same kind of gameplay as any other Civ game, and it’s a great (and moderately educational) way to pass the time if you have a few spare minutes here or there.
The newest version, Civilization: Revolution 2, is available for iOS devices for the princely sum of $9.99. Think about it this way. $9.99 is less than you would pay for a movie ticket, and I’m pretty sure Civilization will provide you with more and higher-quality hours of entertainment.
As an economist of a Hayekian persuasion, I can’t help but notice the ways in which it might seduce someone into thinking that planning an economic system for an entire economy is easy. You move along pre-determined paths with well-defined outcomes and no real surprises. But the real world, of course, is a lot more complex than this. As much fun as Civilization is, it’s a mistake to think it’s an example of how to plan an economy. And moreover, some of the world leaders are questionable. Mao is the leader of the Chinese. You can unlock Lenin as the leader of the Russians (the default is Catherine the Great, and I remember Stalin being the leader of the Russians in the first version of the game). Note that you can’t lead the Germans as Hitler, and for very good reason. Those same reasons, I think, should disqualify Mao and Lenin from a place of honor in the game—or, honestly, just about anyone else. As Lord Acton said, “great men are almost always very bad men.” The fact that you basically have to slaughter “barbarians” and wipe out their villages in order to play the game doesn’t sit well with me, and I suspect critics of colonialism and imperialism would be even less amused.
But it is what it is and there are other things in the world to get productively angry about—and this, like a lot of other games, could be a useful outlet for our more violent tendencies. For its flawed implicit social science, Civilization: Revolution 2 is still a great game and certainly worth the $9.99.