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Fate of the World

Entry updated 5 July 2018. Tagged: Game.

Videogame (2011). Red Redemption (RR). Designed by Gobion Rowlands, Ian Roberts, Amy O'Neil. Platforms: Mac, Win (2011); rev vt Fate of the World: Tipping Point (2012).

Fate of the World is an Independent Game, created in the UK, which simulates the effects – physical, economic and political – of Climate Change. Its design is essentially that of a God Game; it resembles such "kingdom simulators" as the prototypal Hamurabi (also known as The Sumer Game), but with its scope expanded to cover every nation on Earth. Its ancestors include the developers' own far less ambitious precursor Climate Challenge (2006 RR, Web), as well as Simearth (1990) and – perhaps most significantly – Chris Crawford's little played ecological simulation Balance of the Planet (1990 DOS, Mac; 1992 PC98). Fate of the World positions its player as the leader of a newly created world body, the Global Environmental Organization, which has been empowered to set worldwide policies to guide humanity through the twenty-first and twenty-second centuries. These powers, however, are not absolute; players can only operate in one of the various geopolitical regions into which the planet is divided if they have the broad consent of its population. Gameplay occurs in five year turns, in each of which limited resources must be spent to play virtual cards enacting regional policies ranging from increased use of nuclear power to ecological awareness programmes. Victory is declared when a set of conditions associated with the chosen scenario have been achieved; for example, players might be required to limit any rise in global temperature while maintaining human welfare over the course of a century. Available scenarios include ones which make simplifying assumptions – such as specifying that unlimited reserves of fossil fuels exist, or that the global population is universally sympathetic to the player's aims – as well as full simulations. Fate of the World's many options may seem complex, but this is surely necessary if the intricate interrelationships of humanity's global problems are to be convincingly represented.

Among the policies which can be implemented by players are a number of interesting covert options, including the destabilization of overly polluting regimes, the clandestine sterilization of uncooperative populations and – in extremis – the deployment of tailored viruses designed to reduce the planet's population by means of carefully calculated genocide. Over the course of a full game, players are likely to foster a considerable amount of technological development; researchable options include Nanotechnology, AI, geoengineering (see Weather Control), SETI and cold fusion, which does nothing (see Urban Legends). As this last possibility suggests, a sly (if somewhat dark) sense of humour enlivens much of the game's fiction, most notably in the scenario which tasks the player with destroying as much of the Earth's Ecology as possible while retaining the enthusiastic support of its population. It may also have become apparent that the later turns of a long session of Fate of the World take place in a distinctly science-fictional environment; it is possible (though very difficult) to reach a Utopian outcome in which a population whose energy is generated by clean nuclear fusion is made almost immortal by medical nanomachines (see Power Sources; see Nanotechnology), or one in which the Colonization of Other Worlds has begun.

It is, however, true that Fate of the World can be a frustrating game to play. Arguably, the desire to create balanced gameplay is here in conflict with the need to make the simulation as accurate as possible, an issue that has often manifested during the design of board and counter WarGames which depict historical conflicts (see Worlds in Balance). More problematic, perhaps, is the opacity of that simulation. While much effort has clearly been spent on clarifying the complex underpinnings of the game's various approaches to modeling reality, comprehending the nature of the many links between cause and effect can still be difficult. As with both Simearth and the sociological simulation Republic: The Revolution (2003 Elixir Studios, Win; 2004 Mac) designed by Demis Hassabis, Adrian Carless, grasping the totality of the system represented by the game is not an easy task. Notably, some events in Fate of the World seem to happen as a result of a pre-scripted narrative rather than evolving out of the underlying models; thus, continuing research into AI will eventually produce a rogue intelligence which takes control of the global computer network, though this entity can be a useful ally. Such occurrences cannot be predicted, making the game essentially impossible to master. It is also clear that, though the climate model included in Fate of the World is scientifically credible and physically realistic, its sociological predictions are subject to some debate, while its representations of technologies that might be invented in a hundred years' time are simply fictional. The best approach, perhaps, is not to treat Fate of the World as a true simulation of the future, or as an inherently winnable game, but as an experience to be explored. As a demonstration of many of Earth's possible Near Futures, and as a warning, it demands to be played.

Related works: Two expansions have been created for the game. Migration (2011 RR, Mac, Win) adds a new scenario which focuses on mass waves of refugees driven by climate change in the late twenty-first century, while Denial (2011 RR, Mac, Win) modifies the simulation to make the climate unchangeable, a variation in which players must still manage limited global resources as the world's population grows. [NT]


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