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The Role of Genetics in Civilization: Beyond Earth - Interview with Co-Lead Designers

The Role of Genetics in Civilization: Beyond Earth – Interview with Co-Lead Designers

It’s not often that my day job as a geneticist overlaps with my love for video games, but that’s exactly what’s happening in the new Sid Meier’s Civilization: Beyond Earth. In early interviews about this sci-fi edition of the Civ series, it seemed like genetic engineering would play a large part in shaping your space colony’s future. As a genetics grad student and a Civ superfan (I’m not sure if I should feel guilty or proud when Steam tells me the number of hours I’ve played), I was itching for more information. I was lucky enough to interview Co-Lead Designers Will Miller and David McDonough about what role genetics will be playing in Beyond Earth.

Q: Civilization: Beyond Earth has been called the “spiritual successor” to Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri. In Alpha Centauri, one of the first techs you can research is Biogenetics, which enables you to make the Human Genome Project. Co-lead designer David McDonough mentioned, “When you start the game, you’re not really that far from where we are today.” What real life biological research inspired some of the genetic techs we will see early in the game?

A: There’s more than one piece of biological research that’s been an inspiration to us, going all the way back to the cloning of Dolly the sheep. But growing human organs in pigs and other transgenetic medicine and biocompatibility developments have been particularly interesting to us. The recent developments in custom-designed viruses as weapons for medical sciences – is incredibly fascinating to us. For example, the genetically engineered measles that selectively kill cancer cells as is the idea of taking something that is bad for us and turning it into something that has a positive result. Selectively infecting mosquitos with a disease that prevents them from developing the saliva necessary to transmit dengue fever is another example of research we find fascinating. We think the most interesting research has been channeling forces that are at best neutral (and mostly harmful) and turning them into things that are helpful to us.

Q: Alpha Centauri was released in 1999, and the Human Genome Project was completed in 2003. While still incredibly useful to scientists, we consider the HGP old news. Are there any technologies in Beyond Earth that are currently science fiction, but you believe may become reality in the next decade?

A: The tech that we most hope gets adopted in the next decade is the thorium reactor, which is a building that you unlock through the Engineering technology. Dave McDonough in particular will talk your ear off about its many upsides and how it has potential to revolutionize our power. So please don’t ask him about thorium reactors in the next decade or we won’t have time to finish this interview.

Q: Were there any particular books, movies, or TV shows that shaped how you treat genetics in the game?

A: Slant by Greg Bear is a great source, taking the theme of genetic manipulation as form of fashion, and science as a plaything as our vanity. Older and darker but also important is the graphic novel series Transmetropolitan, which has some absolutely fascinating ideas in it, not only about biology but about the future more generally.

Q: One of the most memorable characters from Alpha Centauri is the leader of University of Planet. Can we expect to see another scientist leading a Faction in Beyond Earth?

A: Yes! Daoming Sochua is the leader of the Pan-Asian Cooperative. She’s a certifiable genius with a quad Ph.D. in nanoelectronics, nuclear physics, bubble physics, and electrical engineering. That last degree was a lagniappe from working on the other three. In addition to her formidable research skills, she’s also a talented administrator. While defending her theses, her committee became acutely aware of their impending obsolescence.be_daoming_sochua1

Concept art for Daoming Sochua Source: GameCrate

Q: Could you tell me more about the new “Gene Vault” wonder? Are there other genetics-themed buildings or wonders available to players?

A: There are quite a few Wonders based around genetics, and Gene Vault is the earliest of these, as well as the Stonehenge of the new planets. The Gene Vault is a Svalbard for the new world – a massive, secure repository of the genetic library the settlers bring with them to their new planet. Think about how incredibly important this library would be for space colonists! The Gene Vault is also important because it represents a strong link back to the aspirations and hopes of Old Earth.

Q: One major feature of Beyond Earth is the three affinities: Harmony, Purity, and Supremacy. Harmony specializes in embracing the alien planet, and will “allow the planet to change them right down to their very own DNA.” Will other affinities utilize genetic manipulation, or will this be specific to Harmony?

A: All three affinities would have their own take on genetic manipulation. A Purity civ, for example, would probably find genetic manipulation perfect for eliminating genetic disorders like Huntington’s or other disorders with a strong hereditable component. A Supremacy civ would see it as another tool in the proverbial toolbox of adaptive technologies, although they’d be more likely to point out that it’s a lot easier to update firmware than nucleotides. But in the end they see everything as code that can be reprogrammed.

Q: Harmony also allows you to get “alien creatures on your team and breed new units based on their genes.” Can you tell me more about how this breeding system will work?

A: Right now these are units that are unlocked by researching Harmony-affiliated techs. The notion of breeding is reflected in the fact that these units are not identical to those you find wandering out in the world.

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Wolf beetles and a siege worm

Q: What is Harmony’s relationship with the alien life like? Is it a mindless swarm doing the bidding of their leaders like the Zerg, a symbiotic beneficial relationship like Avatar, or something completely different?

A: Harmony can have any relationship towards the planet’s native life, and in fact, part of the Harmony approach usually means clearing out nearby alien nests as part of your own city development. Preserving humanity is usually an overriding priority over preserving the planet! A Harmony civ will be trying to change humanity to be a better biological match to the world, but that doesn’t mean rejecting technology or ignoring existential threats – the world will certainly need to be changed a bit to accommodate the Harmony civ. They’re just less interested in radically changing the world than Purity, or rejecting the environment entirely like Supremacy.

It’s also not true that a Harmony civ is inherently more peaceful than any other civ. An aggressive Harmony civ is a tidal wave of mandibles and chitin directed consciously at its enemies.

Q: In Firaxis’s other incredibly popular game X-COM: Enemy Within, you have the ability to give your soldiers various abilities through genetic engineering. Will this be an option in Beyond Earth’s new Unit Upgrade system?

A: Yes! In fact, certain upgrades are tied specifically to your Affinity, and require a certain devotion to your affinity in order to unlock. This helps differentiate the Affinities and their approach to combat.

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Source: 2K Games

Q: McDonough has mentioned that most of the game’s technology will be realistic/plausible, but by the end you’ll see “pretty fun wild crazy things, very fictitious stuff.” Can you hint at any crazy genetic technologies you may unlock? Should I be looking forward to an “X-Gene” that enables my soldiers to shoot laser beams from their eyes or read minds?

A: Artificial Evolution is probably the most out-there genetics tech, and it’s got some impressive leaf techs underneath it (aggressive Harmony players, this is one tech to aim for). It won’t do anything for your soldiers per se, but keep in mind that your soldiers are only one part of your arsenal.

Q: Genetics is already a divisive topic in our world, with many differing opinions on the ethics of GMOs, personalized genomics and medicine, and “designer babies.” Will this division play out in Beyond Earth? For example, am I going to get a diplomatic penalty with Purity aligned Factions if I decide to make an army of mutant super soldiers?

A: Yes, but it will be predominately because you as a Harmony civ (which I’m assuming here) will have a wildly different vision for the planet than the Purity civ. You will want people to live more comfortably on the planet by changing people, and the other civ will feel the planet needs to be turned into a new Earth. However, you can still go heavily into genetic techs and focus on Purity as your affinity, and so you may have more in common with that other Purity civ than you might expect.

Q: Religion in Alpha Centauri was limited to a few Factions. But in Beyond Earth it seems that everyone will have access to religion, suggesting it will be more customizable like in Civ 5. Will we have the ability to make a religion centered around genetic engineering or opposed to it?

A: We’re not looking at implementing specific religious themes or proscriptions. Certainly you can think of the Affinities as being sort of larger meta-philosophies in terms of how they perceive the best path for humanity going forward, and as you increase in your devotion to an Affinity you’re making a conscious rejection of the other two. Whether or not that rises to the level of “thou shalt not” for your people is up to the player.

Q: In Alpha Centauri, the player was able to engage in genetic warfare that would reduce the population of a city by half and greatly damage military units in the city. Will genetics or biological warfare play a role in combat or as part of the new espionage system?

A: Biological warfare is something that’s hard to feel good about, as a player. We were trying for a more optimistic tone with Beyond Earth, and not browbeat players for the choices they make in the course of the game. Designer plagues don’t really fit the tone we’re trying to achieve.

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Source: 2K Games

Q: Sci-fi books and video games frequently have a dystopian view of genetics that can disappoint researchers who see a lot of good coming out of their field. What sort of philosophy did you take when addressing the role of genetics in Beyond Earth? Are you going to leave the morality up to the player? For example, will a Harmony aligned Faction be able to make choices that allow them to play as a utopian society that’s free of disease, a dystopian society with genetic classes like Gattaca, or some ethical gray area in between?

A: The approach to the technologies in the game was driven by a larger approach we take in design which is: players should feel like the decisions they’ve made were positive ones. We don’t want players to make a choice and then immediately regret it because of something the game says. Now, consequences as a result of those decisions – that’s perfectly appropriate! So to that end, we’ll let players decide what the moral valence of their choices should be.

Q: How do you think your job as game developers affects public perception of science? For example, Carl Sagan’s Contact greatly inspired me to fall in love with science and become a scientist, and clearly had an impact on Beyond Earth since it is effectively one of the victory conditions. Do you see Beyond Earth as playing a similar role in inspiring others to appreciate science?

A: We’re not setting out to give a science lesson in Beyond Earth, although we do like to think we’ve paid attention to actual science and our speculative courses are at least plausible. If someone experiences something in the game and then says: “Gee, I wish I knew more about these ‘thorium reactors,’” and they go out and educate themselves, then we’re incredibly happy and proud. Sid always says that people like to learn, and there are plenty of opportunities to dig into the science behind the game here. We also do a lot of research after the game gets made, so we’ll keep reading up on science long after the game ships.

Pokébiology 101: "Evolution" and the enigma of Eevee

Pokébiology 101: “Evolution” and the enigma of Eevee

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(Click here for the introductory post to Pokébiology 101)

You know I had to start my Pokébiology 101 series with the most famously scientifically inaccurate part of Pokémon: evolution.

In the Pokémon world, “evolution” means something different from what you might have learned in your biology classes. …Well, what you should have learned in your biology classes, assuming the religious right failed to push their agenda into your science classroom. Pokémon evolution is when a Pokémon transforms into a different looking creature once some criterion is met. Most often this means reaching a certain level (levels increase as you gain experience, experience comes from participating in battles). Some Pokémon evolve under weirder circumstances like being exposed to a particular item, being traded to another player, reaching a certain level of happiness, and so on.

For example, a Bulbasaur evolves into an Ivysaur at level 16, and an Ivysaur evolves into a Venusaur at level 32.

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This is not evolution. This is metamorphosis.

What’s the difference? Why are Pokémon actually metamorphosing, and not evolving? They both imply some sort of change is taking place, which is why the terms are so easily confused. But there’s a major difference in when and where that change happens:

  • Metamorphosis is the change in body structure of an individual that happens conspicuously and abruptly during their lifetime. The most common real world example is a caterpillar turning into a butterfly. This is exactly what happens in the Pokémon world. Well, instead of forming a cocoon, Pokémon flash a bright light and make cheery beeping noises…but I’m going to chalk that up to the games being from the point of view of a ten year old with an overactive imagination. Wee, shiny!
  • Evolution is the change in heritable characteristics of a population over successive generations. A characteristic is heritable if it is genetic, and thus will get passed on from parent to offspring, and from that offspring to its offspring, and so on. The key here is that this change happens over many generations and affects the whole population.

What would be a hypothetical example of actual evolution in the Pokémon world? Let’s say we’ve stumbled upon a population of Venusaurs in some jungle untouched by Pokémon trainers. Most  Venusaurs have pink flowers, but a rare individual has a gold flower because of a mutation. In case you’re wondering, this alternative color scheme exists in-game and is known as a “shiny,” and shiny Pokémon are incredibly rare. Like, “I’ve probably played 1000 cumulative hours of Pokémon games and I only found one shiny Sentret a decade ago” rare.

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Now, let’s say that shiny Venusaur is very successful in producing a lot of baby Bulbasaurs for whatever reason. Maybe gold flowers attract more prey, so shiny Venusaur is well fed and can have more babies (directional selection). Maybe other Venusaurs find the rare gold flower extra sexy, so shiny Venusaur has more mates and thus more babies (sexual selection). Maybe it’s all due to random chance and shiny Venusaur just gets lucky (genetic drift). When that generation of Bulbasaurs grows up, the new generation of Venusaurs might look something like this:

shinyven2

If we’re still around to observe this population many generations later, it may look like this:

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The shiny trait has now become “fixed” in the population – that is, every individual now has the gold flower. Now the population of Venusaurs looks different than it used to – and that is evolution! If this population is isolated from other Venusaurs and continues to evolve novel traits, one day this population might be so different that it can’t even mate with other Venusaurs anymore. And that, folks, is when you have a new species.

But back to metamorphosis. The common caterpillar example is linear: a caterpillar makes a cocoon and becomes a butterfly. But not all Pokémon have a set fate. I give you the most enigmatic example, Eevee.

eevee-evolutions

Eevee is special in the world of Pokémon because it has the largest number of ways it can evolve depending on your actions. Want a Flareon? Give Eevee a Fire Stone. Espeon? Make Eevee very happy and level up during the morning or day. Leafeon? Level up while near a mossy rock.

It seems like this couldn’t possibly exist within the confines of our natural world, right? How does an Eevee have the ability to metamorphose into such different creatures just from what its exposed to in the environment? How can a Vaporeon, Jolteon, Flareon, Espeon, Umbreon, Glaceon, and Leafeon all have the same genome as their starting Eevee, but such different traits?

Not to erode Eevee’s specialness, but this happens right here on Earth.

This is known as polyphenism: when multiple discrete phenotypes (a set of observable characteristics) can come from the same genetic background because of differences in the environment. The most common example is different castes in bees. You may know that within a hive, one female gets to be the queen bee, and the other females are worker bees. A queen bee is made by feeding a larvae what’s known as “royal jelly,” which contains chemicals that alter the larvae’s development. If that larvae has a twin sister that didn’t get a special meal, sis will grow up to be a worker. They’re genetically identical, but very different thanks to their environment.

The only thing distinguishing bees from Eevees are the number of choices in development.

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In which I speculate on what would happen if you gave a bee a Fire Stone or Macho Brace.

It will forever irritate me that the game designers chose the term “evolution” instead of a totally accurate, also cool-sounding alternative word. My best guess is that “Bulbasaur is metamorphosing” took up too many pixels, so “evolving” won out. Sadly, this kind of sloppy terminology can cause a lot of misconceptions about what evolution really means. But hopefully now that you’ve learned some Pokébiology, you’re less confused.

EvolveMankey

 

So confused.

2014 is going to be a great year for video games

It seems like every week I hear an announcement for yet another amazing video game that’s going to be released this year. I thought 2013 was good with the Civ5: Brave New World expansion, the X-COM: Enemy Within expansion, Pokemon X&Y, and Fire Emblem Awakening…but it’s going to get even better:

  • Final Fantasy X HD Remaster: Okay, I know, this technically isn’t a new game. I played this back in high school, and I’m currently playing through it with Sean (who has played pretty much every Final Fantasy but this one). Man, do the updated graphics look amazing. The game always had beautiful worlds and fantastic looking monsters, but now it’s absolutely gorgeous. So gorgeous that we still haven’t disabled the five minute long aeon summon intros. I technically never finished FFX – like most RPGs, I got to the final dungeon, took a break, and then couldn’t figure out where I was or what I was doing and gave up. But this time I’m committed to seeing the ending! But even though I know the plot, it’s still a lot of fun watching Sean’s reactions as we play. Watching him go through the rite of passage of stupendously failing at Blitzball was pretty satisfying (sorry, Sean).
  • Peggle 2: I still don’t quite understand why this game is so addictive, but it is.
  • Tropico 5: My first Tropico game was actually Tropico 4, so I’m a newcomer to the series. But I instantly fell in love with planning out my cities and what industries would support my island, and figuring out how I can financially support free health care, education, and lodging. Of course I make my island a socialist utopia! I’m OCD enough that planning out the most efficient layout for my roads is enough to entertain me, but I’m looking forward to the new colonial eras in this game and the expanded building options.
  • Mario Kart 8: I like to play a lot of different video games, but if there’s one game I can say I’m actually extremely good at, it’s Mario Kart. It’s to the point where no one will play me because I’m generally so far ahead of the pack that even multiple blue shells won’t stop me (especially now that I’ve learned how to dodge blue shells on certain levels – yes, it’s possible). I’m super excited for the updated graphics and tracks, but I’m mostly excited that people will play with me for a little bit before I’ve committed all the tracks to muscle memory.
  • The Sims 4: A couple of weeks ago I was wondering if The Sims was due for a new game, since The Sims 3 came out during my senior year of high school, which is officially forever ago. It was a good feeling to go online and check, only to see that it was coming out this September. Time to recreate characters from Game of Thrones and see who marries who!
  • Civilization: Beyond Earth: I was positively euphoric for the whole day when I read about this release. I love the Civilization games – my cumulative number of play hours is definitely in the thousands, not the hundreds. Sean is as much as a fan as I am, and we spend a lot of time conquering the world together in team multiplayer games. For years now he’s been telling me I should play the old Alpha Centauri game because it’s such a classic, but I was holding out. I insisted Sid Meier would come out with a new Alpha Centauri sometime soon. They rebooted X-COM to incredible success, Civ5 was no longer having anymore expansions, they could easily adapt the Civ5 engine to this game, and Steam’s DLC system would rake in a lot of money from hardcore strategy gamers like us who want every expansion. I’ve never been so happy to be right. I can’t wait to explore the crazy alien terrain they come up with, genetically modify creatures and my own people, build giant robot armies…how could you not be excited for a sci-fi Civ game?!
  • Super Smash Brothers for Wii U: I mean, it’s the new SSB. I don’t have to say anything more.
  • Pokemon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire: A gen 3 remake using the new beautiful graphics on the 3DS? Take all my money, Pokemon.

Are there any games you all are looking forward to?

PAX prime approaches!

One of my favorite events of the year is next weekend – the Penny Arcade Expo. It’s a blast every year, but it’s pretty much impossible for a nerd like me to not love it. I love being able to demo upcoming games, especially the indie games that I’ve never heard of but end up loving. My favorite part is all the rooms where you can basically rent and play any video game or board game you can think of, including old and obscure ones. Not to mention the room full of free arcade and pinball games. And the cosplaying. And the tournaments. And and and

Okay, I’m kind of excited.

This year PAX is 4 days instead of 3, so I may actually attend more than one panel thanks to the extra time. I see that there’s an interesting looking one on Videogames in Medicine run by a UW professor, so I may have to check that out. There are a TON of panels on gender, sexuality, diversity, not being an asshole on the internet…but honestly I’m pretty burnt out on those topics, so I doubt I’ll go. But I’m glad they still exist for anyone else who is interested. Even though the people who need to hear it the most probably aren’t the ones who go…

And of course I’m excited about the tournaments too, which are really just an excuse to play more games with random people. But the competitive aspect makes it extra fun. I may try the 7 Wonders board game tournament, but expect to get my ass kicked. I’ll definitely try the Mario Kart Wii tournament, which is one of the few games I actually feel confident in.

I would say I’m excited to be able to rent my favorite old Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game…but an arcade right by my house just got the arcade version! So much for stockpiling all of those extra quarters for laundry.

Is anyone else going to PAX? What are you looking forward to most?

Welcome to Pokébiology 101

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Hello there! Welcome to the world of Pokémon! My name is Jen! People call me the Pokémon Grad Student!

…Okay, I don’t think anyone has actually called me the Pokémon Grad Student. But I’m a PhD candidate studying evolution and genomics who has been playing Pokémon since its release in 1998. My friend showed me his Red version, and soon after I owned my first video game – Pokémon Blue. I’ve been hooked since then.

As I progressed through my training as a biologist, I started to look at the Pokémon world in a new light. At first, it was irritation. Everything seemed wrong. They confused metamorphosis for evolution. Breeding didn’t make any sense – different Pokémon species could interbreed, but the offspring were always the same species as mom. Gender ratios didn’t reflect biological mechanisms, but rather a game designer’s attempt to keep certain Pokémon rare. Why, it was if they were trying to design a fun game with no regard to biological accuracy

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darwin heart piplup by claudetc

But as I learned more biology, I started to realize nature isn’t as simple as it seems. There are all sorts of strange biological phenomena that result in counter-intuitive mechanisms, traits, and organisms. Nature is really, really weird. So I started viewing the Pokémon world as a puzzle. If I were Professor Oak, what experiments would I be doing? Are there any natural processes in the real world that could explain Pokémon biology?

Bulbasaur Anatomical Study by JoshuaDunlop

Some of you must be thinking, “Jen, it’s just a game. It’s not supposed to make sense. Chill.” I know, I know. I don’t expect all games to be 100% scientifically accurate at the expense of fun. But I like daydreaming about how the biology of Pokémon could “work.” It’s as if I’ve discovered a whole planet of alien life to study, and what biologist wouldn’t want that?

But more importantly, I see the Pokémon world as a great way to teach people about actual biology. And I’m hardly the first person to think this – the creator of Pokémon originally conceived of the game as a way to share his childhood hobby of collecting insects with the children of a modern, urbanized Japan. But I’ll be discussing what I know best: evolution and genomics. How do Pokémon species differ from species here on Earth? What does genomic imprinting have to do with breeding? Can an organism like Eevee actually exist? I’ll be exploring these topics in future PokéBiology 101 posts.

Now, there are some things in the Pokémon Universe that are above my pay grade. I’m not even going to attempt to explain how a tiny mouse generates thunderstorms or how some Pokémon have psychic abilities. I have no clue how a Pokéball can transform Pokémon into pure energy and back again (maybe a bored Physics grad student can hazard a guess). And there’s certainly no explanation for how Onix, a ground/rock type, suddenly becomes vulnerable to electric attacks because a sprinkler system came on (yes, I am still bitter about that episode).

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 I have no idea how this works.

For all of those things, I’m willing to suspend disbelief. But when it comes to the biology of the Pokémon world, I’ve found it’s not necessary to invoke “magic!” as an explanation. Because oddly enough, that bizarre biology is already happening here on earth.

Welcome to PokéBiology 101!

Next in series: “Evolution” and the enigma of Eevee

Come see me at Nerd Nite Seattle!

I am living the dream: I’ve been invited to give a talk of extreme geekiness this Monday:

Pokébiology 101
There may not be a Pikachu Genome Project, but the unusual biology of the Pokémon Universe can teach us about biology in the real world. How do Pokémon species differ from species here on Earth? What does genomic imprinting have to do with breeding? Can an organism like Eevee actually exist? You won’t need to be a Pokémon Master or geneticist to catch the concepts, so come, have fun, and grab a beer – it’s super effective.

Nerd Nite Seattle
Monday, January 21st
7:30 Talks (Doors open at 6:30)
$5 Cover
LUCID Jazz Lounge

If you drop by, make sure to say hello!

PAX is almost here!

As you probably know, I’m a huge gamer and geek. I also live in Seattle. Which means over the next three days, I will be in absolute glee at the Penny Arcade Expo. I’m going to try my luck in the Mario Kart: Double Dash tournament and have a  blast checking out all the new and indie games. I might pass on the Pokemon League this year, since I’m not sure if I want to get my ass handed to me yet again. A lot of the panels seem interesting too. There are two – two! – panels on transgender gamers and game characters, a sex and gaming panel, a harassment panel, and I’ll be sure to check out “On God and Gaming.” Maybe I should make a protest sign along the lines of “BUT RELIGION BY DEFINITION HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH VIDEO GAMES! SPLITTERS!”

Is anyone else going to PAX? Make sure to say hello if you spot me there!

What video games are you looking forward to?

I’m absolutely itching to play the new Civilization 5 expansion, Gods and Kings. I’m such a fan that I’ll buy almost anything Civ craps out, but I’m legitimately excited about  this expansion…because it brings back religion.

I know, I know. It’s a little ironic for me to be excited about religion. But I love winning the game through peace and manipulation instead of all out warfare. I just find wars tedious and not as fun as developing my nation’s culture and infrastructure. Religion is a great way to spread culture, make money, and manipulate other countries into being your friends (or enemies). And this time you get to customize the traits of your religion to fit your needs, instead of all of the different religions being effectively the same.

I’m also dying for Skulls of the Shogun to come out, but who knows when that’ll be released. I played it at PAX last August and it’s still not out!

And while this isn’t a new game…I’m newly addicted to Tropico 4. What can I say, I love strategy games. Not to mention it has one of the best soundtracks ever. I’ve caught myself humming the songs all the time.

What video games are you looking forward to or currently addicted to? Do you have any suggestions for a new game my boyfriend and I can play together? We’ve beaten just about everything there is to beat in Dungeon Defenders. …Well, except that stupid Genie expansion level, because seriously, fuck that level. It’s not even Fun Hard…it’s just stupidly irritating.

This is post 24 of 49 of Blogathon. Donate to the Secular Student Alliance here.

RIP Borimor

Borimor the Apprentice

1/15/2012 – 2/14/2012

The video game gods are cruel when they take away our characters before our time. My boyfriend and I hoped dear old Borimor would pass away peacefully from old age (aka when we lost interest in Dungeon Defenders), but no. He was snatched away from us just shy of his 40th level, all because of an accidental bump of a controller and poor menu design. He will be fondly remembered, even though my boyfriend always called him Boromir by mistake.

Seriously though, Dungeon Defender’s menu designs are just awful. The game is fun enough that we’ve been totally addicted, but I could really do without the insane menus. Especially when the difference between selecting your character and deleting your character is a single click on the joystick.

Thankfully after a day of mourning, we moved on. My boyfriend started a new Archer, I started a new Monk (named Mendel). And because we’re dorks, we keep my old Squire on a third controller because we need his blockades in order to beat the levels.

For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about…just nod and move along.

My boyfriend has my geekery figured out

Here’s one of the Christmas presents he got me:

I am inordinately excited about having a Pokeball themed iPhone case.

The matriarchy is coming for your video games

Video games are no longer safe from our lady-clutches! Why, they’re starting to have female characters in them that aren’t totally worthless or in need of saving! And this has a lot of MRAs worried:

I call bullshit on this subject. Video games are the last place for guys to hang out and now women are taking over. Why not just save us the trouble and instead of eliminating our fantasy world just throw us in work camp to provide for thier bastard children (literally speaking) while they shit all over us…wait they already do that.

Oh noes, a space where we have to allow ladies?! How totally unfair! What does this takeover include? Why, portraying women as competent and equal to men:

You’ll see the same thing in most stat-based role-playing games as well, where you have the option of a female player character – like Fallout, Elder Scrolls, Mass Effect, Dragon Age, D&D, etc. The women never have any strength or intelligence penalties compared to the males. … They want to give the impression that people of any race, gender, and sexual-orientation are interchangeable – that there are no differences in ability between them, and that only a bigot could think otherwise. I’m sick of it too.

What do MRAs consider an accurate portrayal of women in video games?

It would be hilarious to portray the female characters realistically. If you chose the female character in your FPS [First Person Shooter] she would have to move very slowly, dragging the gun around. You could build in some extra shake to the crosshairs to represent hopeless accuracy. Every time you needed to reload your gun, instead of just pressing a button, you’d have to find a male character and go through some flirting dialogue options to persuade him to do it for you. One out of every four missions the game would tell you that you were sitting out this one due to ‘women’s issues’.

I’m sure women in the military would have a thing or two to say to this guy. You should read the rest of the silliness (like how Lara Croft somehow oppresses men) over at Man Boobz.

While we’re on the topic of video games: My boyfriend and I only have one level left in the expansion pack of Pixel Junk Monsters, and we’re looking for a new game to play together. We’re patiently waiting for Skulls of the Shogun since we loved it at PAX, but who knows when it will finally be released. And we can’t play Civ 5 together (yet) because my desktop computer is on the fritz. Does anyone have recommendations for good multiplayer strategy/tower defense/tactical type games? Co-op prefered but not required. (EDIT: We have a Wii, PS3, XBOX360, and PCs, so platform is irrelevant).

Recommendations are appreciated. Because, you know, I have to love strategy video games in order to invade his one last man space and enslave him. Not because we enjoy playing them with each other or something.

Kitten assimilation has begun

We’ve named her Pixel. It seems appropriate – she’s already thinking with Portals:

And helping me blog:

And appreciating my nerdy coffee table books:

And helping out my roommate as he plays video games:


She even managed to mark all of my Google Reader items as read as she pawed at my laptop. I think that’s her way of saying “Stop reading blogs and pet me!”