Alright, so maybe third time lucky. Lets ease up on the agricultural output and the use of fossil fuels. Here’s an idea: let’s go nuclear! Maybe this is the way to have the best of both worlds, so to speak. Lots of energy to keep industry and technology cooking, but without turning on the big heat of the greenhouse toaster-oven. Run it over night and test your nuclear gambit. Sunday morning comes. Well, this time there is good news and bad news. The good news: your biosphere didn’t cook this time. You had well and truly solved the greenhouse problem — permanently. The bad news: Rather than overheat it, you accidentally shoved it into the deep freeze. Its called ‘nuclear winter’ — and it results from letting off a few too many thermonuclear devices. The dust cloud from that keeps the sunlight out altogether.
By clicking on the nuclear option, you gave your little SimEarthlings not only a great source of power, but a dangerous weapon. It was not as if you had taken away the sources of potential conflict, however. Conditions were not exactly ripe for global consciousness. A. A. Bogdanov: “The struggle between classes, groups, and individuals precludes both the idea of the whole and the happiness and suffering implied by the notion.” They just started blasting away at each other. Perhaps they didn’t invent game theory, and figure out that deterrence only works if nobody shoots. And perhaps that’s your fault — you reduced inputs for science and culture. The radioactive patches on the surface of this digital earth burn through a few eons-worth of the subsequent ‘geological’ phase. You can see little nuke signs, emblazoned on the brown stump of a formerly green planet, like vandal-carved graffiti on trees that announces to nobody in particular: we were here. How did this happen? While the now quite visible hand of agon within gamespace metes out resources according to its law; an invisible foot, composed of all that shades away into mere contraries, qualities without quantities, kicks it to pieces. Game over again. Kim Stanley Robinson: “It was frightening — as if history were a series of human wave assaults on misery, failing time after time.”
It’s not much of a game, SimEarth. Perhaps that’s why, after seven days of uncreation, you became bored with it. Then uninstalled it. Then finally got around to selling it on Ebay. Perhaps I bought your old copy. I played it for a while, on an obsolete computer. It can get a little obsessive. SimEarth gamers tell amazing stories: About the time the lid blew off the biosphere, but up rose a strain of intelligent robots. Or the time it ticked over for months, populated with a million sentient cetaceans, all using nanotechnology to run their watery utopia. But there’s something disturbing about it. Perhaps that’s why there is no sequel, no updates. It is as extinct an example of game evolution as the poor sim-critters who populate its sun-blasted endgames. SimEarth is extinct, a game without sequels, but two offshoots from the same evolutionary phyla of game design lived on. One is The Sims. Perhaps it was better adapted to survive in gamespace, because it did not give the game away. The death of a Sim is not the end of the world. Another descendant line tries the other tack. In Will Wright’s much admired Spore, survival is not limited to one biosphere. Olaf Stapeldon: “It must not be supposed that the normal fate of intelligent races in the galaxy is to triumph.” At least in Spore there’s more than one home to trash.
Forms of game evolve in a quasi-Darwinian manner, not unlike forms of organism. Game designers breed new forms out of existing forms, and the military entertainment complex throws the resulting variations on a waiting market, where they compete to capture and contain your desires. Very few forms succeed. The designer proposes; gamespace disposes. Franco Moretti. “In Darwin, in other words, history is the interweaving of two wholly independent paths: random variation and necessary selection. In our case, [formal] innovations, which are the result of chance; and a social selection, which by contrast is the daughter of necessity.” Through a subtle inversion of the logic of natural selection, gamespace claims to be the full implementation of a digital Darwinism. Here for one and all the rule is survival of the fittest. Only what actually happens is quite the reverse: the demise of the unfit. Survival has no positive value. Gamespace is a pure nihilism. The best one can hope for is merely being undefeated. Hence the unsatisfying quality of ‘winning’ in SimEarth. In the unlikely event that the game rattles on toward the death of the sun, this victory amounts to nothing. This is perhaps why SimEarth did not survive. There is something rather undesirable in this game of cruelty. But there is a difference between natural selection and ‘cultural’ selection. The unfit in gamespace fail not because they bump up against the reality principle of bare life, but quite the reverse. They fail the fantasy principle of gamespace.
Given that you can’t really win, SimEarth is hardly a game at all. The best conclusion for most scenarios is that your SimEarthlings leave the planet in a fleet of spaceships. SimEarth lacks one of the usual criteria for a game — what we might call a satisfying ‘win condition’, which terminates its algorithm. But then perhaps that’s the allegory. SimEarth maps the limit to gamespace. What gamespace usually excludes — the residues that pile up out of sight out of mind — are here included, and they are the source of the problem. The choices within the game — between agriculture and science, for example, appear as choices between positive terms. They take no account of their contraries, which appear without names. SimEarth’s strategy is to include every term within its agon. There are no contraries, or almost none. It posits the whole planet as gamespace. Even the power source of the sun is included. Only blank interstellar space remains.