Civilization VI: What does it mean to win?

I was watching some video essays on youtube, and one in particular stood out, Kyle Kallgren’s Who Gets to be a Civilization? It mostly focuses on just that, who gets to be a civilization and who doesn’t. By extension who gets a chance to win the game, you can win as the Roman Empire, but not as the Mbuti Tribe of Africa (well, not without mods at least). It is a very excellent video, and I highly encourage the watch. However I do wish to touch upon what it means for a civilization to win to with the game with my own thoughts on the matter.

Civilization is a 4X game, Expand, Explore, Exploit, and Exterminate (No I don’t know why it’s not called a 4E game). In it you play a civilization that starts off in the Stone Age, and you play through the ages meeting other players/civilizations, interacting with them through war, religion, trade, culture, and diplomacy. Throughout the game it is very likely that several civilizations will die out. Regardless of if some civilizations parish or not, after a victory condition has been meant or the time runs out there is only one civilization left as the winner.


Let’s now take a look at the ways that you can win in a game of Civilization: Domination, Culture, Religious, Science, and Time. The first one is the clearest way to win and harkens back to my childhood of playing Age of Empires 2. Simply wipe out you enemies, be the last civilization standing and victory is yours. Veni, vidi, vici. Culture victories are harder to visualize, as the mechanics are more hidden, however one of the main factor is how much culture your civilization “produces” which leads to more tourism which can win you the game. As the world now thinks as you do, a hearts and minds victory if you will. With a religious victory whatever religion you have started in you civilization is the major religion in all currently remain civilizations. Interesting to note here is that unlike civilizations here you can customize your religion and/or make your own. The last of the active methods of victory is the science victory, in civilization 6 this takes the form of successfully completing the space race and then sending a colony ship to mars. Thus having an entire world for your own civilization. The last one is when you run out of turns, the game starts in 4,000 BCE and ends in 2050 CE, at the end of which based on factors of the other victory times the game declares a winner.

All of these condition have one thing in common in the end of our game’s “history” there is only one winner. This however is based on the idea that human history has a finishing point, that at some point our civilizations will be complete and there will be a best one. As Mr. Kellgren points out in his video essay we already do some of this in the world today, we talk about nation’s GDPs and other statistics meant to measure a civilization. But what about the other part do we really believe that there is a finishing point to civilization? Where in the current status quo is an everlasting one?

In the 1820’s Georg Hagel gave a series of lectures that would later be collected in to the book Lectures of the Philosophy of History (published in 1837, several years after he had died). In it Hagel outline a system that history could be understood by. In this dialectic theory he thought that in every age there was a fundamental thesis and an antithesis that completed for dominance (So you could see the 20th century, if you were so inclined to as a autocracy vs democracy question, or as Carl Marx would view it as Capitalism vs Socialism), refining civilizations until perfection had been attained. That at some point peak civilization would occur, or form those lectures, in his own words “…for Europe is the absolute end of history, just as Asia was the beginning.” As an academic in the 1800’s Hagel did believe that it was that era, and that region (Europe, more precisely Prussia) that had gotten to this most refined level of civilization. Eurocentric they may be but they did have a large influence on people. Hagel remains one of the most respected German philosophers to this day.


History, barring a truly tragic event, doesn’t end. If a nation-state, religion, or even a culture falls or dies out, the next day the sun will still rise, the world keeps going. In Civilization at some point the game end, someone stands vicarious. Even if you hit the “one more turn” opinion at some point the game gets closed down – with a winner and loser. But we often conceptualize real history like Hegal did as if there is an end to history. People once thought that when the Soviet Union fell that there would be global prosperity that would just go on. Britain had its pox Britiana where they thought that the current (and in their mind the best) status quo was going to be everlasting. This things where not to be though. This type of thinking, that there will be a final victory (because of course our side wins? Right?) is very dangerous as it limits chances for compromises. Because if forces the compromise to fit in a binary win or lose paradigm.

We often try and force the past in to a very black and white framework. For example when did World War 2 start? Was it in 1931 when Japan invaded Manchuria, the first fighting of the conflict? Or more often taught in to US, 1939 when Germany invades Poland? Or maybe in 1941, when the US entered the war and it became more global, more of a world war? And this is just what year the war started in not even why it started. And at the end of the war Germany was defeated, it’s lands occupied, and yet Germany exists today. Their civilization was not wiped out. Though sometimes there are civilizations that are wiped out but rarely how they are in Civilization games, I would highly suggest looking in to the Endangered Language Project. It is our diversity in culture rather than having one monolithic civilization that makes the world an interesting place. We get to learn from one another.


I enjoy the Civilization games quite a bit. This is why I feel that it is important to critically examine just how we are structuring the gameplay. Media informs our world view. Don’t get me wrong, playing violent games won’t magically make someone in to a murderer, but this are our present day myths. They shape the way we see the world bit by bit, alongside all the other media that we consume. All games must end, at some point the player walks away if nothing else. Human history though doesn’t, it will outlive our current systems. We owe it to ourselves and each other to step back from looking at events in terms of winners and losers rather we should look at what they mean for the people involved.




Who gets to be a Civilization?, by Kyle Kallgren

Lectures of the Philosophy of History, by Georg Hagel

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