Feature: The kingdom of Neilia –  a rumination on Sid Meier, sovereignty and going it alone

By Neil Merrett

Sid Meier’s Civilisation on PC – released 1991, Microprose

As is always the case with first hand historical accounts, the exact facts can get a little hazy, prone as they are to innuendo and exaggeration.

But what a land this kingdom was. Neilia – feared, respected and a great spot for a holiday.

This cradle of civilization, which for hundreds of years led the way in the realms of diplomacy, defence, stone masonry and snazzy landmarks, was once the great and dominating power of the known world.

Such was the scope of Sid Meier’s Civilization on PC, that these people, over several hours of game time, could grow to utterly dominate all of the surrounding kingdoms through farming, culture and military strength.

Adapting the teachings and strategies of the world’s foremost leaders or tyrants – some of who often seem to merge seamlessly in the game – even a curious eleven year old was able to find themselves developing into a capable Asian-style strong man with just a keyboard and a mouse.

The surprising depth of the title, since expanded and built upon – for better or worse – over subsequent iterations of the game, has led to a wealth of parallel histories being realised by players. Whether stories of peaceful nuclear wastelands, or quirks within the game’s artificial intelligence leading to Ghandi over eons becoming a murderous overlord of the entire earth, no once game is likely to be the same – history is imperfect after all.

It is a simulator that allows the player to try and achieve world domination through peaceful, or not so peaceful means, starting from the stone age up to our predicted move into the heavens to colonize space itself. The canny programming of the original game is a somewhat early ‘sandbox experience’.

As with human civilisation itself though the title was not immune to being exploited by merciless strategic minds or giving cruel life lessons to the young and naive.

Having conquered and decimated the surrounding town and villages, the Neilians soon found themselves perfecting ship making, with no enemies to trouble or shake the seemingly utopian republic they had built.  So the Neilians leader, like all great strong men, set out to spread the nation’s knowledge beyond the seas in as fine a wooden ship as a 25 year old DOS game could muster.

Beyond the known horizons were a host of unknown kingdoms to trade and ally with, to pillage and plunder – soon Neilia would exert its global power.

Yet this fabled new world never arrived for the brave crew and diplomats aboard the good ship Nellington.

Historical records are scant on the disappearance of a once proud digital nation.  But legend spoke of a turbulent crossing whereby a small wooden vessel find itself straying into a ruthless conflict between unknown global superpowers and their steel warships.

In the conquest and running of an isolated, small island kingdom, the Neilians had squandered thousands of years and untold lives and resources holding back and stymieing the development of itself and neighbours – all perceived enemies that were little more than wheat farmers.

All the while, the rest of the world had flourished into an early twentieth century global ecosystem that tried to be better, if sometimes failing miserably – unhindered by monstrous egos and local pising contests.

Shattered by its own hubris, and the cost of developing advanced metal work amidst the impending attack  of foreign nuclear-armed assailants, the Neilians collapsed in on their own expectations – never to be heard of again, as their once proud strongman move back into the less existentially troublesome waters of console gaming.

Ultimately confusing national belief and worth with isolation and hubris seemed perilous in the early 90’s world of DOS strategy titles.  Thankfully, videogames are seemingly far removed from our very real own politics.

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