Jan 172020

Alpha Centauri is one of my favorite games of all time. Created in 1999, it is a spinoff of Sid Meir’s Civilization games. In Alpha, you play factions of colonists on a distant planet. Before the even land, the colonists have broken into different factions based on opposing ideologies. The game deals with themes of transhumanism, environmental responsibility and the ethics of exterminating that shithead who keeps invading your lands.

I had the itch to play it again but I held off. Like all Civilization games, Alpha Centauri can be really addictive. There is always something more to do. You can sit down and plan to play for only an hour, but then “one more turn” kicks in and the next thing you know, it is 3am.

So I decided to try something really stupid. I would play Alpha, but I would only play ONE turn a day. That’s it. One turn and shut it down. That way, I won’t get suckered into it.

The whole idea is stupid. I am not sure how many turns it takes to play an average game of Alpha, but I know it is in the hundreds. The early game especially goes by fast as it can take you six turns to build a single unit. That is six days of looking at a progress meter grown and doing nothing else.

So of course, I had to try it.

It has been twelve days and I have to say, it is delightful. As a porn writer, I know all about delaying gratification but this takes it to a new level. Every turn I play is the most thoughtful experience. I don’t want to rush my turn, so I think about everything. Is my resources properly placed? Do I still plan to explore west when I get a unit? What does this button do?

Now granted, things took a turn when I made a colony unit, sent it forth and had it destroyed by my first contact with another faction. The white hot rage I felt demanded instant revenge. In a normal game, I would have built a bunch of units and sent them out to crush my enemy, and I would not have stopped playing until revenge was satisfied or thwarted.

But this isn’t a regular game. I gave the order for a scout unit to pursue the attacker and then I logged off for the day. The next day, still pissy, I set up orders to make another scout. The first scout was still en route to the last known location of the enemy. The day after that, units are still in production while one unit is moving. My rage has dulled to a bitter calm. The day after that, my bitterness has turned to skepticism that I can really fight a war with just scouts. Now I am considering just setting up a border and resuming colonization. It all depends on how soon I meet the enemy.

If I ever do have the fight, win or lose, the feelings that accompany it are going to be intense.

I wonder what other recreational activities might benefit from a little slowing down?

  2 Responses to “Incremental Gratification”

  1. I used to play play-by-email games where you had 1-2 days between each turn of a RPG. That was always fun, mainly because it took so long to wait to see what happened next.

    There were also some BBS games where it was done in semi-real-time so I would send out ships to the next star system and it would be 3-4 days before you found out what happened, even if you logged in more often.

    • You reminded me that when I was a teen, I used to play in a play-by-mail wrestling game. I would send in my match requests, and then wait for the newsletter at the end of the month. Weird how I had totally forgotten that.

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