Civilization VI: Gathering Storm is a great expansion, one of my favorites in years. But thanks to the completely overhauled weather, climate and energy systems, combined with new diplomacy features, there are times where it’s a stone cold bummer. Whether you’re fighting climate change or investing into future carbon clearing technologies that (sadly for us) do not actually exist, there are many points in the game where the lessons of the past few decades of global warming research are impressively reinforced, but maybe predictably so (if you’ve been paying attention to the news).
As I played, I found many opportunities to be reflective, panicked and downright depressed, which is probably exactly the emotional experience you want from a videogame. Here are five times the global catastrophes in Gathering Storm got too real.
5. When I got way in over my head and didn’t realize it until it was too late
Despite being perfectly aware that global warming was a possibility, if not the entire point, of Gathering Storm, I spent the first 250 turns of my game blissfully and perhaps even deliberately unaware of what was about to happen. I set up a Huge map, Pangaea, and eliminated a few Victory conditions so I could play for as long as possible and lean into the mechanics around climate change. Since it takes awhile to build up enough CO2 in the atmosphere to affect the global temperature, I kept right on cutting down trees and building up oil and coal dependent units and buildings. By the time the World Climate overview screen came up to warn me that my industrial contributions were directly causing the planet to warm up, I was already heavily dependent on fossil fuels for my energy and production needs, as well as my military, which was especially important in light of the many civilizations on the map. By the time I was actually worried, it was far too late to correct easily. Disarming and other compensation efforts were all but futile.
4. When reforestation did absolutely jack shit
With a handy little chart laying out exactly how much of this was my fault staring me directly in the face, I came to realize how much my thirst for Production had caused this. I’m big on clearing land or creating lumber mills, and according to the game’s figures, it was accounting for 10% of the rise in temperature. Panicked, I set out to reverse the damage: I purchased several settlers, started cities in unclaimed territories, and started planting and reforesting everywhere.
This did nothing. And I was disappointed but honestly I should have seen it coming. We already know that planting a lot of trees will do nothing to hold off climate change in real life—there’s simply too much CO2 at this point. The only way to have prevented this was to have incorporated a value for plant life into my strategy from the very beginning, which seems painfully on point.
3. When I lost coastal tiles thanks to rising water
Have I mentioned that in real life I own property a half mile from the ocean?
2. When I realized my efforts were futile in light of other civilizations—and I had no right to complain
Once I made enough progress in the Science track, I was able to use a project to clear carbon emissions out of the air (this is actually one of the ways the game is unrealistic, in that there’s actually hope to fix things in the future). But the thing about that is, by the time I actually had that technology, my carbon footprint, and that of other civilizations, was simply much too big to be mitigated. I had about 20 cities, most of which were equipped to run the project, taking eight to 10 turns or less. But with only 50 emissions cleared per cycle, and over 2500 just from my civilization alone, it was going to take much longer than the remaining 25 turns to fully reverse the damage.
Initially my instinct was to get mad at the other civilizations. I could see their own CO2 emissions, and (despite the World Congress Resolution forbidding it) their Builder units cutting down trees just across the border. But even as my personal pie wedge diminished on the chart, I realized I had no right to get upset. I was producing four times more CO2 than the next highest emitter—why should they care about how much pollution they were pumping into the air? It was a drop in the bucket compared to mine.
1. When my late stage game turned into a race to see who could ditch the planet first
As the game drew to a close and I worried that Earth would go up in a ball of flames before I had a chance to score a Victory, I decided to pour all my efforts into getting the heck out of Dodge. That is, pouring enough resources into Science research and launching a spaceship to Mars. Of course, I wasn’t the only one who thought of this, and the game quickly devolved into a sort of scientific arms race to see who could either sabotage each other’s rockets or build their own spaceship to Mars first. In the end, no one won that fight, and my file ended on a Score Victory that really only reflected my ability to stave off the worst of the inevitable until my own death. It was a bleak way to end things, knowing I could have prevented it if I’d taken climate change seriously from the beginning.
God, I hope they have Civilization VI in hell.
Holly Green is the assistant editor of Paste Games and a reporter and semiprofessional photographer. She is also the author of Fry Scores: An Unofficial Guide To Video Game Grub. You can find her work at Gamasutra, Polygon, Unwinnable, and other videogame news publications.