Breathless With Anticipation for a More "Civilized" Berlin

by Rick Dakan

23 September 2010

I have a propensity for losing many a potentially productive day to turn-based strategy games.
Screenshot from Civilization V (2K Games, 2010) 

It’s no doubt telling that two of my clearest memories from my first attempt at graduate school are getting into a fight with my advisor and spending a whole snow-bound winter week sealed away in my dorm room playing Romance of the Three Kingdoms on my Sega Genesis. As you might expect, neither one was conducive to getting a master’s degree, and I didn’t. But I didn’t go down without a fight and part of that fight involved swearing off any more computer strategy games. I unplugged the Genesis and got out of the dorm room. Instead of the library I went to play tabletop RPGs with some new friends, resulting in my first paid writing gig and a nice career despite that final blow up with my prof. But that’s another story. The important take away here is that I have a propensity for losing many a potentially productive day to turn-based strategy games.
I’ve made myself delete three different versions of Civilization from three different computers over the years. Writing freelance, my daily 2000 word quota went unanswered multiple times under the clarion call of “one more turn.” Hey, I thought, Civilization Revolutions for the Xbox 360—it’s lite and easy and won’t . . .  As it turned out, my 30-something body betrayed me before my work schedule suffered too much. I sat in one awkward position in a chair while playing Civ Rev for five or six hours straight, my posture locked. The result was a thrown out back that impeded both walking and sleeping for the next few weeks. I loaned the game to a friend.

I found a good balance with Civ Rev when I bought it for the Nintendo DS. It was my constant companion on my four month research trip to Berlin in 2008, a way of whiling away the evening hours when I was too tired, cold, or broke to go out and get into trouble in the big city. Since then, it’s served as the perfect companion on long plane-rides. Three or four hours in the air can vanish quite rapidly when I apply the correct dosage of podcasts on my ipod and inter-civilizational conflict on my DS. Turn-based strategy and I have reached a happy accord.

I knew Civilization V was coming, but I knew I shouldn’t. At home, I don’t play much on my PC, a conscious decision to limit games to the living room and work to the office upstairs. It’s a division that’s worked ever since I insituted it three or four years ago by uninstalling a Civilization game from my desktop. But I’m not at home now. I’m in Berlin again, and while I have my DS with me (the new one, which I bought after breaking my old one while playing Henry Hatsworth), Civ Rev has lost its allure. Even on airplanes, I’m more likely to play tower defense games on my Ipad these days.

Spending my days steeped in European history, visiting museums filled with artifacts of wars and kings and scientific discovery, listening to Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle on audiobook, I’ve been preparing the soil. With just two weeks to go in Berlin before moving on to London and then back home, I thought I was going to make it. I thought I’d have some willpower. But then they put out that damned 13 minutes of gameplay video for Civ 5 and everything resembling willpower collapsed. I had to have it. I had to have it on launch day. I wanted, wanted, wanted to waste away my remaining days and nights in Berlin, guiding my virtual German civilization to new heights.

September 21st, Civ 5 release day, came and . . . wait. No release in Europe until Friday! Argh. But I’m tricksy. I called a friend in America, had him log into my Skype account from there and buy the game for me. I thought that I’d be able to then download it here, but Steam knew my tricks. At least I got to pay in dollars instead of Euros. And now I wait. According to the site, the game will be available here at 5pm PST, which is by my calculations 3 AM here in Berlin. I thought about staying up, but, no, even better is going to sleep early. I’m usually up by 6:30 anyway, so I’ll only have lost three and a half hours. I’ve already pre-loaded the game, waiting for it to unlock.

Today I think I’ll go visit the giant monument to Bismark in the Tiergarten, just to get ready. Maybe check in with the portrait of Napoleon in the Deutsches History Museum and the bust of Julius Caesar in the Neues Museum just to let them know that I’m coming for ‘em. I’ve got a week left in Berlin. If only I spoke enough German to have pizza delivered.

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