Weekly Time Waster: Society

Society is a game that measures success by the amount of "culture" accrued. And what accrues culture? Going to a museum? Reading a book? Nah. No such actions exist in the game. Actually, almost every single action in the game will give you culture, from clearing trees and collecting diamonds to combatting foreign outposts or harvesting seeds from your own. It's Pacman in the wilderness: Consume everything to win, implying that the ideal world is a barren one.

After a few somewhat long-winded tutorials, you're set to start the game, controlling a small figure whose only goal is to alter the political and environmental landscape as much as possible in the time allotted. Like in a strategy game, the game's map is hidden from you and you literally must explore to see what's out there. On top of clearing trees and firing pellets, the act of exploring itself almost seems like an act of devastation, slowly pecking away at your natural ignorance of place. And then, after what seems like too brief a time, the game is over and your progress reduced to a simple score.

We couldn't find any clear-cut, one-size-fits-all strategy to raising our score. The gameplay more-or-less necessitates fly-by-your seat decision-making, which, given the time limit, means you really have to get in the mindset of it all. Do I stop and destroy or explore and raze? It's not the most affecting use of a game's ability to manipulate their players' moral compass, but it is somewhat interesting, and the gameplay is entertaining though we admit we wish there was more of a goal or measure of progress than a high score.

The name Society wants to make the game some kind of counterpoint to the well-known Civilization series. In the Civilization games, progress is everything and there is an openness to how to interact with your surroundings, with a carefully-balanced reward system. Society on the other hand, has only a short-sighted, attention-defecit view of these same things. As a game, that means different tropes: high scores, time limits, repetition. As a critical dialogue, it's something to ponder. Is our concept of "society" just a convenience that we use, a substance-less appeal to collectivity? On what scale other than unrelenting busy-ness can we measure ourselves when the history-redefining stepping stones of "civilization" are beyond the scope of our lives?