I heard on the radio this morning that committed computer gamer James Moore has spent the last decade playing Civilisation 2 (not continuously, it has to be said) and has now reached the virtual year of 3991 AD. Things have taken a somewhat nasty turn over the millennia – the world has been stuck in a vicious, Orwellian three-nation standoff for centuries, and has been through a generally rather tough time, what with famine, nuclear war, mass population die-off and also runaway global warming (the ice caps have somehow melted over twenty times – which is interesting in itself, as logically one would assume they’d need to grow back, in between melts.)
Daniel Knowles from the Telegraph explained, over the radio, that the game had certain assumptions build into it, which he deemed reasonable and not particularly outlandish. He mentioned nuclear war and a stop to the production of green technology as scenarios which would have certain consequences; for example, stopping green technology – in the universe of this game, at any rate – would of course lead to dangerous global warming.
What I find interesting is that James Moore has now become mired in something of an impasse – his nation (the Celts) is stuck in a permanent stalemate and nothing seems likely to change it – indeed, there’s a possibility that the game has now reached some kind of terminal state. And this, I think, speaks volumes about the limits of any kind of simulation, whether it be a humble game or the sort of computer models used to try and predict what the economy or the climate will do. There are always fixed assumptions and a finite number of possibilities. If the assumptions are incorrect, and if stuff happens that hasn’t been accounted for when the model was designed, then the simulation will be wrong, although it might be quite useful (and also entertaining, if it’s in the form of a game.) And the longer it runs, the wronger it will get.
In the real world, the unexpected can always happen. And often does! And in unexpected ways, too! And just when you thought it wouldn’t!