Unlimited games

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“There sure are a lot of games in this world.” There sure are! Hindus even claim that the world is God’s game (lila). With most of us not being God, the closest we come to that feeling may be computer games. For better or for worse.

I don’t like computer games where you win and then it’s over.

The best part of games like Civilization or Master of Magic is when the enemy is reduced to 1 city that I keep on the map so the game won’t end, while I transform the planet into a utopia. But even these games come to a natural end. At some point all technologies (or magics) are researched, and every square of the map is gainfully used. At that point, the game no longer merits my interest. It is not perfection I enjoy, but growth.

Even better are games which are for all purposes unlimited, or only limited by the human lifespan. (I suppose someone could inherit them, but I doubt there will be many volunteers.) The games that come to mind are simulators from Maxis. I am afraid Sim City is not among them, certainly not in its latest version. But the game Spore is the star example: The imaginary galaxy has thousands of stars, most of them with at least a couple planets. I’ve seen someone claim 50 000 planets (or was it stars) – the point is, there are more than you could possibly colonize in your lifetime, so the game is basically unlimited. It is also unlimited in that you can add your own creations, and the possible combinations there are also in the millions. Not only your own – the game will automatically load some of the worlds with creatures made by your friends and strangers. So this game is for all purposes unlimited.

A less obvious example is The Sims 2. Each neighborhood in this game can have up to 999 shopping districts or downtowns or both. (I judge this from the structure of the filenames, as far as I know it has never been tested.) You can only see one suburb at a time, but they are all part of the same neighborhood: If you run a shop in a shopping district, sims from the various suburbs will show up as customers. If you play a family in the main neighborhood or in one of the suburbs, sims from the other suburbs will randomly walk by. If you go downtown on a date, you will see sims from other suburbs come and go. So over time, theoretically you could have tens of thousands of sims who all knew each other. But usually the game crashes or people lose interest before it comes that far.

Role playing games are more limited, but here you have many different paths you may take. There are various classes or archetypes in such a game, and usually you can choose different specializations even within each class. In a massive multiplayer online RPG you can make teams with an almost unlimited variation of different classes and specializations. I rather enjoyed this in City of Heroes, which allowed many different combinations of archetypes to be viable, not just the standard formula from early medieval RPGs. For instance, perhaps you did not have a healer on the team, but you had two forcefield defenders. Two layers of force fields would make you hard to hit, so you would not need all that healing. The game had many such alternative routes, which made teams different and unique. Still, not exactly the same as the unlimited building games.


I think it is natural to want unlimited growth, but of course it is not really found in games. In this case, it is really all in our minds. Although our lifespan is limited, we desire to see the growth of individuals, families, neighborhoods, cities, empires, even worlds without end.

Well, some of us do. Others prefer games of endless killing, war and destruction – or at least to pull up the ladder while the sims are swimming. I guess there is some truth to the old proverb that you can learn more about a man from watching him play for and hour than hearing him talk for a year. (Although it is pretty certain that it wasn’t Plato who said that, no matter how many people attribute it to him. It is first seen in the early 20th century.)


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