I suffer from anxiety. Not to a clinical degree, but it’s something that hinders me in daily life. Or used to hinder me. I take medication for it and it helps. I also learn how to deal with it better, which includes avoiding triggers and teaching my body to stay calm during a bad spell. I also have simple home remedies. Comfort treatment to zone me out of the stress zone. It can be good food, Netflix, calming music or Civilization 5.
I so specifically mention this game because normally I don’t play games to calm down from an anxious mood. I love games, but that’s because they bring me joy and excitement and inspiration. The last thing I need when I feel restless is a stimulating environment, no matter if it’s good or bad. I need peace of mind; order and clearness.
Civilization 5 provides just that. In the world of “Civ” everything is clear and simple and things work in a way, a way.. well.. they just work. I build my cities, put my workers to work, connect cities with roads, harvest resources and everything is right in the world. Which is funny, because not so long ago I didn’t really care for such games as the Civilization series.
I always figured I was too impatient and chaotic for such games. I was convinced I wouldn’t be able to understand the complexity, get a hang of the mechanics and manage all my resources to balance out the workflow and actually properly run an empire instead of just running it into the ground.
Turns out all I needed was a little step-up, a set of training wheels if you want. My step up was Civilization Revolution. This console game is a simplified, watered down version of the classic PC series. We first borrowed it from a friend, and later got it for free in the Games with Gold program on Xbox. It’s a bit more light hearted and cartoony, the maps are smaller and one game from stone age to future doesn’t take as long as its bigger brothers. Because it was so accessible and easy to learn, I started to play it more and more. Especially when I was stuck in another game, or couldn’t decide what else to play. My wife called it jokingly my “comfort game” – because I would always return to it and never get tired of yet playing another round. I put many hours in “CivRev” an earned every Xbox achievement for it.
That’s how I ended up deciding to give the big game a try. Contrary to what I feared before, I was perfectly able to maintain control and overview. I realised this was because although the game is complex, it’s not abstract. Things make sense. It doesn’t rush you to make decisions, but let’s you take as long as you want. Everything you do contains a sense of logic and fluency. Years ago I watched a review of the game on television, and the reviewer noted the “German” character of the game. He referred to Civilization creator Sid Meier and the reputation Germany has of disciplined, hard working people. Civilization indeed works like a finely polished clockwork where all the pieces fit together. You build, produce and develop. Your people work, discover new things and you can build more and make more things. This is exactly why it has such calming effect on me: I’m not rushed, I’m not being thwarted. Okay there is warfare in the game, but the AI is smart enough to just operate in its own interest, not solely for the purpose of preventing you from achieving your goals.
Secondly, as a history nerd it also pleases me to act out scenarios either according to history, or enjoy the (sometimes flat-out wacky) alternative course it takes in my game. I think that’s also why winning is hardly ever a goal for me. I enjoy building my empire, interacting with other civilizations and fulfil my own goals. I often just sit and imagine how my people are living their daily life. If they enjoy living in the city I build, and going to work on the land and the mines. How the newly invented technologies are catching on. Probably it’s also why I haven’t bothered yet with the newest entry in the series Beyond Earth. Without the historic context it just doesn’t have the same charm.
Civilization 5 is a comfort zone, a place where everything connects and makes sense. Where I can calmly arrange things the way I want, when in my head sometimes stuff doesn’t add up or runs amok. Playing it creates order and let’s the mud settle down to clear the water. When I play Civ, I can function better.