Veteran players of Firaxis’ Civilization V may have noticed something strange about Mahatma Gandhi. For those of you unfamiliar with the framework of the game: the Civilization series allows the player choose a historical leader and instructs them to build a prosperous civilization through any means they see fit, be they war, trade or diplomacy. When playing alone, the player is pitted against AI-driven leaders of other nations with the goal of establishing global hegemony (though not necessarily complete conquest.) Each AI leader is designed to reflect their historical counterpart’s behavior. Genghis Kahn, for example, will revel in warfare and spurn diplomatic negotiation. So, given his historical reputation for nonviolence and peaceful regime change, players might find it awkward to witness Gandhi launching an ICBM at them.
Quick research reveals the logistics of each leader’s behavior. Below is a table of each world leader’s likelihoods of using certain strategies on a scale of 1-10, with each new game randomly generating a plus-or-minus two variance:
This table determines how each AI player will go about playing the game. Some will be naturally suspicious or manipulative and others will be relatively forward about their goals. Most notable in this instance is the “Nuke” attribute. For instance: George Washington’s nuke-number is 6, meaning that—in any given game—Washington’s likelihood of developing and launching nuclear weapons is somewhere between 40-80%.
Gandhi’s number is 12.
Combined with his other attributes, this creates a paradoxical character. For the majority of any given match, Gandhi will be comparatively peaceful and honest with other civilizations and the player, usually avoiding military engagement and expanding his civilization through cultural and diplomatic means. Naturally, many players may seek to ally with him early on given his trustworthy reputation. That changes once he has completed the Manhattan Project, at which point Gandhi will begin solving every dispute through the indiscriminate application of nuclear fire. Upon reaching the Atomic Age, Gandhi can easily become the most violent despot in the entire game.
Civilization is often touted as one of those “serious” games, offering some debatable level of educational value to the player. The most obvious value is its teaching of historical civilizations, offering the player bits and pieces of information about different societies across multiple eras while simultaneously teaching some nominal bit of information about each nation’s behavior as recorded by history. On an even deeper level, Civilization is an excellent introduction to resource management and the basic components of international affairs. The player starts with nothing but a city and a scout, making the game relatively simple in its first few turns. As the player learns their way around the complexity increases until eventually the player is managing alliances, territory, arms races and a whole slew of complicated internal strategies not only to reach one of the game’s victory conditions but also to prevent other civilizations from doing so before the player. So—in a game that puts such an emphasis on this kind of play—why is Gandhi programmed to go absolutely psychotic in the eleventh hour?
It’s not a bug. Or, rather, if it is a bug it isn’t one Firaxis has shown interest in fixing given Gandhi’s nuclear-fueled madness has persisted across patches and expansions since the game’s release. The most likely answer is that it’s an inside joke referencing similar Gandhi bugs in previous iterations of the franchise. Even granting Occam’s Razor, Civ V’s Gandhi presents an interesting example of emergence, something which games have in far greater abundance than any other medium.
In short, emergence is a property of a complex system which cannot be accurately predicted by examining that system’s individual parts. For instance, you can’t tell by someone’s DNA what their favorite film is going to be, even though the DNA is directly responsible for producing the individual. In games, phenomena such as strafe-jumping, rocket-jumping and camping are all emergent properties which became unintentional-but-ubiquitous qualities in their respective games. In the case of Evil Gandhi, regardless of his purpose for being, a number of different emergent properties in Civ V can be observed as a result of his tendencies.
The most obvious result is the experienced player’s need to develop special strategies for dealing with Evil Gandhi. Declaring war is easy, but attacking Gandhi unprovoked is understandably not going to sit well with the game’s United Nations. Befriending Evil Gandhi is possible, but his “neediness” trait is also very high and his “forgiveness” trait is low, meaning that he’s likely to turn on you if he doesn’t get his way—this being undesirable if he already has nuclear weapons. In addition, while you’re trying to make a plan, Evil Gandhi is going to be obliterating your allies because they didn’t trade uranium for salt.
This sort of emergent play results in a sort of intuitive teaching of the ever popular Prisoner’s Dilemma. Given the nature of Evil Gandhi’s tendencies, it can be reasonably assumed that—should he acquire any amount of uranium—someone is going to be launching a nuke. Either the player will try to wipe out his nuclear arsenal before he has second-strike capability or Evil Gandhi will get mad when the player doesn’t agree to assist his conquests. If the example holds true to the Prisoner’s Dilemma, the most likely outcome is that both possibilities will happen. There is even a decent argument to be made that what amounts to a bug is an excellent representation of a Hobbesian State of Nature as it relates to nuclear weapons, which would imply a complete breakdown of social contracts (e.g. a state acquiring nukes) will turn even the most peaceful thinkers into self-interested despots. Such a turn in ideology is not unfounded in India’s own history given Indira Gandhi’s Smiling Buddha— India’s first nuclear test explosion on the border of Pakistan, which would later be noted as a significant drive for Pakistan’s own nuclear weapons development.
If anything, Evil Gandhi proves the medium’s unparalleled propensity for emergence, in which a single number out of place could result in a memetic phenomenon with both absurdly humorous and arguably serious results.