The Gandhi Dilemma: Emergence and Games

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:

Fancy Graph
Source: civfanatics.com user JPBar81

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.

I can't believe you've done this.
Diplomatic negotiation in-progress.

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.

He also has Elephant Cavalry if the nukes don't do the trick.
He also has elephant cavalry if the nukes don’t do the trick.

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.

  7 comments for “The Gandhi Dilemma: Emergence and Games

  1. Savannah
    January 29, 2013 at 2:33 am

    I don’t play Civilization, but you described it clearly and interestingly enough that I could understand well the point you were trying to make. I’m surprised that this pseudo-bug didn’t become a scandal, or at least a popular meme. I mean, this is pretty hilarious, but it’s bound to offend a few Gandhi fans. Nevertheless, I appreciated how you justified the quirk by explaining the game’s mechanics by giving a possible philosophy held by the designers, suggesting that perhaps Gandhi may have turned “evil” if made leader in a time when nuclear weapons were accessible. It is quite possible that the game makers had none of these intentions when letting Gandhi go wild, but it’s always good to consider these possibilities to fully understand how small details can affect a game and its impact on the player.

  2. Jim
    January 29, 2013 at 1:33 pm

    I play quite a bit of Civilization (recently got God & Kings and the other DLC civilizations/wonders and enjoying the addition). I run into evil Gandhi quite often. If its earlier enough in the game and I’m in a good enough position to do so, I declare war and at the very least ham string Gandhi. If its later in the game, I just reset and start a new game (I do that a lot anyway). It was rather hilarious the first few times I was in end game with evil Gandhi. I do think that Gandhi’s AI is the most glaring error with Civilization 5’s AI. A lot of times I stop playing a Civilization 5 game because the AI does something that makes no sense, like a open borders treaty, but only I have to give the AI iron and a bit of gold. I’ll admit I don’t have a really in depth knowledge of the game mechanics but I like to think my civilization game knowledge is enough to know when I’m being offered a bad deal. Most of the time when an AI approaches me with a research agreement its horribly one-sided in their favor. Something I started is instead of just declining a bad deal, I began to just take away stuff to see what the AI would be OK with to make the agreement. Most of the time, it’s still pretty one-sided (and if you approach the AI with the same deal they approached you with a few turns from then, they won’t accept it). When I saw that Civilization 5 became a steam workshop game (user-made content/mods uploaded to steam, for games like Civilization 5 and Skyrim you can download the content/mods). I was hoping for a better AI, I have yet to find one though.

  3. Margeaux
    January 29, 2013 at 2:13 pm

    I agree with Savannah that you described the game in a manner that really allowed a person who hasn’t played Civilization–like myself!–to really understand a general concept of the game! That said, it makes me wonder why the game’s creators would choose to include a leader such as Ghandi, the epitome of nonviolence and peace, in a competitive video game. I can understand that Ghandi, by definition, was a historical and influential leader who had brought about social change to his people and most of his country. Yet never once had he sought out to accomplish these goals through either harsh force or brutal conquest. And for him to be thrown into a competitive digital world centered on players creating the bigger and better empire through ANY battle tactics, a historically-accurate and passive Ghandi just doesn’t seem to be the character that most avid, hardcore gamers would kill for.

    So why offer such a character in the first place, if extra effort is needed to persuade a player (ie with ammo, bugs, etc.) and ultimately ruin the original image of the real-life leader?

    • Cameron
      January 30, 2013 at 9:44 pm

      Thanks! To be completely fair to Evil Gandhi, a few criteria do need to be bet in order for him to go nuclear–namely that he persists into the last stages of a game (which is unlikely if his neighbors are warring peoples) and that he has immediate access to large quantities of uranium. His programming encourages him to maintain a geographically small territory and he gets bonuses for doing so, which means he usually needs to convince someone with uranium to give it to him before he can even think about going nuclear. That said: if he is given time, he will always develop and deploy nuclear weapons.

      As mentioned in the Hobbes example, even assuming there’s an intentionally political subtext, I’m not sure it would be meant so much to insult Gandhi as it would be to criticize the proliferation of nuclear weapons. The most obvious message, in my mind, would be that absolutely no one can be trusted with the power of a nuclear arsenal–even a reputable figure like Mahatma Gandhi. There’s a lot of additional subtext in the game regarding nuclear weapons. For instance: every time you develop a new technology, the game gives you a relevant historical quotation to establish a positive tone to the development. The famous Oppenheimer quotation you get after developing nuclear fission is decidedly negative. “I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” Interestingly, Oppenheimer was quoting Hindu scripture.

  4. ChocobunnySK
    January 29, 2013 at 10:19 pm

    Well this seems about right.

    All ais had values for aggressiveness, likelihood of building nukes, and such. Most had values somewhere in the middle between 1-10, but Gandhi had his set to 1. However, countries with a “peaceful” form of government also got a -1 or -2 to these values — and 1-2 = 255 for the math used in that place in the game. So, Gandhi was perfectly peaceful until he discovered Democracy, which is when he instantly turns into a bloodthirsty maniac who always wants to build and use nukes.

    So yes, the warmonger Gandhi is an injoke for Civilization gamers. There are mods out there to correct him into a more peaceful character, if you so desire. For the most part, there’s no reasoning with A.I. by the way. Seriously, some matches I’m about to take their last city, and I offer them surrender, but they demand a ton of stuff from me in repremand. So I just wipe them out.

  5. January 30, 2013 at 2:26 pm

    One of the best entries I’ve read so far. I found this easy to read because you clarified how the game worked, and you defined all of your terms in the simplest way possible by using everyday examples to mirror the points (ex. the DNA example.) Also you were able to stay on topic without going off on a tangent about your emotional input on the game. This kind of makes me want to play Civilization now.

    I think Nuclear Warfare Gandhi (I can’t say that without laughing my butt off for some reason) is in the game to add humor since behavior like that would be the complete opposite of what is expected of him. It could also very well be true that it is an inside joke between the developers, being there similar Gandhi bugs within the franchise. Even so, I like how you took it a step forward by integrating this bug into the game’s message saying that people will turn on each other when they are introduced to unstoppable forces. Although we don’t like to think of Gandhi as a warmonger, that doesn’t eliminate the possibility that he would have turned away from his peaceful ways when given the chance.

    I’m pretty sure this game upset the ones who respected Gandhi, but there had to have been a reason the developer made these choices, aside from trolling Gandhi’s followers. But still, it’s pretty funny and, as Savannah said, I’m surprised Nuclear Warfare Gandhi isn’t a meme yet.

    (Extra Fact: Gandhi was assassinated today 65 years ago)

  6. sprobst
    January 31, 2013 at 1:45 pm

    Another issue with that game is that the diplomacy makes no sense, it you get attack by someone and then attack them; your standing with the other players is lowered. So if you go to war with anyone you end going to war with everyone.

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