Gods of Power and Might: What Civilization V Gets Right (and Wrong) About Christianity
You have founded the new religion Christianity in the holy city of Moscow."
So reads a notification on the side of my screen while I'm playing Civilization V: Gods and Kings. It represents a moment in my kingdom when my hodge-podge of chosen values and beliefs have coalesced into one coherent system, when a Great Prophet has been produced within my kingdom, and the right amount of faith has been generated. These things must line up perfectly to produce a particular religion. Someone needs to be pulling the strings.
That someone is me. I'm not exactly a king, but I'm not a sovereign god either. I have much more power than any historical king has ever had, though I'm still surrounded by challenges. I'm able to make decisions in an abstract vacuum, virtually divorced from political impulses and without having my decisions influenced by concrete things like dying citizenry or a demanding populace.
From my vantage point, the actions I take seem rote and mundane, but they are acts of extreme power. I expand my kingdom at every opportunity, eventually overcoming the landscape of an entire island. For the most part, I am on the defensive, building a sufficient army to hold off barbarians and attacking nations.
The Civilization series is primarily about acquiring power, though that power can come in the form of anything from military might to cultural weight, political influence, or technological advancement. The series is remarkably nuanced in the way it reflects the possible ways a kingdom might achieve success. These aspects of power all influence one another in unforeseen ways, and as other nations are introduced into the world narrative, the pursuit becomes even messier and more desperate.
It's telling that an encounter with other nations typically results not in joyous collaboration but in mutual distrust. The inevitable power struggle between nations is the key component of Civilization and the driving force for the player. There is little motivation to simply exist, little motivation to pursue beauty or a culture of love for the sake of it. These motivations are all tied to the end goal of becoming the world's greatest superpower.
Just as we have seen throughout actual world history (that reality where Christianity was founded, um, somewhere other than Moscow), when religion is introduced in the context of a power struggle, its teachings are diluted. Eventually, the small city-state situated on my otherwise completely occupied island seemed to warm to the brand of Christianity its neighbors subscribed to. I was offered a "quest" notifying me that their citizenry had requested we send missionaries to share our faith with them.
That's the opportunity that evangelistic Christians live for: a literal invitation to share their faith with an entire populous. Naturally, I took them up on the offer as quickly as possible, producing a great prophet whom I could send down to proselytize. After a while, the population of the city-state grew to appreciate Christianity, and our partnership was solidified. We had allies.
But religious allies are also military allies, and any threats to their city-state became a threat to my nation. I became preoccupied with fighting wars on their behalf, and while none of the wars were primarily about religion, it's hard to deny its role in our current military arrangement. I had wanted to establish a true, unstained version of Christianity. What I found instead was that in the world of Civilization, it was impossible to keep religion from being influenced by power and intrigue.