Civilisation-Like Game Gives Real World Historical Insight


A computer simulation of the real world that works in a similar way to the game Civilisation has helped give added weight to a historical theory: that war has been a major driver of societies developing.

It’s the work of a team lead by Professor Peter Turchin of the University of Connecticut, who specializes in cliodynamics, something he describes as “the interface between biological, mathematical and social sciences.” His main research is into how small-scale social interactions between humans led to huge societies even among people with no genetic relation to one another.

The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, involved taking the land mass of Europe, Asia and Africa and breaking it down into squares. Each square was labeled as having a particularly type of land and either having or not having human inhabitants based on what was known about the real situation in 1500 BC.

The researchers then created a model of how the people would behave and move about in response to particular events, most notably “seeding” military technologies in places where such developments really occurred.

The model looked at what effect these changes had in the three thousand year period until 1500 AD.  It found the simulated results had a 65 percent match when it came to the real location of large civilizations.

The researchers then reran the experiment but took out the starting information about the elevation of each particular piece of land — effectively treating the world as flat — and found this reduced the accuracy to 48 percent.

However, rerunning it with the elevation information present, but taking out the military technology influence reduced the accuracy to just 16 percent. In other words, it appears war may have had more influence on where societies live than geography did.

The theory behind this is that whatever its pros and cons, the practicalities of a local population being engaged in war create closer societal bonds and institutions, making it more likely people will stick together in large numbers and create what we now know as countries.

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