Empire Earth

Empire EarthI think you would like Empire Earth. It’s a computer game that was released in 2001, when I was 7 years old. Empire Earth is a real-time history-based strategy game. Or in normal words: it’s a game where you’re a military dictator. You can tell your citizens to mine, farm, etc. and you can use the resources they gather to build things, fighty things, because there are other military dictators who do not like you. I spent far too long playing Empire Earth yesterday. So long that I have a sneaking suspicion that the hours played may well be in double figures, a thought which scares, upsets, and intrigues me.

How could such an outdated game hold my attention for so long? It’s the most immersive experience I’ve had for a while. I am a fidgeting entertainment-snob with a productivity-obsession which has forced me to develop the skill of working and watching TV simultaneously so that I don’t waste any time. This often results in me sending out job applications inadvertently peppered with Alan Partridge quotes.

It was like reading a book, a really good book. I just sat there unaware of time passing, with no podcasts playing, no music on, not looking at Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, WordPress, Youtube, or Reddit, my sole focus: Empire Earth. It wasn’t even playing the campaign (story) I just played a randomly generated game of kill-the-other-team. And it was just one game, but in that one game I took my civilization from the prehistoric era all the way to the Space age. I experienced every era of history. It was the 2001: A Space Odyssey of gaming.

Some units in the game can’t be upgraded when a new epoch swings around, so in and among the shiny new robotic citizens of the distant future, there was the occasional Knight or Rock Thrower bumbling around. Out at sea, in a fleet of laser cannon battleships, there was a handsome Galleon left over from the Imperial Age. I’m scrabbling to find meaning in this ridiculous gaming binge, so I’m just mentioning this because I found the anachronisms strangely pleasing. I could say that it gave me a fresh perspective on the importance of historical preservation, but that would be a lie. I just liked it.

When trying to rationalise it in my head, I like to think that Empire Earth is the modern equivalent of chess. But it isn’t. While chess will always be shorthand for clever-clogs , Empire Earth is shorthand for loneliness. It’s not even popular amongst people who play video games (often called gamers, but that word has connotations of devotion and misogyny that don’t fit here) it’s not even well known as a collective slice of nostalgia. When I was playing Empire Earth most people were playing Civilization or Age of Empires instead. I’ve never played Civilization or Age of Empires, so maybe I’m the one missing out. But the box does say that Empire Earth has ‘the complexity of Civilization, the graphical beauty of Age of Empires and the intense action of Command and Conquer’ admittedly, it may be biased.

It wasn’t pure nostalgia which kept me so entertained though. Nostalgia is often transparent. Returning to something like Pokémon conjures up feelings from childhood which are warm, fuzzy, and pixelated, but I can see through it. The Gotta-Catch-‘em-All element seems so laborious and pointless. That wasn’t the case with Empire Earth. It still managed to hold my attention for many many hours. I should point out that not all games of Empire Earth take that long, but I’m not really in it to win it. I play it like The Sims. I like to build an empire, to have lots of walls and towers dividing my kingdom. I have to establish a stable economy before I even think about looking for my opponent, let alone attack them. Perhaps if I’d invested in the military instead of advancing my civilization to the point where they had indoor toilets, I could have won the game a few centuries earlier. Conversely, whenever I played The Sims it was with the sole intention of killing people.

Following this wilful misuse of my time, I felt so remarkably lazy that I decided (despite hating exercise) that I should run around the block. For the first few seconds I felt invincible in my unconventional knitwear-based running attire, but when I got back to my flat I spent about ten minutes fairly certain that I was going to die. I almost wrote a note explaining what had happened. I turned off the oven just in case.

Thankfully, I did not die. I recommend Empire Earth. I do not recommend spontaneous exercise.

Recommendations in brief:

  • American Psycho is a great palette cleanser after watching A Good Day to Die Hard.
  • Daniel Kitson is still excellent.
  • Before buying canned goods, just double check that you own a can opener. You might think that you’re a fully functioning adult now, but you’re not really. Deal with it.

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