Grand Strategy and the Strange Sport of Nation Simulation

The internet is full of hidden storytelling communities, and one of the more interesting ones is built around simulating the future of the world and re-defining its past for fun.

There’s a treasure trove of videos predicting the future borders of the world. These aren’t to be taken seriously – perhaps only a handful of these changes will come to pass. They can help illustrate the rifts between different regions of a country. Who knew Belgium had so many separatist movements, or that a political party exists to spur the independence of Brittany – a large and crucial coastal section of France?

Some of these events might even make others less likely. If Russia continues its creeping re-absorption of former Soviet Republics, it becomes increasingly unlikely Europe itself fragments in the face of so aggressive an Eastern power. Economically and militarily, it would be in Europe’s interest to remain as whole as possible.

It’s useful to see an all-cases scenario like this, not because it’s realistic (it isn’t), but because it becomes a compendium of independence movements across Europe that are fascinating to research and learn more about. Do not take any of these videos as educational in and of themselves, but they can point you in interesting directions.

Most of these videos concern wars instead of political changes, and they all seem hell-bent on replicating World War 2. If there’s a consistent subplot to them, it’s that no one knows what to do with Ireland, but they feel bad leaving them out; Ireland usually winds up on whatever side Britain isn’t. Many of these videos are nothing more than wishful thinking on the part of the creators and have very little basis in understanding modern Europe. They’re like creating imaginary matches between sports teams.

Now, there’s no such thing as a reasonable Middle Eastern version of this, because no one seems to understand the complex social, cultural, and religious juxtapositions at play there. It’s understandable, since most countries don’t seem to comprehend this either. The closest you’ll get is a good Noam Chomsky lecture series.

Another, more popular branch of this exists with historical grand strategy simulations. This community is far larger and centers around projecting alternate histories using grand strategy video games. Some of this has to do with history, and some of it has to do with teasing out the intricacies of a game’s Artificial Intelligence.

What might have happened if World War 2 had started early and Germany, still in the midst of mobilization, had to rely on a 1936 Italy that was more prepared for war at the time than her northern ally? These are subject to the rules of the game as much as they are to the historical realities of the time. Observe the limitations within the Hearts of Iron 3 A.I. when Italy gets nothing despite conquering a third of France.

Perhaps the largest community exists on Reddit’s r/civ board, wherein users watch as 42 competing Civilization 5 A.I. rewrite an emergent world history. Check out r/civbattleroyale for the full rundown of its flagship series. Rather than taking control of the countries themselves, users watch what the A.I. does and debate over who will eventually win. They argue over individual cultures’ strengths and weaknesses as laid out in the game. In fact, if you overheard them without knowing the context, you’d probably think fans were arguing over sports. Image boards contain analytical breakdowns. Other “leagues” have since included play-by-play analysis:

That’s ultimately why storytelling like this intrigues and captures an audience. These simulations create new, fantastical cultural narratives in the form of conjectures and alternate histories. It becomes no different than predicting how your favorite NFL or NBA team will do next season, or imagining how historical dream teams might fare against each other.

Much of this community is formed around appreciation of the games themselves, but it does provoke some interesting questions. How many of these attitudes does anybody use to influence their real worldviews?

(For more information, check out Rock, Paper, Shotgun’s analysis for why spectating these games is becoming so popular.)


Are you a fan of these types of games? What are your views on their influence on people’s real life views?




Gabriel Valdez
Gabriel Valdez
Gabriel is a movie critic who's been a campaign manager in Oregon, an investigative reporter in Texas, and a film producer in Massachusetts. His writing was named best North American criticism of 2014 by the Local Media Association. He's assembled a band of writers who focus on social issues in film. They have a home base.