“Once a man has changed the relationship between himself and his environment, he cannot return to the blissful ignorance he left. Motion, of necessity, involves a change in perspective.”
— Commissioner Pravin Lal, “A Social History of Planet”
Doctrine: Mobility is labeled in the game as an exploration technology. It enables the creation of units using the rover chassis, which enables double-speed land travel over flat terrain or on roads. In the early game, rover units serve as the backbone of both land exploration and attacking forces, and continue to see use until almost the very end of the game.
Interestingly, in SMAC, the technologies that enable the basic modes of propulsion we’re familiar with from Earth (wheeled transport, boats, airplanes, even hovercraft) are all represented as doctrines. The idea is that the technologies themselves and their purposes are well-known; the real problem in the context of military operations on Planet is in tactics and logistics. Therefore, the knowledge represented by Doctrine: Mobility isn’t just how to build a car’s drivetrain, though that’s certainly part of it. It’s mostly about how to resupply a mobile column or how to keep the various far-flung units in contact so that they can effectively coordinate.
It’s worth mentioning that the Spartans start with this technology along with a scout rover instead of the other factions’ scout infantry units, reflecting their emphasis on military doctrine and preparedness. Based on the above reasoning, this makes total sense. Col. Santiago and the people that would have flocked to her are exactly the people who would have treasured copies of Heinz Guderian’s Panzer Leader in their e-readers. Speed, audacity, and decisive force at the crucial point are prized.
But it’s also intriguing that this technology is represented by another social-science quote from one of Brother Lal’s works. In game, the immediate effect of this technology is military in nature. But the ability to transit between bases in rovers must necessarily effect the experience of daily life on Planet. Quotes like this make it clear that the game as experienced is intended to be seen as a model, in some ways. The world of the game feels more real, in some sense, when the player finds himself imagining what it would be like for a typical civilian colonist to get access to motorized transport.
Another intriguing thing about this is that Lal is again chosen to deliver this perspective. Presumably, unlike his “History of Science”, “A Social History of Planet” was written well after Planetfall to describe the rapid changes in society stemming from the era of early colonization and up into the mid-game, when each of the societies manage to establish themselves more firmly on the alien world. The fact that these words were presumably written in the in-game future (from the perspective of the player discovering the technology) gives the implied narrative of the game an added solidity.
Finally, the quote itself is both a truism and a clever point, as befitting the best of highbrow social theorizing. Lal’s a sharp guy. And it is both interesting – and true – that the ability to cross long distances rapidly changes both a person’s physical perspective and that of the resulting society. Liberalism, in the sense represented by Lal, has historically fed off of this mobility and the resulting breakdowns in the sharp lines between the in-group and the out-group.