“If you can discover a better way of life than office-holding for your future rulers, a well-governed city becomes a possibility. For only in such a state will those rule who are truly rich, not in gold, but in the wealth that makes happiness–a good and wise life.”
— Plato, “The Republic”, Datalinks
Social Psych is a first-rank economic technology. It lets the faction that discovers it build the Recreation Commons facility, which is a cheap way to manage drones in a base. Essentially, the application of this technology is improved social stability.
Sister Miriam and the Believers begin with this technology. This is supposed to represent the Believers’ skill at and emphasis on helping people cope with the stresses of colonization on the new planet. Which is fitting, as according to the game lore, Miriam was the chief psychologist onboard the Unity.
But it is interesting that, for the first time since the introduction, we are presented with a quote that isn’t by one of the seven leaders. In fact, it isn’t even fictional. It’s a quote from Plato’s most famous work. Why this one? Why here, associated with this technology?
The answer is threefold. Through the base management gameplay that was inherited from Civilization II, SMAC asserts that the well-governed city is one in which too many people are not unhappy. Correspondingly, the best governed cities are those in which many people are wildly happy and no considerable number are truly unhappy. This is implemented through the mechanics that underlie the game’s concept of city-wide golden ages and drone riots. It would seem that Plato agrees with this assertion, judging by the quote.
Second, this quote from Plato is an element in a pattern that Reynolds will come back to time and time again. The future technology that is discovered during the course of the game can be used to create actual, solid solutions to problems man has experienced since time immemorial. The implication with this quote is that, after at least three thousand years of searching, it is finally Social Psych that enables us to discover the better way of life Plato speaks of. Pretty deep stuff for a first-level tech.
Finally, there is another small detail here that is worth savoring. When Plato speaks here, he’s clearly using a metaphor to try to get his listeners to measure wealth in terms of wisdom instead of mere cash. But there’s a wonderful double meaning here that only exists in the context of SMAC.
See, in the gameplay, all energy that’s generated by the bases each turn can be routed in one of three directions: it can be saved as reserve energy for industrial use or covert activity; it can be sent to the labs to discover new technologies; or it can be spent in the psych budget to produce happy workers (or Talents, in the game parlance). This means that in SMAC, the psych budget is quite literally “the wealth that makes happiness”.
I find myself saying this a lot, but I cannot resist saying it again: genius! It’s like Reynolds just rolls out of bed and casually scores critical successes on even the smallest details. I’m in awe. And we’ve barely even started our exploration of the game.