“The chief aim of their constitution and government is that, whenever public needs permit, all citizens should be free, so far as possible, to withdraw their time and energy from the service of the body, and devote themselves to the freedom and culture of the mind. For that, they think, is the real happiness of life.”
— Sir Thomas More, “Utopia”, Datalinks
This is another one of those classic quotes from the philosophical canon. The word utopia, along with the concept we associate with it, has come down to us from the above quoted work. And you can tell why from the quote. Ever since Plato laid out his vision of the perfect society in his Republic, philosophers have gained fame from laying out their own contrasting visions of the better life. And, unsurprisingly, we discover their ideal worlds are ones in which philosophers are held in the highest esteem. Where Plato hoped for philosopher-kings to rule wisely and benevolently, More postulates a perfect world where everyone seeks to be a philosopher, in so far as is possible.
In a lot of ways, SMAC itself is a worthy entry in this tradition. Reading this quote reflexively, it is clear that each faction has their own vision of utopia. The player, through the gameplay centered in the social engineering screen, is invited to further refine these visions into a more concrete vision of society.
But it is intriguing that the instrumental aspect to this selection is raised to the fore in SMAC. The player is playing a game, after all. One he’s presumably trying to win. So he will choose his social direction in large part because he finds that choice best folds into his overall strategy. But it is worth mentioning that the game always allows him to sacrifice instrumentality on behalf of idealism. And, based on player reports, many people quite naturally do. Other than the choice of faction locking out one of the first nine social engineering choices, within the rules of the game the player has free reign to mix and match among the rest.
Finally, it’s worth mentioning that this is an excellent place for Reynolds to insert this quote. In the game, the construction of the Hab Complex adds seven to the habitation limit of the base. For most factions, this doubles it.
The theme of the third tier of technologies has been the transition from the early game of the first colonists to the growth and flourishing of the next rising generation, as most of the fundamental issues around establishing life on an alien world have been resolved. So this dramatic increase in the base size, made possible by the economic sophistication represented by Industrial Automation, does a great job of modeling the increase in scale and complexity of life in the bases. By now, life on Planet no longer resembles life in a biosphere experiment. The Hab Complex and the lifting of the accompanying population restrictions, is how the game models they creation of real, full-scale metropolises of the type we would be familiar with on Earth.
Therefore, this is precisely the time in the game where More’s quote starts becoming applicable at the personal and social level. The concerns surrounding the service of the body were those that occupied the first colonists. Regardless of the faction, they begin with simple, frontier societies focused on survival above all else. Only once these pressing issues are resolved can the colonists turn their attention to the products of the culture of the mind.