Dear Allegheny alums, particularly Classes of '92-95 (or so),
It's time I came clean. It's MY fault. It's my fault many of you didn't graduate on time (or at all).
I'm the one who introduced Civilization to the night-study lab under the library.
I'll wait while you collect yourself.
OK ... so here's what happened.
Over Christmas break, my brother and I returned from college and hung out. We weren't especially close at the time, but we could bond over nerd-stuff. He introduced me to a new game he'd discovered at RPI, Sid Meier's Civilization. It existed on a floppy disk or two, and after we installed it at home, it quickly consumed our entire lives. so much so, that when I returned to Allegheny in January, I brought copies of those sacred floppies (I don't think copy protection was even a concern).
I quietly installed the game late one night on one of the few DOS-based PCs on campus (remember? ... we were part of the NeXT revolution). I played it. My boyfriend played it. I may have showed it to a friend or two. But, I kept it very much on the down-low. We were not supposed to install our own software on school computers. And we were very much not supposed to be using valuable computing resources for gaming.
But within a week or two, I was stunned to find total strangers furtively playing Civ on every computer in the lab. It had spread with efficiency modern computer viruses can only hope to achieve.
Nobody talked about how it happened. Nobody ratted out anyone else. We were members of an elite society. An elite society who began to neglect all else, forgoing studying, sleep, even food for just "a few more turns" of Civ. It's not that the game was especially hard or unwinnable. It's more that victory was always a few hours further away than we thought it would be. The game is unfathomably addictive.*
"I'll just play until I get steam-power," we'd tell ourselves when our civilization's current pinnacle of technological achievement was a pointy stick. Or, "I'll just play until I take out the Zulus," we'd innocently mutter, never realizing the true tenacity of South African tribesmen.
"A few more turns" more often than not turned into hours of playing time. The night-study lab stayed open all night long, so we weren't deterred when the rest of the campus shut down for the night.
Eventually -- and here's where I have to apologize -- some people began to fail classes, or not "comp."** Some of my friends literally did not graduate from college because of this game. People I love. One of them was even in my wedding.
I's all my fault.
Sure, I could blame fate -- maybe the game would inevitably have found its way onto campus systems. Maybe my friends would have discovered it on their own. But, realistically? Before social media, a "real" Internet, cell phones ... stuff didn't go viral. Media didn't proliferate, explode, and die down within weeks, days, hours. It took actual word-of-mouth. Someone had to actually mention the game to you. Sell its features. And reveal its night-study-lab existence. I was that person. I loved the game. I brought it to Allegheny. I told my closest friends.
And the rest is history.*** The incalculable Butterfly Effect of those dang Zulus.
I'm so sorry, friends. If only I had been patient enough to wait for spring break for my Civ fix at home. Maybe the world would be a vastly better place.
*And still is. Last night (this morning) I stayed up Far Too Late playing multiplayer LAN Civ IV with my husband (the aforementioned boyfriend) and our daughter.
**Allegheny College seniors must complete an extensive Senior Comprehensive Project or "comp," as part of their graduation requirements.
*** A fictionalized, but accurate, version of events can be found here.