Modzilla: Modding Civilization through Godzilla

A group of gamers have put together a scenario for the popular computer strategy game ‘Civilization’ based on the Godzilla movies here. The scenario, known as Modzilla, begins at the time of the first Godzilla movie in 1954 and proceeds up until the near future. To put the scenario together the modders have had to deal with large bodies of information around the Godzilla narrative and also the game design elements, experiment with applying the Godzilla world into the game enging of Civilization – a game where you can play through the rise and fall of create civilizations from the stone age to the space age. Gojira54, the main designer of the Modzilla scenario, for the Civilization game on May 15, 2010, outlines the narrative themes of the mod, and some of the challenges in merging the ‘real history’ of the time into the fictional geography of Godzilla:

“The original 1954 Gojira movie sent a strong anti-war and environmental message – something that was lost in many of the goofier movies that came later. I wanted to refocus this mod a bit on that theme, without beating you over the head with it.”
In addition to Atomic Weapons Testing Waste resource, I’ve added Industrial Waste. ATWT is required for Gojira and others, while IW is required for Rodan, the upgrade to Supa Kong, and more (a Hedora?).
The Kaiju worshippers will still build Kaiju Shrines that generate their great beasts, but not understand that it is really the waste resources that are doing it. They will have a full ancestral legend which predicts that strange people from far away will arrive, and bring great beasts of destruction with them, This will work well with the pollution theme, as well as the Alien theme. The Natives will have had their native islands heavily bombed with atomic weapons testing, as well as have industrial waste dumped on them – something that was unfortunately commonplace in this era. The basic Kong and Mothra units will continue to truly religious kaiju with no pollution requirements.
… Next steps will be to research and flesh out the Human sides. I don’t know too much about the 1954 regional history, but I know the Korean War hostilities had just ended (more or less) in July 1953, but a state of War continued through January 1955. The goal on the human side of this mod is to start of 01/01/1954 just like real history, then split off into a Godzilla alternate history. Japan will get the accelerated technology they’ve had in the movies, and will get some of that from the alien technology they discover. The constant Kaiju attacks will force that, too. China and USSR will have limited presence, so will never be able to really take off. I’ll have to find a way to keep the Koreas from easily overpowering Japan, but this shouldn’t be too difficult if Japan has access to better resources and technology. The focus on Modzilla should really remain Japan and the Kaiju, with everything else just adding thematic elements.”

Gojira54’s comments above illustrates two important aspects of cult geography. First, the Civilization game modders are actively building a simulation of East Asia from the 1950s on through the Godzilla fiction which is clearly a compelling space to represent knowledge of Godzilla, history, mythology and so on. This is also a space where trial and error and experimentation lead to more knowledge and engagement with the ficitional and real world. It offers a very compelling way of seeing the world through the Godzilla universe and create models to test some of the assumptions about the way the world works if faced with disaster scenarios. Second, the modders are moving between real data and information about the geography and history of the region through maps, typolgies and game data to the narrative and characters of the fictional world. This movement back and forth from complex game data to fictional narratives offers a simulation of the Godzilla cult geography appropriated from a wide range of diverse sources.

As Ian Bogost (2005) argues this type of engagement with restructuring and reconfiguring the basic building blocks of a system is a type of procedural literacy which can have a number of uses and implications. Bogost writes, “More generally, I want to suggest that procedural literacy entails the ability to reconfigure basic concepts and rules to understand and solve problems, not just on the computer, but in general.” (32). The Modzilla disigners are learning how to work with complicated strategy game through their modding and playing, and cult geography builds on such knowledge by providing a scaffold (Jenkins Ch 5, 2006) to explore a world responding to the threat of giant monsters and aliens from a number of perspectives: emerging superpower of the US and USSR, nations going through rebuilding such as Japan, nations coming out of conflict such as South Korea, fictionalised tribal communities steeped in superstition and mythology, and giant monsters bent on destruction.

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