Impressions of “Sid Meier’s Memoir!: A Life in Computer Games,” by Sid Meier and Jennifer Noonan
Oh my goodness, is this book fantastic. It combines the inside perspective of computer gaming history of Not All Fairy Tales Have Happy Endings, the detailed computer and tech-culture references of Microserfs, and the sense of joy as Richard Garriot’s Explore/Create. I loved this book.
Sid Meier is an influential game designer, programmer, and businessman. For me, he’s best known for classic games such as Civilization, Colonization, Railroad Tycoon, and Alpha Centauri. But his career extends from the early days to the 2010s.
Meier’s autobiography is organized chronologically, in chapters whose titles are the games written during that period. This is incredibly useful. On a practical level, this is quick shorthand for anyone familiar with the history of technology, as an era’s overall difficulties and opportunities are rapidly brought to mind. Emotionally, they let the reader know if emotionally resonant or groundbreaking games or work was done during a period of time. And it allows the readers to organize facts from the chapters with additional knowledge.
For instance, consider the chapter named after the game Red Storm Rising. Much of the chapter describes Sid Meier and Microprose co-founder Bill Stealey’s working relationship and compares it to the relationship of Red Storm Rising book author Tom Clancy and collaborator Larry Bond. This not only made me learn more about Meier and Clancy, it also made me realize another connection – Larry Bond created the “Harpoon” gaming system, which itself became a computer game series.
It was fascinating to compare this to Ken Williams’ memoir, as the men (both highly influential for PC games) had remarkably different working styles. William mentioned that if someone did not have a detailed plan for a game, he assumed it was not thought through. Meier writes that anyone writing a detailed plan would be either assuming more about technology than appropriate or else would be doing the same work twice. Likewise, Williams’ early work in Sierra focused heavily on “adventure games,” a genre Meier mocked as guess-the-verb games.
As a gamer, I especially enjoyed Sid Meier’s description of his landmark series, Civilization. The broad arc – from directly creating Civilization, to influence over Colonization and Civilization II, to the intellectual property battles with Avalon Hill and others over the “Civilization” name, are described in appropriate detail. Contributions to the series by Bruce Shelley (Civilization), Brian Reynolds (Civilization II, Alpha Centauri) are generously described
I was saddened, but not surprised, to hear that games journalists played an important role in spreading fake news about Civilization. There is a meme that in the original Civilization game, the Indian leader Gandhi was especially warlike. The history of the misinformation, and the critical role of game journalists in spreading it, is described in a way familiar to anyone who has followed the intellectual bankruptcy of that form of media.
I also enjoyed the windows into Sid Meier’s more profound beliefs. His Lutheran church comes up several times, as was his hero (J.S. Bach’s) work for Lutheran churches near him. I’m thankful for what he has shared and am sure I could learn more about the Lutheran faith from him.
I tremendously enjoyed this book. Informative, nostalgic, reflective, and honest, I can enjoy the games even more by knowing who and where they come from. I appreciated Meier’s honesty about happy and painful moments of his personal life, some of which must have been hard to share. I wish there would have been more material on the sale of Meier’s companies, MicroProse and Firaxis. Still, I can understand if he is not comfortable sharing the details of these decisions.
I read Sid Meier’s Memoir in the Audible edition.…