This game of Civilization 5 is run by a democratically elected government of a dozen players

Nathan is an exceptionally rare kind of politician. Though he's only in his second year of high school, he's already served a term as minister in the executive branch of the English government, two terms in the legislative branch, and is now the mayor of Idaho. This is Democraciv, a Reddit community where hundreds participate in a single game of Civilization 5 via a democratically elected government. They form political parties, hold elections, propose new bills, and blast each other with propaganda. But unlike the usual model governments found in most high schools, the decisions made by the elected officials of Democraciv have actual consequences—in the game, that is.

The real fun of it is the party politics and getting into arguments with people, the game is just there to anchor everything around a single concept.

"Democraciv is where we elect a government that runs a game of Civilization 5," Nathan, better known online as 'Nuktuuk' tells me. "How that works is we have three branches, pretty much like the US government. We have a judicial, a legislative, and an executive branch. We do this all through a Twitch stream and we have people vote on most things, but it's just one person actually playing the game." 

The idea originated when 'octopodesrex' pitched the concept to the Civilization Reddit community. That's when 'Best_Towel_EU' created Democraciv, which quickly gained momentum as dozens of players began campaigns to be elected. As Best_Towel_EU tells me, that original incarnation didn't last too long as players slowly lost interest due to the disorganized state of the government. Then Nuktuuk stepped in, investing countless hours over his summer break to writing a massive 21-page constitution that would serve as the new foundation for Democraciv. Now, 180 turns and several months later, The Great Empire of England is a well-oiled political machine poised for war against the Babylonians. 

House of civs 

Stepping into the Democraciv subreddit feels like crossing over into a bizarre alternate reality. The front page is a shotgun spread of propaganda, debates, and news reports. That's right, Democraciv even has its own journalists spread between the Democraciv News Network and The Globalist. "It's about 50 percent roleplay, 25 percent political conniving, and 25 percent actual gameplay," Nuktuuk says. "The real fun of it is the party politics and getting into arguments with people. The game is just there to anchor everything around a single concept."

When listening to The Espresso Reports on DNN, that element of roleplay is apparent. "In Democraciv news," the latest report begins, "tensions are growing among the citizens regarding the close border we share with Babylon. While many are eager to go to war and wish that we could conquer our neighboring country, others are more wary due to claims of a lack of military force in Babylon as well as concerns about a looming threat of our other neighboring country, America."

Each of the major political parties that hold sway over the various offices of government take roleplaying to an even stranger level. Nuktuuk is one of the many who belong to the Space Communists, whose platform revolves around technological advancement and aggressive military tactics to achieve a science or domination victory condition to win the game. "Only through the Order ideology can our society best prosper, create great productivity, and blast through the tech tree to the stars," reads their manifesto.

Nuktuuk is one of the many who belong to the Space Communists.

But communism isn't the only troubling ideology taking hold in Democraciv. The Nihilistic English Order (NEO) is a controversial party that has been gaining momentum due to their almost unconstitutional rejection of Civilization 5's mandated victory conditions. Members of NEO contend that, because everything is intrinsically without value, the established victory conditions are no better than those they would determine on their own—which for many includes purposefully losing. "We seek to not lose because we seek some intrinsic value in loss, but because we carry the core beliefs that there is more to this game then simple predetermined victory," reads their manifesto.

More recently, the Nihilistic English Order has drawn criticism over a movement to restore sovereignty to the nation of Saigon, which was conquered by the English around turn 121. These political nuances are everywhere in Democraciv, and though the game is still young, there's already a tremendous sense of history and culture. 

The official flag of the Nihilistic English Order.

In some ways, Democraciv can even mirror our own political process. Straw man arguments can often eclipse proper debate over policies, conspiracies erupt over what some perceive as political corruption, and officials are elected despite never playing Civilization 5 before. But just when things get a little too close to reality, someone posts a thread about making "Memechester dank again."

When you propose an idea and it actually gets implemented, you get to see the results of that idea. There's actual consequences for what you do.

Driving all of this is a surprisingly complex machine of various offices, councils, and courts working in tandem to debate over every single decision that happens during a turn of Civilization 5. When a settler unit is built, elections are held with each party sponsoring a candidate who should oversee the running of that city. Together with the ministers who handle the responsibility of playing the game, the mayors make up the executive branch along with an appointed general who autonomously controls military units during wartime.

Bills proposed by the legislative branch meticulously detail how the government is required to act in certain scenarios. Take The Game Abortion Bill passed on September 7, for example, which establishes conditions the government must meet should they wish to "abort" the game early and start fresh like in the event of a bug.

Once a week, typically on a Friday, everyone gathers to watch one of the ministers play the game on Twitch. During each turn they'll vote on where to move units, mayors will instruct the minister to begin projects for their cities, and debates will erupt over what technologies to invest in next. Nuktuuk  tells me that turns typically take ten or so minutes to complete at this pace, but the government is becoming more efficient as time goes on.

The English Free Press is another one of the many press outlets in Democraciv.

If this all seems a bit too granular, well, it is. "It's admittedly very tedious to actually play the game, but it's worth it," Nuktuuk says. Similar subreddits like ModelUSGov take the model government online, but at the end of the day, they're not really accomplishing anything. "There's nothing solid to make proposals on. It's all just conjecture and people pitting ideas against each other. Here, when you propose an idea and it actually gets implemented, you get to see the results of that idea. There's actual consequences for what you do."

If the Space Communists get their way and England starts a war with Babylon and loses, it'll be people like Nuktuuk whose heads will be on the chopping block. 

Joining the revolution 

Just because Democraciv is already on turn 180 doesn't mean it's too late to get involved. Aside from the beginner's guide listed on the subreddit, I asked Nuktuuk how new citizens could get involved in the process. "The first thing you want to do is get out there and comment on bills and posts," he says. "Join the Discord chat and start talking with people and get to know them. You don't have to join a party—we have some powerful independents. If you do well, people will respect you and they'll want to elect you."

Getting elected is a big step though, one that can even require getting an official degree from Democraciv's Meier Law University. After enrolling, potential electees must take classes exploring each article of the constitution followed by a final exam. "Once you finished it," Nuktuuk says, "you receive a Meier Law degree to prove that you were well-versed in the constitution. It's worked out really well because now it's practically a requirement [for elected officials]." If you really want to flout your credentials, there's other universities like the Imperial War College that cover everything from the ethics of war to economics. 

The English Empire

Fortunately, while this might sound like an astounding amount of work, Nuktuuk contends that it really isn't. "The legislature only meets two times a week," he says. "You just have to pop in as a legislator and vote on bills or propose one of your own. If you want to be a minister or a mayor, you just have to meet once a week and participate in the stream, manage your city, or vote on things the ministry wants to do. It's really as much of a time commitment as you want it to be. It could be as little as two or three hours a week."

Oh, and there's always the possibility that you could campaign and legally make yourself a dictator. "If one person can get two thirds of the electorate behind them to amend the constitution to make them supreme dictator who controls all speech, they can do that," he says. "That is perfectly fine. If two thirds of the electorate wants that then let's do that. That's Democraciv."

*Some names have been changed.

Steven Messner

With over 7 years of experience with in-depth feature reporting, Steven's mission is to chronicle the fascinating ways that games intersect our lives. Whether it's colossal in-game wars in an MMO, or long-haul truckers who turn to games to protect them from the loneliness of the open road, Steven tries to unearth PC gaming's greatest untold stories. His love of PC gaming started extremely early. Without money to spend, he spent an entire day watching the progress bar on a 25mb download of the Heroes of Might and Magic 2 demo that he then played for at least a hundred hours. It was a good demo.