Being realistic about Society Stage -- Both in accuracy and scope

Hey everyone I’ve been a quiet observer of Thrive for some years now, this is my first time actually posting with an account for the forum I just created.
I was looking through some of the discussion topics in the Future Game → Society Stage tab and really quickly ran into a few big problems that I worry will come up with further development of Society Stage, which I wanted to post about just so that we could possibly preempt future issues. Those issues are, notably, that scientific accuracy for this stage will be immensely difficult, as will the possibility of developing it to any extent that is reasonable.

To start, the first thing that people need to be very very honest with themselves about is that society, its origins, its functions, and whatnot is so incredibly far from a settled science. Literally just like, last year, the book “The Dawn of Everything” came out which entirely challenged significantly standing narratives about the origins of human society. I personally found the book to be quite convincing, but many do not, and many other still are uncertain – and in this I am referring to the perspectives of the literal scientists. The point of bringing this up is, creating an truly accurate narrative on how an alien society will develop is simply not possible in our current world because there is no agreed-upon understanding of how society truly develops and works.
I would fall in the camp of people who thing that humans developed in a unique, variety of ways, with diverse political systems emerging for early humanity that have existed and wrestled with each other up until the movement into the present, global, neoliberal order. From here, I expect, or at least hope, that society will in someway move towards a more free, socialist or even communist world order that breaks many of the constraints that have been placed on people by our current order. However, there are people with almost opposite views. Some people believe human society started in a sort of dog-eat-dog anarchic state, from which farming and states emerged which have vyed for power until the present day, gradual becoming somewhat more free with our current capitalist order being probably one of the best that we could have. And there are so many other perspectives. The point is, there is no one, accurate view on society, not even for scientists, and none of this even gets close to taking into account the unique aspects that could come from alien societies.

Furthermore, looking at the scope of what can be told in the game, there’s only so much the developers will be able to do. Even getting to a Society Stage that vaguely looks like, say, Sid Mier’s Civilizations will be incredibly difficult, yet there is still drive to go even further than that. Which, admittedly, is a beauty of this community! But we have to temper our expectations and know the best path to take both to please the community, and for the developers to actually be able to implement it.

What I’d propose would probably start from an inner, less objectionable core, and expand to incorporate other options as the developers are able. What would that mean? Let me lay it out.

One topic that would probably inevitably come up for Society Stage is the “nature” of your species going into it. Is your species inherently violent and greedy? Inherently cooperative and selfless? Is it possible for a greedy species to build a civilization? Is it possible for a selfless species to build a civilization? What is probably easiest to start with is a default tabula rasa, blank slate behavioral design for all species, period. The devs have a lot on their hands! If someone wants to add more “species nature” options, they can do that later. It’s easiest to start with a presumption of no inherent species nature.
From there, what generally does seem to be agreeable both in the scientific literature and common culture is that society is decently likely to at some point begin to accumulate in cities. Is farming needed to be developed for these cities? Well that’s debatable (see Ukrainian megalithic sites). Is statecraft needed? That’s also debatable (consider catalhoyuk). Will they be democratic, authoritarian? Religious? Peaceful, warlike? That’s all really hard to say.
I would propose that cities should be their own technology path. There shouldn’t be any prerequisites, like farming or statecraft, maybe just something like “permanent housesing.” From there though, we should want to give the player freedom. We don’t want to pile everything on as the initial goal, because the developers need to be able to start somewhere. But, just as basics, it may be nice to give the player the freedom of tall or wide playstyles (concentrated cities of high populations, versus spread out more agrarian civilizations). As for politics, a basic range from free and democratic to restrictive and authoritarian. Items such as religion, farming, statecraft, complex housing (apartments), stratification, division of labor, and bureaucracy should all be technologies that can be added in by the developers when they can, and may be best left as optional. That will restict the player the least.
From these tall/wide, democratic/authoritarian societies, there should be the ability to interact with rival factions, again with a variance, of either collaborative encorporation/allyship, or conquest. Ultimately, this is all done simultaneously to research and development of the technological prerequisites for industrialization. Once industrialization is initiated, the game should move on to the next stage, where they can try with different forms of government and different pathways towards spaceflight. Again though, it would be best for this to be restricted to some basics the developers can start with, then build out from.

Ultimately, the pathway would look like tribal societies figuring out how to develop city building, from which they can adopt tall/wide, authoritarian/democratic, collaborative/conquering playstyles, each with their own ways of taking the player to their next industrial stage.

There’s so much that can go into the Society Stage. There really is. But if we want to actually create a core for the stage, which can take it to Industrial, its important to create limits that allow for some basics that players can play with their species a bit, without the stage having an untenable scope.


Welcome to the forums, Syncient! I appreciate the thoughfulness of the post and, while not willing to delve on this topic, I want to give some of my opinions on it.[1]

It seems that a major theme of Thrive is how the species will shape and adapt to the world they live in. Organisms will change the atmospheric composition and then try to survive on it. They will find niches and thrive in them. There is a lot of potential for replayability, and the Society and Industrial Stages can be as varied as the previous ones: there are many ways that a species can achieve civilization.[2] However, while I don’t think that the path to progress will become too restrictive, the game should definitely warn the player if the creature can’t be part of a society;[3] there are many ways, apparently.

This kind of thinking reminds me of the Tech Editor discussion where some people argued for a liberal implementation of technology in the game, but later there was a consensus to implement a tech web. In my opinion, this could give the game (another) differential, vary the playthoughs and elevate the complexity of the stage.

Honestly, this makes hyped for the “strategies stages” of the game. Usually I’m more excited for the Multicellular and Aware, but knowing that those stages can be as unique as the others makes me hopeful.[4]

  1. Even if I’m more used to making belgiumposts. ↩︎

  2. Or “species” in the plural. Imagine how different animal societies might interact with each other if creating a civilization isn’t too hard to achieve in the game. ↩︎

  3. Say this word like Bill Wurtz would. ↩︎

  4. I’m sorry if this rambling doesn’t make any sense, haha. ↩︎


Thanks for the warm welcome DeepSix! I’ve followed Thrive from the shadows for so long that it’s nice finally interacting with other people who’ve gathered around the game and its vision.

That sounds like an interesting thread, I’ll be sure to check it out! I’m definitely in favor of a tech tree/tech web, I think what I’m more so trying to push is just for the community to challenge its preconceived notions about various technologies before putting them into such a web. The cities example is the main one I brought up because our society has many assumptions about what is required for cities to emerge that simply aren’t true (namely hierarchy and farming), same for bureaucracy and other early-civilization developments. And if we look at early civilizations in the Americas on Earth, we see various social structures and technologies emerging without other technologies one would expect to develop first.

Not to create artificial sides of a debate, but if you look back at a game such as Civilizations 5[1] there are obvious ways in which their tech tree is influenced by, well, Western hegemony to put it bluntly, rather than a thorough dissection of the scientific and archaeological record in tandem with the divergent experiences of indigenous peoples. What I’m mainly trying to encourage is the community to take its time with any tech webs to ensure they aren’t creating pathways that fall into outdated narratives of early human history.

Obviously, you can’t develop nuclear bombs without first having knowledge of chemistry/physics that leads to knowledge of radioactive decay. Yet at the same time, all you may really need to build a city is the ability to build a house. That’s the core kernel I’m trying to encourage on the tech side of things.

I’m glad you pointed this out, this is a really interesting point. I don’t know if it should be something initially added, just for simplicity’s sake, but I definitely think it may be a good idea for there to be warnings face by players who are creating entirely antisocial species. At the same time, it would also be interesting to see how generally mutually aggressive creatures could still end up creating a thriving civilization. I definitely think its best for the developers to start with just, creatures being assumed to be vaguely cooperative, to a sufficient extent to build a cohesive society. But in the far future, as the developers decide to further flesh out stages from their basic skeletons, creating variations on the types of species that can create societies would be fantastic for replayability and certainly a welcome addition to the base game.

  1. Notice how agriculture is presented as a prerequisite for pretty much everything, even though there are plenty of societies who developed animal husbandry, trapping, calendars, mathematics, etc. without agriculture. As for the “Western” influence I suggested above, the primary issue I’d see is with something such as “The Wheel” coming before “Mathematics,” even when indigenous American societies had complex systems of mathematics while their only notable usage of the wheel was for children’s toys.



Socialisation should be something which has a gradually expanding area of effect, with small groups of people gradually scaling up to much larger groups. Cities wouldn’t just spring up overnight. It would be a process of people living in close proximity in larger and larger numbers. The plan for the Society Stage is to have a single building, with other structures being built around it, and then gradually increasing in number. I think the intention is to gradually go from starting constructions individually to giving instructions to small groups, to controlling everything in the Strategy view. The limiting factors in the size of the settlements should be the same limiting factors in real life: the number of available people, the amount of available raw materials and the ability to get food, building materials, etc. into the settlement, and the time and energy it takes to build everything. There would be a need to develop certain things before cities could be built. As was already pointed out, the social relations between species members would need to be cooperative enough to allow working together on a large scale, and without so much competition and aggression that it would be constant chaos. And there would need to be enough of an idea of organisation to allow large-scale planning.

The society wouldn’t necessarily need to have a general division of labour, if things were spread out enough that every group in the city could do farming then help with construction and maintenance, etc. with everyone giving their time to a range of different things as needed. It also shouldn’t be necessary to have permanent housing in order to build a settlement - some ancient cities had large numbers of tents within them. There’s no reason a city couldn’t be entirely made of temporary or moveable structures. There are also a wide variety of economic systems which could exist within a city.

I definitely think that most civilization sims have a basis of looking at how the world is now, and imposing that on history. In the Civ series, every society is essentially a capitalist military dictatorship throughout its history, and the economic, military and city planning systems remain the same whatever direction you might choose for it. The differences between socio-political and economic systems are simply what do you get a bonus to, and by how much. In one of the games (I forget which) there is even no downside to fascism - it causes no inherent issues at all!

I think that in Thrive, we should have a much more diverse range of ways that a society could be. I would like this to include being able (even required, depending on the state of the society at the time) to relinquish some control over certain areas of society to groups within the population, essentially automating them with sometimes random effects. This could for instance mean giving more control over the national economy to private corporations, or allowing city planning or food distribution to be determined by the majority of citizens. These sorts of things would really be necessary to simulate the variety of social orders which have been found even in recent history. And to have a realistic portrayal of the life of a society, then the player could at times choose to make such changes if they see it as beneficial, and at other times they might be forced to make a change to quell an uprising and prevent a civil war. Consider the English Civil Wars, with a parliamentary capitalist group fighting against the feudal monarchist group, and ultimately ending with a parliament and a monarch with reduced power. This does raise the issue of the player losing too much power. I think it would be reasonable to be able to lose the game due to running the society too badly, similarly to how a player’s microscopic species could go extinct if it has been badly designed for its environment. There would definitely be a problem with the player falling into a role of a token figurehead, not able to do anything meaningful, which would not make for good gameplay. I’m sure there would be ways to avoid that, though.

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Wow, I like 45-95% agree with this! And by that, I mean, yes, this is a serious discussion we need to have as a community, and I have been giving way too much thought to it lately.

For example, it was mentioned there would be political and economic sliders. This part worried me a bit, for two reasons.

The first is ‘what would those sliders be’. The most obvious choice isn’t necessarily the best, and the obvious choice here would be the axes on the political compass. In this case, if you look up the history of the political compass, it’s not backed by research at all. The political compass was crafted purely as a propaganda piece to make libertarianism (which is barely more than a mid-point between conservatism with neoliberalism) seem like a more distinct political perspective.

An actual political/economic set of sliders would probably more have these spectrums:

Power Distribution:
Centralized Political Power (e.g. Absolute Monarch) <--------> Fully Distributed Political Power (e.g. Full Republic)

Law Enforcement:
Deterrent Based <--------> Rehabilitation Based

Currency Origins:
Backing Based <--------> Debt Based

Currency Gravitus:
Wealth Self-Concentrating (e.g. Centralized Money) <--------> Wealth Self-Distributing (e.g. Standardized Tabular)

However, we’d be negligent to fail to point out that political & economic systems can change what they are drastically based on seemly small policy changes. From this angle, the best games to draw inspiration from would be games like “Democracy 4” .

That said, a point we disagree on is not knowing how governance emerged. To put it bluntly, this is a point to where the separation of disciplines of science has bit us in the butt once again. Multiple times throughout the history of science, one field of research has had an answer to a problem that has perplexed another field of research for decades if not centuries. This is one of those cases.

Archeologists don’t know how governments emerged. Biologists, Animal Psychologists & Ape Behaviorists absolutely do. In a pretty interesting bit of research, back in the early 2000’s, we saw a governmental regime change in a non-human species. Specifically, Baboons. We thought until then that Baboon hierarchies were instinctual. Turns out we were ridiculously wrong. Baboon hierarchies are cultural.

An evolutionary bottleneck happened that killed off all the older males of a Baboon tribe, and as a result, younger male baboons were raised by the female baboons instead of male baboons. The species, once thought instinctively fiercely patriarchal switched to a leadership pattern in this baboon tribe. It switched to a more egalitarian and matriarchal society. In fact, this aspect of the baboon tribe has been found to be spreading. The baboons are going through a society-wide revolution in the region, as the old patriarchal systems are being thrown off and the new system adopted.

It was then it became obvious: The core starting structure for civilization is the family. Tribal systems are extended families. And the way that family develops can become very different than the next one over. The family is the point where civilizations begin and where civilizations begin to diverge in political systems.

So the basis of civilization is simply we start moving from an individual basis to a family basis. From there, the family grows into a tribe, hold, clan, etc., and that in turn can set the starting basis for policies that move from families to a more organized structure.

I could easily see a smooth transition from the individual to having literally spawned ‘minions’ getting to order them around in a squad-like fashion, eventually getting unlocks that let you give them more complex self-automating commands, and then, at some point, simply being able to say, “Do you wish to start the next generation from the tactical view?” At which point you’re doing a squad management like xcom, that’s basically just everything you were doing before just from a top-down view without having to focus on a specific character that evolves into a real-time civilization game as you patterns, of repeating deployment which savable as group-wide templates which later expands to include policies, buildings becomes more important than tactics, etc. As a result, the change would be almost seamless.


Unrelated note: I’d like to see the ability to stick in the species stage to skip the civilization stage to get to the space stage as well. Playing with the idea of panspermia, the ability to become space-faring (probably at least partially dependent on your planet or habitable moon’s gravity, I could easily see a species evolving on a small moon having the gravitational freedom to evolve to survive in space easier than a large terrestrial planetary species) would be an interesting take, and then waiting to civilize till later.

I want to play a sentient pod of space-whales, or silicon-unicorns propelled by farted rainbows dagnabit.

Please don’t double post, edit your previous post instead to have the extra info.

You can create a separation in your post by putting --- on a line.

Like this. If you really want to separate some part out as not related to the other part of the post.

Space whales

The discussion I linked above is one that tries to address the plausibility of animals in space. A good number of people think it is possible, but at the same time to my knowledge no way has yet to have been stated and backed up by scientific sources in a way that shows it is actually plausible and not just people wanting it to be plausible

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3 posts were merged into an existing topic: Space whales