11. Rethinking experiences: an EU IV example

I love designed experiences. Computer games. Films. Larps. Festivals. Events and spaces that someone has designed for me to have a certain kind of experience. Of course, non-designed (or less designed) experiences can be great as well, but the designed kind deserve their own notice.

Europa Universalis IV: A grand strategy game about history

One of my favourite computer games is called Europa Universalis IV. It’s a real-time strategy game, where you control the fate of a nation during the years 1444 to 1821. You can play the game in many ways and it has an absurdly high replayability value. Did you just take the Ottoman Empire from growing power to world dominator in 200 years? Changed a small Japanese province to a proud shogunate with inter-marriages to powerful neighbours? Start as the glorius medieval superpower France, and watch it all go down the drain due to your too-high ambitions?

One player — one ruler

I’m part of a Paradox group on facebook. Here, we sometimes discuss Paradox games, post stories from our experiences and nerd out in a closed online space. We’re not that many, and it’s very casual, but it’s a space I’m glad to have access to.

A shared sense of history

It was amazing. After each player had finished his run (yeah, we were all guys, but that isn’t relevant to the article), he’d write a story about the years played. Tales of diplomacy, war, love and peace — sometimes with a few random comments and thoughts thrown in to give it the sense of “being real”. It was wonderful to read, and gave you the feeling of reading a short text in a history book.

A very different experience

As I passed on the save game to Rasmus, who was the next in line, I wrote about “my” years as King of Bohemia. I wrote a historical-biographical sort of entry that would have fit a high school history book, and ended it with a fictional quote from King Karel’s son, the future King Karel VIII von Wettin.

The Bohemian connection

In short, I not only connected emotionally with my own game, but also with the games of the others. And when I take over the nation again (as we enter our second “round” of play), I’ll be taking over a nation whose history I have followed for hundreds of years. In my play, I’ll be feeling the weight of my ancestors, knowing their triumphs and failures, and think of that when I make decisions. I already know how my Bohemia has fought to hold on to the Dutch provinces. I know of the long alliance with the Russian state of Muscovy and of the fierce rivalry with France.

  1. A normal EU IV game can easily stretch for hundreds of years. By focusing on “my” 20 years on the throne, those 20 years seem so much more vivid.
  2. It didn’t take that long. Instead of playing for hundreds of hours, I played for two evenings. That’s a lot easier to fit into my schedule than the massive time investment required for a full 1444–1821 game.

The bigger perspective

The EU IV story from above is just an example. You can do this with more or less any kind of designed (or even non-designed) experience. Going to the forest and counting squirrels is different from just going to the forest. Riding a train and focusing on the passengers instead of the landscape provides a different experience.

Director at The College of Extraordinary Experiences, Coach at McKinsey & Founding Partner at The Global Institute For Thought Leadership. Author of 31 books.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store