With the second half of Stargate Atlantis's fourth season kicking off tonight on the Sci-Fi Channel in the USA it seems appropriate to look back at one of my favorite episodes of the series, "The Game", in which a seemingly innocuous SimCity/Populous-type video game nearly drags two neighboring villages into a devastating war.
For two years John Sheppard and Dr. Rodney McKay have been playing a computer game left by the Ancients, in which they each develop countries on opposite sides of a river in competition with one another (much like the video game Populous). While McKay has been pushing his country ("Geldar", named after a former romantic interest of McKay's) to develop technologically, Sheppard has been encouraging his ("Hallona", named by the Ancients who created it) to develop its military.
On a routine survey mission, however, a team from Atlantis discovers that it is not, in fact, a game. Their countries, and all the people in them, are real; living on a planet somewhere in the Pegasus Galaxy. With a satellite network in orbit to track their development and Ancient technology to receive the "players'" instructions, their civilization has, in fact, been a Lantean social experiment. The team has stumbled upon McKay's country (easily identifiable by the multitude of paintings of his face throughout the village), they go to the planet to investigate.
What draws me to this episode is McKay's behavior while guiding his village. At one point he believes he's using a character editor to change the female hairstyles to short and blond (his preferred look for women) which actually passes on as a directive to the real women of Geldar to change their hair to match. He also passes on his own fatal citrus allergy by instructing the citizens to treat such fruit as toxic (which only makes the conflict between Geldar and Hallona worse when the Hallonan leadership tries to make peace with a gift of crates full of the insulting fruit).
Who among us hasn't played SimCity with an eye towards building a little empire dedicated to him or herself; a city named for the player (I've always been partial to "Greenville") that skews heavily towards favored industry and commercial aspects and with a mayor's house placed on a private island in the middle of the city's largest lake or river? When I played The Sims for the first time I set out to create my own idealized existence complete with massive mansion, beautiful women, and plenty of expensive techno toys.
We've all crafted our own Geldar in one form or another. Seeing this familiar behavior play out with McKay as he realizes his own preferences and personality have been meshed into a real society has to be one of the highlights of the Atlantis series. Even better is when McKay's friends and co-workers on the Atlantis expedition get to know a little more about him through interaction with his creations. Knowing about McKay's predilection for blond women is one thing, but seeing a whole society sporting the style at the doctor's command is simultaneously downright disconcerting and outright hilarious. I can't fault McKay for plastering his photo everywhere, however. Given the opportunity I believe I'd do the same.