My Country

I arrived home from a nose-to-tail day at work, mind packed with matters educational, to the prospect of a hot bowl of chicken stew and crusty brown bread with my family.

To unwind, the solution is simple: listen to the children.

By the time I sat down, the conversation had got off to its customary flying start and Felix was in full swing. “Mum, you’ve got to join in: we’re playing “My Country.”

The rules of the game were simple: each of us had a country. And by one-upmanship, each of us had to outdo the last.

Maddie started. “My country,” she declared, “is a beautiful warm humid country full of rain forests.”

I rejoined: “My country,” I said, warming to my subject, “is a place where it is always sunny, a land of desert and the ruins of ancient civilisations.”

Felix’s contribution was not our dreamy ethos-building but something hard-nosed and deeply ambitious. “My country,” he said, “is a very rich country, where tourists come to have holidays and they have factories and cities.”

The second round was equally as enlightening. Maddie’s country has a special mineral underground layer encrusted with jewels. Mine is an erudite country which attracts archaeologists and academia to talk to the natives and ride camels across night sands to ruins. Felix’s country has developed an elite police force which can tell other countries what to do, along with top-secret weapons.


Things were getting fanciful. Round three, and Maddie’s country was full of specialists in espionage. I delivered what, as far as I was concerned, was a killer blow: “In my country, nobody has to work and they play all the time.”

My son did not pause. “Well my country is so rich it financed your country’s national debt, which is huge because nobody in your country ever works!” he finished with a flourish.

I called time and went to start the bath running while they ate their pudding. Mothers never lose: they just call time.

This empire building is moreish.

The nineties was our play decade, my husband Phil and I, and we played as hard as we work now to bring up a family. We were amongst the first to have an Apple Mac in our office at home, and pretty soon Phil was bringing home early strategy games to play on it.

Amongst them was the opportunity to play Cyber God.

Sid Meier, born in the fifties and cutting his teeth on flight simulations in the eighties, hit his stride in the nineties with a game called Civilisation.

Introduced in 1991, Phil spent the mid nineties using the game to start in the Stone Age, building a country and developing it to such proportions that it eventually discovered nuclear power and space travel.

It was everything Phil loved: its pace was leisurely and there were plenty of battles. It presented and modelled many of the challenges that delight historians – invasions of scantily defended borders by aggressive tribes, riches born of the discovery of mineral deposits, great leaders who rise and fall.

And a civilisation could be built from scratch and developed right up to this technological age in one day, a span of some 4,000 years.

Needless to say, it was rather too absorbing. One night we left a good friend playing it in our office as we went to bed. And as we rose to meet the next day eight hours later, there he was in the office with slightly bloodshot eyes, putting the finishing touches to His Country.

What more seductive way of playing My Country is there, than building it with words in a book?

Tolkien played My Country. His land might as well be real, now, because in the minds of millions, Middle Earth is a 3D alternative reality. Elvish exists, a whole language built solely for a relatively modern mythical land created when the shadow of war hung over its writer’s realm. People speak it.

How did Tolkien create it so vividly? It is as if he could ride and walk in his own imagination and feel the wind of Middle Earth on his face. Millions are seduced and continue to be seduced by a world that has no substance.

Begin to look and you’ll see them everywhere: men like my son and husband who love to play My Country. Lewis’s Narnia, Pratchett’s Discworld. Philip Pullman, not content with one world, created complex parallel universes.

Empire building. You’ll see it in those around you, favourite writers and the cyberworld; and if you begin to dabble, you may even find yourself seduced by the simple game entitled “My Country”.

This rather wonderful version of Tolkien’s map came from Chris Taylor here


56 thoughts on “My Country

  1. Yep, “Civilisation”, “Age of Empires”, “Rome”, all had the “My Country” thing going for them. And the Kiwis are convinced that Middle Earth is just another name for New Zealand. In the end, you can travel anywhere without leaving your armchair.

  2. Yes, I think my mind could have coped with creating a country, but after the Horizon programme last night where the Cern Laboratory in Geneva suggest that the so-called God Particle – The Higgs boson – may exist – my mind today is all over the place.

    1. It was a great documentary, wasn’t it? I still need to watch it in detail. I can never hear of the God particle without remembering Leon Lederman’s nickname for his own concept. He said we should call it the Goddamn Particle, for all the expense and trouble it has caused!

  3. I have way too much trouble keeping my wits in this world, would be way too hard to figure out how to operate in another one. Now, to close my eyes and meditate on the kind of world I would like to see is a pleasant way to pass the time. Sometimes I wish we could just call a big “TIME OUT” and start humanity over again and try to figure out how to get along.

    I guess that is why fantasy books are so popular, we all are looking for a bit of an escape now and then from the brutishness.

    1. I think you’re right, Lou: each writer or creator keeps what they see as desirable and changes what they might like to see. What we cannot simulate, of course, is nature’s endless ability to change, adapt and surprise us.

  4. Wouldn’t it be lovely if we could all have our own country – with just the people we want to live there…..

    Hang on a minute, wouldn’t that get a little boring? Maybe I’ll just go with diversity and take what I get. It’s a good game though.

  5. First off, what a wonderful game to play with the children. To come home finding them playing it already tickles the teacher bones in me. How their personality and gender differences come through. I’m impressed with Felix, who must be listening or reading news, and Maddie, of course, is me as a child; well, maybe me now, though I must have my four seasons. Then again, I’m still holding out for Camelot.

    The map is wonderful, isn’t it? Did you know that Tolkien’s desk and papers and much, much more are housed along with the other Inklings at Wheaton College, not far from here?

  6. Now look here, Kate, you’re not suggesting Middle Earth isn’t real are you? ‘no substance’ ?!!


  7. That Felix is going to be running the world someday. πŸ™‚

    I often wish we could create a country as a real escape, because we’ve thoroughly messed ours up beyond repair.

    1. Andra, I know just where you are. Here we are in the middle of recession and hardship with rudderless leaders and what wouldn’t we give to swap it, as Lou says, for a new beginning.

  8. Oh, Kate. My country right now is a pocket of reality over which I’ve laid a fresh population, a new name, and a few wicked sorts to keep things interesting–but it is as real a place as my everyday life.

    And my favorite fictions are the ones–fantastical or no–whose worlds really rise up to surround you

  9. It is a lovely game, My Country… and really, that Felix! Indeed, I can see the wisdom of calling time after that rejoinder. πŸ™‚

  10. Do you know, Kate, my version of My Country was through the game SimCity… I used to love creating great lands with rivers and trees, and then throw in a few roads, houses and buildings, and then watch all of the little Sims move in. I’d then look on horrified as things started to go horribly wrong, as the Sims needed water, electricity, emergency services. Waterways would become polluted, buildings would catch fire, and roads would disintegrate… and eventually the game would need to be ended by result of a ‘natural’ disaster. I liked the creation process, I must add… not the destruction!
    Now, I have my own multiple Universes where I live, special places where I can transport myself within my mind when I need a break, and my own private virtual reality dreamworld where absolutely anything can and does happen. Yes, I like the game My Country! πŸ˜€

  11. I don’t think I was quite clever enough to get involved (tempted) with on-line games, but I have certainly witnessed the fascination in others. C.S. Lewis and Tolkien for sure, and I have my personal fascination with all things “Oz”–so that’s probably where My Country thinking does come in. I hope you don’t get tired of my comments on how much I enjoy hearing about your children. My very intelligent and imaginative son is all grown up and living life successfully–but I really do NOT think that at 8 he would have offered such a quick rejoinder about refinancing a country’s national debt! Whoa! I’m repetitive, I know, but I can’t help it. Delightful! Debra

  12. I loved having meals at friends’ homes to see what other families talked about. What an array of topics and tones! I would have thoroughly enjoyed a game like that!

    I heard about that type of game…there was another one quite similar. I wondered why on earth it would be fun, but never gave it a try. You have just put some light on it.

  13. ‘Mothers never lose: they just call time.’ – bwahahahaha – ain’t that the truth. Lovely post! It must be very difficult to create a whole new world but well worth the effort I would imagine.

  14. World building, the siren that lures all writers (who then invite all readers). And, of course Middle Earth is real!

  15. You’ve a sparkler and pistol with that Felix! Loved this and made me rather wish to play a game of My Utopia, ha! Tolkien, most interesting read about him in something (don’t you hate when skim and don’t remember) how his books were lauded as rubbish. I dare say such rubbish has inspired many, including Rowling’s Mr. Potter, so to speak. ~

  16. Fascinating. First of all, I love the fact that your children came up with this game. Says quite a bit good about them – and their parents. (Also shown by the early Mac adoption.) I additionally love the way your son thinks! That is one smart boy you have there.

    But overall, the entire idea of world building is absorbing. I think some people do it in reality, and believe they really live there. Some to the extent that they cannot function in the world that doesn’t match the one of their creation. That writers can suffer this affliction, as can most other artists, is a sign of how addicting it can be.

    1. Michael, you’re right there. World building happens in both virtual and real life, and believing in what you have created can become all too crucial. Early Mac adoption: all Brit journos learnt on the tiny stack-Macs: it was the only world we knew. My trash can had Oscar in it. He would come out and sing: Oh I love trash” every time I threw a file away. I miss that world…*sniff*

      1. I am right there with you! I loved Oscar. That is the one thing my wife says she doesn’t like about the new Macs – no Oscar. I need to look and see if I can find an add-in that will bring him to our modern Macs. BTW, as you probably already know, Andra is now firmly in the Mac camp too. She saw the light! Now she has Mac and iPad and iPhone ….

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