The void is dark and full of terrors. Insights from the Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy by Cixin Liu.
Guide to Dark Forest
Cosmic sociology puts forth the following axioms to predict interactions between galactic civilizations:
- Survival is the primary need of civilization.
- Civilization continuously grows and expands, but the total matter in the universe remains constant.
- In effect, natural selection occurs on a galactic scale and competition will take place for the galaxy’s finite resources. But what differentiates these interactions from those that exist between civilizations co-existing on a single planet…
Two assumptions illuminate the nuance of interaction between galactic civilizations:
- Chains of suspicion: Civilizations are either benevolent or malevolent, i.e. cooperative or warmongering. When one civilization encounters another, they do not know the other’s true intentions. If the other civilization is malevolent, then a first strike is prudent. If the other civilization is deemed benevolent, then how is that verifiable? What is their assessment of our civilization? Over such vast distances, information is highly asymmetric and leads to an endless chain of suspicion that culminates with a first strike becoming rational.
- Technological explosion: If the encountered civilization must be destroyed, the attacking civilization must be sure the target civilization will not experience rapid technological advancement while their military forces are in-transit. Space is vast. It is possible for one civilization to advance so profoundly over a period of decades to centuries that they become completely unrecognizable to the invading force.
Civilizations in Stellaris have differing traits, ethics, civics, authorities, species synergies, population factions, and leadership objectives that contribute to endless suspicion. Likewise, civilizations can pursue many technologies between physics, society, and engineering research paths while an invading force embarks upon their campaign.
This leaves few options. You cannot let another civilization live and you cannot openly attack without assurances.
Every civilization is an armed hunter treading silently through a dark forest full of various fauna and competing hunters. The hunter cannot make their presence known, and if they encounter another hunter – or a credible signal of life – they must eliminate them.
Uphold the mantle. Become the 4X hunter that Stellaris calls you to be. Exterminate every competing civilization you encounter with limited casus belli – i.e. minimal broadcast to the target.
Neighbor civilization? Exterminate.
War in Heaven? Exterminate both.
Extra-dimensional invaders? Exterminate all.