This Warcraft

We’ve long known Elon Musk is a big fan of civilization. After all, shortly after founding SpaceX in 2002 he told SpaceNews one of the reasons he was getting into the space game was to do his part to make humanity a multi-planet species.

But as we learned from his Ask Me Anything question-and-answer session Jan. 5 on the website, Musk is also a big fan of the video game Civilization, the Sid Meier turn-based strategy series that after two decades and five major updates finally slipped gravity’s surly bonds late last year with Civilization: Beyond Earth.

“Hard to pick a favorite,” he said during the Q&A. “I tend to like [first-person shooters] with a story, like Bioshock, Fallout or Mass Effect, but was also a big fan of Civ and Warcraft.”

Fallout 3 takes place 200 years after competition over dwindling petroleum reserves culminates in a nuclear war between the U.S. and China.

As the Washington Post’s The Switch blog pointed out in its self-described over-analysis of Musk’s video game queue, two of his favorites — Fallout and Bioshock — take place in dark, post-apocalyptic worlds that say “a lot about his business ambitions”:

Fear of fossil fuel-driven climate change could lead one to want to invest in electric cars. Fear for the entire future of the Earth could help make colonizing Mars seem like an urgent priority.

In the spirit of overanalyzing, it’s worth noting Musk used the past tense when mentioning his love of Civilization and Warcraft.

This suggests two things:


1. Unless he got around to it over the holidays, Beyond Earth will have to wait until after SpaceX convinces the Air Force to certify Falcon 9 to carry military payloads (then again, he could still have a while to wait).

2. More importantly, this also suggests that when he says he was a big fan of Warcraft, he was talking about the real-time strategy game that came out in 1994 and not World of Warcraft, the massively multiplayer online role playing game that came out in 2004. Musk, presumably, was too busy by then building a rocket in real life  to go traipsing across Azeroth at all hours of the night.

And while we were surprised to learn that between running SpaceX and Tesla, Musk finds time for any game more involved than Candy Crush or Flappy Bird, we apparently weren’t paying close enough attention.

When Forbes sent a reporter to Musk’s Bel Air, California, mansions to interview him for a 2012 profile, he spent 90 minutes with the reporter in his basement man cave showing her how to play Bioshock — “an Ayn Rand–esque first-person shooter epic.”

“It talks about Hegelian dialectics being the things that determine the course of history,” Musk explains, his eyes  fixed on the screen. “They’re sort of competing philosophies or competing meme sets, and you can look at modern history where it’s not so much genetics going into battle as a battle of meme structures.”

Yes, he talks like that. While he’s playing video games. 

The latest installment in the Bioshock series is set in an alternative turn-of-the-century America.


Brian Berger is editor in chief of and the SpaceNews magazine. He joined in 1998, spending his first decade with the publication covering NASA. His reporting on the 2003 Space Shuttle Columbia accident was...