Nuclear Gandhi is an Internet meme and urban legend relating to the 1991 video game Civilization, in which there was reportedly a bug that would eventually force the renowned pacifist leader Mahatma Gandhi to become extremely aggressive and make heavy use of nuclear weapons.
The bug was first noted in 2012, two years after the release of Civilization V. In 2020, the series' creator, Sid Meier, contradicted the urban legend, saying there was never a bug like that in the original game. Nuclear Gandhi is one of the most recognizable video game glitches, and has been used as an example of integer underflow in computer science, and was included as an easter egg in other games in the Civilization series.
According to the legend, each leader's artificial intelligence in Civilization had a parameter that described his or her aggression on a scale from 1 to 10, with 1 being least aggressive and 10 most aggressive. Other sources say the scale went from 1 to 12. Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi was the only leader in the game with the lowest possible aggression rating of 1 and, as a result, was only able to wage defensive wars. Once the AI changed its government form to democracy, which was preferred by peaceful nations such as India, its aggression level decreased by 2. In the case of Gandhi, this would lead to an aggression level of −1.
However, the aggression level was stored as an 8-bit unsigned integer variable that could only store values in the range from 0 to 255 (or 28-1). The negative value would therefore result in an integer overflow (specifically an integer underflow), with the value being stored as 255 and Gandhi becoming about 25 times more aggressive than the most aggressive leaders in the game. In Civilization's technology tree, nuclear weapons are generally unlocked only after democracy, so Gandhi's aggression level would have already spiked by the time India became nuclear-capable. This led to India suddenly attacking other civilizations with nuclear missiles. The bug was supposedly fixed in later versions of the game, but the developers liked it so much they decided to re-implement it in successive games as an easter egg and joke. According to other sources, the bug first appeared in Civilization II.
In reality, according to the Civilization II lead game designer Brian Reynolds, there were only three possible aggression levels in Civilization, and even though Gandhi's AI had the lowest possible aggression level, he shared it with one third of all leaders. Additionally, based on his memories of Civilization's source code, Reynolds stated that there was no unsigned variable in this section of code and that leaders could not act more aggressively than the most aggressive leaders of the game. A leader with an aggression level of 255 would act the same way as a leader with an aggression level of 3. According to Sid Meier, since all integer variables are signed by default in both C and C++ (the programming languages of Civilization and Civilization II respectively), overflow would not have occurred if Gandhi's aggression were set to -1; moreover, the government form doesn't affect AI aggressiveness at all, so Gandhi's aggression level remained the same throughout the game. During wars, India could use nuclear weapons just like any other civilization, but Gandhi would not use nuclear weapons more often than Abraham Lincoln or any other peaceful leaders. One possible origin of the legend could be India's tendency to discover nuclear technology before most of its opponents because of the peaceful scientific nature of this civilization.
Through Civilization IV, a popular misconception held that Gandhi was "still" programmed with a tendency to use nuclear weapons as an easter egg, but no such behavior was purposely added to the games by Firaxis. The first such intentional inclusion of Nuclear Gandhi was in Civilization V. Civilization V lead game designer Jon Shafer set Gandhi's "Build Nuke" and "Use Nuke" parameters to the highest possible value, 12. Shafer said that he did this as a joke: "it's fun to imagine that an Indian politician promoting Satyagraha may have a desire to nuke his neighbors". Following the game's release in 2010, players noticed Gandhi's incongruous behavior; it was addressed in The Escapist magazine's comic Critical Miss. Players nicknamed Civilization V's Gandhi "Thermonuclear," "The destroyer of worlds," and "Kurchatov."
Gandhi is actually one of the most peaceful leaders in Civilization V, but his artificial intelligence parameters that control building and using of nuclear weapons have the value of 12, which is the highest of any leader. The next three leaders have a value of 8, and most leaders have a value between 4 and 6. To bring more diversity to the gameplay, at the start of each game, Civilization V adjusts these parameters by adding a random value between −2 and +2 to each of these two values; in the case of Gandhi, this means the "Build Nuke" and "Use Nuke" parameters will never go lower than the maximum rating: 10 out of 10.
Civilization VI introduced a secret agenda mechanic that regulates the artificial intelligence behavior. Each leader has two agendas: the first is constant and based on each leader's personal history, and the second one (as well as a third one in Civilization VI: Gathering Storm) is chosen randomly at the start of each game. Gandhi's fixed goal is "Peacekeeper": Gandhi is much less likely to start wars, and disdains civilizations that do, as well as appreciating those that do the opposite. However, he has a fixed 70% probability of getting "Nuke Happy" as his secondary agenda, which causes him to focus on building nukes, appreciate civilizations that do, and disdain civilizations that do not.
In early 2012, 21 years after the original Civilization was released, a TV Tropes user named Tunafish claimed that a bug existed in Civilization that caused Gandhi to be much more aggressive. Tunafish did not provide any proof. In November, the same information was added to Wikia. According to Sid Meier, over the next two years, the story spread across the Internet, and each time someone doubted it, a link to a wiki was used as a proof.
In 2014, the story gained a lot of publicity after a reposted Critical Miss comic caused a discussion in the comment section on Reddit over why Gandhi was made that aggressive. 10 days later a video game news website Kotaku posted an article "Why Gandhi Is Such An Asshole In Civilization", which prompted other news websites and blogs to republish that information. Because of such interest in mass media and blogosphere, lots of series fans discovered this story, and "Nuclear Gandhi" became a common video game Internet meme and a joke. Moreover, due to the Mandela effect, many people remembered that they were particularly annoyed by India in the first games of Civilization series. Information about "Nuclear Gandhi" was later added to Know Your Meme, which stated that the bug first appeared in Civilization II.
On June 18, 2019, Firaxis marketing manager Kevin Schultz posted a tweet stating that he is going offline for two weeks due to business trip to China, and offered to reflect on the question, "What if the widely shared and reposted story about Gandhi's love for nukes in the original Civilization being caused by a bug is totally false?" This prompted ex-Eurogamer columnist Chris Bratt to start a journalistic investigation.
Bratt contacted 2K's PR department and asked for an interview with a Firaxis representative, but his request was denied. Bratt then contacted ex-Firaxis game designer Bruce Shelley, who stated that he did not remember whether the glitch existed, since the development of Civilization was 30 years ago: "I vaguely remember an issue with Gandhi, but the guy you would have to speak with is Sid [Meier]." The next person Bratt contacted was lead Civilization II game designer Brian Reynolds, who replied: "Although it's been ~20 years since I've seen the Civ 1 code, I can still tell you with 99.99% certainty the Gandhi bug is completely apocryphal." Bratt contacted 2K and Sid Meier once again, but did not receive a direct refutation. Meier stated that he did not know the correct answer, but he thinks that the urban legend is a good thing: "giving the limited technology of the time, the original Civ was in many ways a game that took place mainly in players imagination", so "I'd be reluctant to limit what that player can imagine by introducing too many of my thoughts". Bratt posted a YouTube video with his investigation's findings.
Later, in an Ars Technica interview, Sid Meier stated that the story about the Gandhi software bug was fabricated. On September 8, 2020, Sid Meier's autobiography, Sid Meier’s Memoir!: A Life in Computer Games, was released, containing a detailed background of the urban legend's formation.
"Nuclear Gandhi" is one of the most recognizable bugs in the history of video games. It has spawned a large number of Internet memes, and has been used as an example of integer underflow in computer science courses at Harvard University, among others.
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