Colonialism is Fun? Sid Meier’s Civilization and the Gamification of Imperialism

This is the newest post in our fourth week of our roundtable on science fiction and imperial history, co-edited by Marc-William Palen and Rachel Herrmann. You can read our call for posts here, and the other posts in the series here, here, here, here, here, and here. Posts will run twice a week until the second week in July. We look forward to hearing your thoughts!

Nick Pullen
McGill University

If you were to tell the children and adults who first bought copies of legendary PC game designer Sid Meier’s Civilization in 1991 that they would still be playing some version of this classic game of imperial expansion almost thirty years later, they probably wouldn’t have believed you. Yet the record-breaking franchise, now in its sixth iteration, has continued to ensnare generations of PC gamers with its epic sweep, imaginative scope, and highly addictive turn-based gameplay that allows you to take an ancient empire to conquer the world—and then colonize the stars.

Yet Civilization’s staying-power also sits uncomfortably with an incipient opposition from those opposed to its imperial overtones, and provides a fascinating window into the persistent, underlying colonial assumptions of modern-day society.

While the game has developed and expanded in complexity over the decades, the essential elements have remained the same since I’ve been playing. Players assume control of a world civilization in 4000 BCE, playing as one of that civilization’s most significant leaders, and lead it over the millennia into the near future, as far as it can be reasonably imagined. As the game’s first iteration in 1991 put it, “a great leader [is required] to unite the quarreling tribes, to harness the power of the land, to build a legacy that will stand the test of time: a Civilization.” Cities are founded, world wonders are constructed, economies are grown, and war machines spring to life.

Mahatma Gandhi of India, Augustus Caesar of Rome, Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden, Tokugawa Ieyasu of Japan, Catherine the Great of Russia, and Enrico Dandolo of Venice, among many others, have all been playable characters at various points in the series. There are many avenues to victory, from husbanding the arts and sciences for a cultural victory, to having other world leaders consent to a diplomatic victory, to ruthless military extermination of rivals for a domination victory. But the joy of the game for many players is less to win than to have fun simply following the arc of each individual game, where the history of “civilization” (itself a problematic term for colonial history) unfolds in a way that it never has before, and never will again.

Civilization is what game designers refer to as a 4x game, built around the four pillars of exploration, expansion, exploitation, and extermination: an acronym that could just as easily be taken as an elegant distillation of the very essence of colonialism. What is it, then, about colonialism, and its underlying logic of exploration, discovery, settlement, and infinite expansion, with its close relationship to capitalism, that is so deeply compelling to so many millions of gamers around the world?

The Civilization franchise can safely be called one of the most influential, addictive, and beloved creations in the canon of world gaming, and praise from industry figures and players is almost universal. Countless mods, wikis, forums, and spinoffs over the years have given expression to the fanatical reverence for the series.  In 2007, Henry Lowood, curator of the History of Science and Technology collections at Stanford University,  even included the first Civilization games in a digital canon of culturally and historically significant games as part of a preservation project sponsored by the US Library of Congress.

Yet a discordant note was sounded early this year when Milton Tootoosis, headman of the Poundmaker Cree Nation in Saskatchewan, found out that the likeness of their namesake, legendary Cree chief and peacemaker Pîhtokahanapiwiyin, known to English speakers as Poundmaker, had been developed for Civilization VI as the leader of the newly introduced Cree civilization. Poundmaker died of illness contracted during a stay in Canadian prison after being convicted of treason in the aftermath of the 1885 North West Rebellion, and his depiction in the game wearing a British military jacket may have ruffled some additional feathers.[1] Tootoosis angrily denounced the inclusion as an act of cultural appropriation. In his comments to the conservative daily paper The National Post, Tootoosis categorically denied that consent had been given to use Poundmaker’s likeness in the game. His chief objection was that:

I think that’s potentially very dangerous for a lot of young naive people, and maybe older naive people; this colonial notion of expanding an empire, using military power to take over a community, to access their land and extract the resources go with it. That’s a big, big problem we’ve been trying to resolve through talks around this notion of truth and reconciliation. We are, as First Nations people, still trying to work our way out of this model that’s been a catastrophe for First Nations people, not only in Canada but throughout the world. Some people could potentially understand or equate the notions of imperialism and colonialism to the values of our people.

2K Games, the company that currently develops the franchise, refused to comment on the issue, and as of publication of this article, has not removed the likeness of Poundmaker from the game.

This emergent anti-imperial critique illustrates the extent to which old-fashioned colonial assumptions underlie the Civilization franchise.

Simply put, Civilization gamifies and glorifies colonialism, making it aggressively fun, and working within embedded assumptions that it is natural and inevitable: indeed, synonymous with the very idea of “civilization.”

And yet this tension has  been ignored, or at least dealt with quite awkwardly, over the course of the game’s evolution.

Indigenous leaders have always numbered among the game’s playable civilizations. Montezuma of the Aztecs and Huayana Capac of the Incas have remained potential leaders for a player to control from the beginning. As early as Civilization II one could play as Sitting Bull, leader of the nebulously defined “Native American empire,” whose cities included the highly problematic Wounded Knee. Civilization III introduced Hiawatha of the Iroquois. Civilization V introduced Pocatello of the Shoshone.

Added to which a remarkably naive expansion pack, 2008’s Civilization IV: Colonization, explicitly marketed European expansion into the “New World” as a playable addition to the game. A more sensitive recent mod for Civilization V, called “Legacies of Colonialism,” expanded the playable canon to include not just a multitude of indigenous nations, but also the settler states of Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

Tootoosis’ intervention appears to be the first time that anyone from an indigenous community has called out the fundamental assumption at the heart of the series that “civilization” necessarily entails agricultural, sedentary cultures, with states, standing armies, and advanced technology, and which aggressively seize the land of others. Yet do these characteristics an imperial power make? Some of the recent scholarship on colonialism in North America has demonstrated that hegemony and imperialism can take other forms than the European model. Pekka Hämäläinen has recast the Comanche of the southern Great Plains in the nineteenth century as an imperial power, who may not have sought to establish “large-scale settlement colonies,” or left architectural testimony to their previous might, but who nonetheless “created a deeply hierarchical and integrated inter-societal order that was unmistakeably imperial in shape, scope, and substance.”[2]

Through a complex system of “violence, diplomacy, extortion, trade, and kinship politics,” the Comanche made themselves the dominant player in the Mexican North and the American Southwest for over a century, without building the kind of formal territorial empire that is Civilization’s only model. Hämäläinen  also encourages us to revisit the histories of the Powhatan and the Haudenosaunee confederacies to broaden our understanding of what empire really means.[3] Why should the only model of conquest and expansion recognized by the gaming industry, as represented in Civilization, be the standard European one?

While there may be a certain satisfaction to developing intercontinental ballistic missiles as the leader of a futuristic Iroquois civilization, and nuking a defenceless, medieval United States (as is possible within the game), ultimately, Civilization forces indigenous cultures into a mold created by other societies, with other definitions of “civilization.” Apparently only what Jared Diamond terms “rooted, agrarian societies” in Guns, Germs, and Steel count as civilizations in the game.[4] Societies based on hunting and raiding, like the Comanche, or even societies with different conceptions of agriculture and permanent settlement to the Eurasian model, like the Iroquoian speaking peoples of the St. Lawrence valley, with their semi-permanent settlements and hoe-based agriculture centred around corn, beans, and squash, are harder to fit into this mold.[5]

Would today’s indigenous communities revolt at having their history presented, as Hämäläinen  presents the Comanche or some scholars have presented the Haudenosaunee, as histories of imperial expansion and domination? Certainly Milton Tootoosis would reject such a characterization, and one suspects that indigenous historians like Georges Sioui, who has done pioneering work on the Haudenosaunee’s old enemies, the Wendat, would do the same.[6]

Yet if empire is the wrong lens through which to view something like the Haudenosaunee “Covenant Chain” system of alliances, as some of the more recent scholarship holds, what is the right lens?[7] How can complex hegemonic systems of tribute and alliance like those built up by the Haudenosaunee, the Mexica, or the Inca, be understood and appropriately rendered in a computer game? Recent scholarship has noted the disconnect between the system of tribute and alliance that constituted the fabric of the Mexica empire, and the instinct of Cortez and his fellow Conquistadors to interpret the war they were fighting along the same lines as the Castilian Reconquista.[8] How can indigenous agency and even active participation in conquests, like that which Michel Oudjik and Matthew Restall have sought to restore to the conquest of the Mexica, for example, be adequately interpreted by designers?[9]

The scholarship of Bruce Trigger, Richard White, and Michael Witgen on the complex nature of cultural, social, and political exchange in the “Middle Ground” of North American empire has emphasized how blurred formal lines of control and hierarchy can be in colonial contexts, and how different from the clear-cut border expansion that underlies the Civilization franchise.[10] Can this complexity ever be as fun and satisfying in a game as sharply defined borders and clean wars? If scholars are themselves divided over what constitutes a formal empire, and how empire can best be understood, how can game developers be expected to sensitively render an imperial expansion, with due regard for nuance and shades of grey? Is such a thing even possible?

The antiquated stereotypes of indigenous cultures in the Civilization series is not only evident in their dubious co-optation into sedentary, technological, playable civs, but also in what is arguably their true appearance in the game, as imagined by its initial designers: as roving “barbarians”: hyper-aggressive non-playable units that appear throughout the game to trouble the human players. These units don’t develop distinct cities or cultures, they are spawned only from nomadic “camps,” and players eventually kill them off or push them to the fringes of the habitable world. Ultimately, runs the underlying assumption, the world can only be conquered by cultures that conform to a very specific, mostly Eurocentric, culturally hegemonic definition of “civilization.” Other ways of ordering a society are excluded from the game’s consideration by its very structure.

This isn’t to suggest anything malicious in the Civilization franchise’s design and development, or that any of its avid fans are actively racist or engaged in conscious cultural appropriation. The point is simply to note that the values and assumptions that underlie the game’s very construction and play are rooted in the assumptions of the former European settler society, the United States, that gave birth to the game in the 1990s.[11]

As the recent GamerGate controversy over the intrusion of feminism and social justice movements into the world of game design and development indicated, many gamers are disaffected white men anxious to preserve one of the few cultural arenas left to their near-exclusive use; a realm of escapism rarely, if ever, subject to political considerations or intersectional analysis. The in-joke current in the PC gaming community of referring to themselves as the “PC Master Race,” as opposed to the presumably less intelligent and sophisticated console gamer, illustrates the extent to which this community has been sheltered from the political trends sweeping the rest of the contemporary cultural environment.

What is it about games built around, as Tootoosis summarized it, “expanding an empire, using military power to take over a community, to access their land and to extract their resources,” that so many people find so deeply psychologically compelling? And how might a game like Civilization seek to subvert these tendencies to highlight some of the uncomfortable psychological terrain on which it rests?

The designers of the game are clearly aware of these tensions, as they are actively introducing models for civilization that differ from the standard model. Venice is a playable faction, for example, but is never allowed to formally own more than one city. The Huns are a playable faction, yet do not found or occupy cities in the same way as other civilizations, having a culture and economy more accurately historically focused on raiding and tribute. If the complexity of Eurasian political, social, and economic models can be rendered satisfyingly enough in the game, perhaps this same imaginative scope could be applied to the many indigenous societies of the world, and how they operate within the game in terms of mechanics?

And following on from this; what would a decolonized strategy game look like? How might it play out in practice? Would it even be possible to design a strategy game that didn’t revolve around classical European notions of conquest, expansion, and discovery? Would anyone want to play it?

A good place to start might be to ask indigenous game designers themselves, who are beginning to make their voices heard in Canada and around the world.

The slightly more esoteric and avant-garde world of tabletop roleplaying, for example, has already produced the splendid Dog Eat Dog. Designed by Liam Burke, a Pacific Islander who grew up in Hawai’i, the game viscerally exposes its participants to the brutality of colonialism. Ehdrigor, another tabletop RPG, is “crafted to take inspiration from the myth and folklore of tribal and indigenous cultures around the world,” rather than “fantasy seen through a Euro-medieval lens.” A group of academics at Concordia University in Montreal have recently received a grant from Canada’s Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council to support the Initiative for Indigenous Futures, which, among its other projects, will provide “Aboriginal youth with critical cultural and digital media tools to empower them to craft a destiny of their own choosing.”

Given the immense cultural currency of video games, and their popularity among children, who, as the Civilization franchise demonstrates, will be playing these games for decades to come, perhaps this is a task to which an aspiring game developer should set themselves? To reimagine strategy gaming to subvert the paradigm of exploration, expansion, exploitation, and extermination? In other words, if we want to challenge the continued hegemony of Eurocentric colonialism in the real world, it may be useful to acknowledge and reorient the extent to which its assumptions underlie the realms of seemingly apolitical entertainment afforded by the world of PC gaming.

———-

[1] Hugh Dempsey, “Biography – PĪTIKWAHANAPIWĪYIN (Poundmaker) – Volume XI (1881-1890) – Dictionary of Canadian Biography,” accessed May 20, 2018, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/pitikwahanapiwiyin_11E.html.

[2] Pekka Hämäläinen, The Comanche Empire (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008), p 3-4. See also Francis Jennings, The Ambiguous Iroquois Empire: The Covenant Chain Confederation of Indian Tribes with English Colonies from Its Beginnings to the Lancaster Treaty of 1744 (New York: Norton, 1984).

[3] Ibid., p 15.

[4] Jared M Diamond, Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies (New York: Norton, 2005).

[5] Jane Mt. Pleasant, “The Paradox of Plows and Productivity: An Agronomic Comparison of Cereal Grain Production under Iroquois Hoe Culture and European Plow Culture in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries,” Agricultural History 85, no. 4 (2011): 460–92, https://doi.org/10.3098/ah.2011.85.4.460.

[6] Georges E. Sioui, Huron-Wendat: The Heritage of the Circle (Vancouver: UBC Press, 1999).

[7] Daniel K Richter and James Hart Merrell, Beyond the Covenant Chain: The Iroquois and Their Neighbors in Indian North America, 1600-1800 (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2003), Introduction.

[8] J.H Elliot, Empires of the Atlantic World: Britain and Spain in America 1492-1830 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006), p 21.

[9] Matthew Restall, Laura E. Matthew, and Michel R. Oudijk, Indian Conquistadors: Indigenous Allies in the Conquest of Mesoamerica (Tulsa: University of Oklahoma Press, 2007).

[10] Richard White, The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 1650–1815, 4th ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), Michael Witgen, “The Rituals of Possession: Native Identity and the Invention of Empire in Seventeenth-Century Western North America,” Ethnohistory 54, no. 4 (October 1, 2007): 639–68, https://doi.org/10.1215/00141801-2007-025, Bruce Trigger, Natives and Newcomers: Canada’s “Heroic Age” Reconsidered, 1st ed. (Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1986).

[11] It might also be worth asking why the colonial processes that gamers enjoy so much, not just in Civilization, but in several other strategy games, such as Europa Universalis, Empire: Total War, or Pride of Nations, are so much fun.

25 thoughts on “Colonialism is Fun? Sid Meier’s Civilization and the Gamification of Imperialism

  1. Perhaps the most sophisticated entry in the Civilization series was Alpha Centauri, which introduced competing ideologies, and a categorisation of life roughly human + terran + non-human-non-sentient + non-human-sentient (and non-human rival civilized factions in the expansion). Environmentalism is explored in a dramatic new way:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sid_Meier%27s_Alpha_Centauri

    There are generally many ways to win in Civilization, including scientific/philosophical/engineering/exploration challenge Space Race, or world peace Diplomacy, or the hegemonic Cultural victory. I think that these can be viewed as concerning, even chilling, rather than simply fun or escapist. Players are exploring possible dystopias as well as utopias, even if they are of their own creation.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Civilization_V#Victory

    Perhaps omitting various cultures from Civilization’s rather crude and colourful sketches would just add to general silencing, but surely they could be handled more sensitively. In the versions I have played, religion is handled so sensitively as to be almost culturally sterile, although bringing advantages if you pursue it.

    There are some indigenous American cultures in one of the expansions to Total War, but of course the game constrains you to fight wars all the time. Nevertheless, war games with their often obsessive attention to detail, sweeping and accessible maps, and opportunity to supply both relevant historical nuggets and huge sweeps of time and space do negate some of the silences in mainstream portrayals of history. For example, in Empire: Total War you find out how advanced various non-Western cultures were in the 18th century, and how many of their inventions and advances were appropriated by Western cultures.

    I think one of the main problems of imperialism in games (which I think is fairly criticised in the article) is the lack of counter-examples. Where are the anti-colonial wars? Where are the underdogs (normally a player favourite), the slave revolts (Haiti, anyone?), the historical detail of oppression that is commonly used to fire up the motivation of the player? The nearest game I have played that involves you in a slave revolt is the fantasy-set Shadows of Mordor:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Middle-earth:_Shadow_of_Mordor

    Since presumably vast global resources could be brought to bear, and a playable student-friendly academically-sound learning-opportunity awaits, why not make the anti-imperial anti-colonialist anti-slavery games the world is (should be) crying out for?

      1. I think the question of how much players in general want to play the underdog (odds stacked against them) or are motivated by a framing of injustice (or protection or any virtuous role) is an open one. There are apparently many players who cheat, will choose the most powerful teams available, will employ various technically-allowable methods (save-scumming controversies for example) to gain advantage outside normal gameplay, indulge in abusive or anti-social online behaviour (however defined) and so on. Even in multiplayer games, sometimes having the best kit confers an advantage.

        So perhaps (like the interesting exposition in Iain M Banks’ novel Player of Games) play style is often heavily influenced by a player’s political stance or worldview, and we may see imperialist tendencies here too (which can exist within a republic like ancient Rome, where privileged nobles competed for honour militarily or through building projects).

  2. This was a pretty good article except for you call all gamers sexists and racists and perpetuating the fallacy of “cultural appropriation.” As I, and any gamer can demonstrate, the vast majority of us are not racist and are not sexist and we do not deserve to be called as such by you or anyone. You do not know me and I doubt you know most gamers, calling us sexists and racists and labeling us a white colonial scourge intent of perpetuating white supremacy is, quite frankly, disgusting.

    I am a 19 year old gay man from Baltimore. I am currently dating a second generation latino immigrant, my closest friend group is predominantly nonwhite and is a good mix of Male and female. Do I sound like a white supremacist sexist pig? Why do you feel the need to make such a generalization of a subculture I closely identify with? I have done nothing to you and I know nothing about you, and the way I would treat you would not change if I found out you were a different nationality, sex, race, or sexuality from me. I beg of you to please stop perpetuating the idea that all gamers or racist, sexist, white men looking to stamp out other people and cultures. We are not, and you would see if you had done your own research into gamers. Talked to some, got to know them, listened to their thoughts.

    And as far as “cultural appropriation” goes, it is about as racist as an idea comes. It’s often used as a means to oppress other cultures, rather than protect them. During my playthroughs of Civilization I was introduced to King Jadwiga of Poland. But is her inclusion in this game not an act of “cultural appropriation” against the Polish People by the American design team? How about the recently added Indonesian and Khmer Civilizations? All of which and their leaders I have come to adore and taken a great fascination with and despite to understand the cultures from which they come. But the fallacy of “Cultural appropriation” is intrinsically against this. It would mean that these leader could not be included in the game for me to admire and form a fascination with because the American design team are horrific racists and colonialists for including cultures other than their own inside their game. Cultural appropriation is not real, it is an evil that shames people for being interested in other cultures and wishing to emulate or experience them. And if were going on this train that “cultural appropriation” is real, I want the rest of the world to give back their blue jeans, fries, and burgers.

    Just please try and think about the ramifications of what you say. Think about all the people and ideas you silence by calling them racists, sexists, white supremacists, and cultural appropriators without knowing anything about who they really are.

    1. Although I’m not sure the article specifically said gamers or white men are all bigoted, whenever someone starts talking about cultural appropriation it’s hard not to see where they are going. Seriously, ideas have been shared between peoples, groups, etc. since forever. It’s okay. It’s what everyone does. We imitate. And to say it’s not okay for a white guy to do it while literally everyone else does it is actually the very definition of racism.

      And, no, any redefinitions of racism that say only white men are capable of racism are not valid. Please don’t argue that; it’s the height of irrationality.

      You have some suggestions for increasing the depth of gameplay in Civ? Cool. Otherwise, you’re not helping anything, you are just concern trolling.

      1. Nah, his opinion is valid despite your concerns, as he is an individual with a mind.

    2. I was going to reply with how silly this article was, but lunus beat me to it on about every single point. Well done!

  3. Once again, Social Justice Warriors (SJWs) have proven themselves to be bullies. Their ideology is not creative or positive, it is destructive. Rather than create new works of art in the same vein as their beliefs, SJWs seek to destroy art they find offensive. Is Civilization actually problematic? No. This is another episode of manufactured outrage brought to you by the confused proponents of an intelectually dishonest movement.

  4. Ugh. This is why I sometimes loathe other gamers. I’m so sorry someone criticized your safe space, and highlighted something that honest gamers would corroborate.

    I know the truth can be massively triggering for some of you, but really, get over yourselves. There’s a nasty undercurrent of various forms of bigotry among gamers.

    And why must you trot out your “bonafieds”, as though gay folks can’t be racist, as though “having a black/Asian/Latino friend” makes you automatically open minded, as though “dating outside your race” makes you some sort of paragon of multi-culturalism.

    Adorable.

    Most gamers are absolutely not supremacists of any sort. Most don’t behave like ****-flinging monkeys when a female voice pipes up in Vent/Discord. Most gamers are completely normal well adjusted people.

    But you are a bald faced liar if you say that there is not a vocal subset of mal-adjusted weirdos hanging about in our favorite medium.
    Rather than being a hardcore status quo warrior, hows about you try this:

    “I enjoy games, and because I am a decent person, I don’t embody the stereotype. I also keep company with like-minded friends, and avoid engaging with people who *do* embody it. While there are absolutely some nasty folks to be found amongst the gaming community, that can also be said of most large communities. However, this doesn’t mean that we have to accept them or refuse to acknowledge their existence.

    Hopefully, the majority of us who do not demonstrate these anti-social and abhorrent behaviors will soon overshadow those who do. Until then, just know that while there are terrible folks among us, they in no way define us.”

    I know. I know. Tl;dr, not my brother’s keeper, etc. etc. etc.

    1. I really wanted to include the Clausewitz games and Total War, but there were space considerations and I figured most non-gamers were at least aware of Civ. Next time.

  5. You know, in you’re article you said not every gamer is a racist if they play civilization, but then you later go on to say that GamerGate somehow “proves” gamers are all white men who look to close themselves off from reality… and later say that the “pc master race” joke is something that shows how “out of the political” climate we are. We get what youre hinting at. If you’re gonna write an article like this, at least be bold about it and write how you feel or don’t even have a comment section at all. Oh, and also they’re many errors in your journalistic gold of a post.

  6. You obviously haven’t played civilization. Just heard a butthurt person tell you about it and you just expanding what he said. You can literally win with one city not attacking anyone and getting a culture, science, time, or diplomatic victory. Barbarians are basically nomads and can develop like having spearman which you need iron to create. They are not pre-european civilizations. They are pre-settlement civilizations. The Indian civilizations have their own perks like the aztecs having an eagle warrior which does more damage than even european warriors. What the hell are you saying? Indian civilizations expanded and fought wars. They didn’t live in a peaceful utopia before the “evil white man” came and brought the whole place to anarchy. I can tell you don’t like the US and are angry about things that happened 100 years ago with your example of what you can do in the game. They don’t need an entire new system just to make sense. Also, it is highly unlikely to be in the atomic era while another civilization is still in the medieval era which is more proof you have never played this game.

    1. If you’ve never been in the atomic era while another Civ is still medieval, even in like settler difficulty, you’re not very good at Civ.

  7. If you think this is bad play Europa Universalis 4 you can can genocide the native americans and then begin importing slaves from west africa to boost the production efficiency of your plantations, and then proceed to take over the entire world. The thing im sure you will ignore is that in the same game you can play as a native american tribe convert to Islam conquer the whole of europe, and free the slaves in any african land you take over.

  8. The author of this article wants to have a lot of things both ways. The majority of this argument criticizes the game for mimicking the “European model” of domination, expansion or colonialism, but concedes within the first few paragraphs that there are actually several different ways to win the game (military supremacy being only one such way) that include Science (being the first civ to master interstellar travel), Cultural (by having the most influential and most beloved culture), Diplomatic (becoming the unanimous leader of the global community) and Time (having accumulated the most points by 2050, when points are awarded for scientific discovery, world wonder building and several other factors well beyond military victories).

    The author spends a great deal of effort justifying a very specific criticism of the franchise without fully explaining how his viewpoint could offer a practical alternative or elucidating how his proposed alternative victory condition (The Comanche model) could be considered sufficiently different than the game’s existing conditions.

    It seems like the author has issues with the idea that a game could make history or cultural development into gaming mechanics or achievements within either a sort of in-game commodity. By playing the game you either chose to accept these ideas as rules of this specific game or you chose not to play it. It’s a game, not a thesis on human development, history or culture. It intentionally simplifies all of these things for all cultures, including the traditional colonial European powers and modern world powers, so it at least attempts to treat all playable nations with some equality.

    Also of note, the Colonization expansion for Civ 4 was an update of the hit ’94 release by Sid Meier of the same name, so it wasn’t a wholly new idea that they dreamed up in the mid 00’s. Nearly everything with that game (playable nations, native tribes, game mechanics) was identical to the original game released 10 years earlier.

    Finally, I have to take exception with this summary of “Gamergate.” The author says the following:

    “As the recent GamerGate controversy over the intrusion of feminism and social justice movements into the world of game design and development indicated, many gamers are disaffected white men anxious to preserve one of the few cultural arenas left to their near-exclusive use; a realm of escapism rarely, if ever, subject to political considerations or intersectional analysis.”

    For starters, this is an entirely one-sided account of Gamergate, as nearly all of those “disaffected white men” would probably argue it was a consumer movement against proven collusion (coordinated release of editorials and columns pushing a specific story angle through competing media outlets) and corruption (advertising money, and other favors, given to authors or media companies in exchange for favorable reviews) within the game journalism. More importantly, I’d like to call out the inherent paradox within the authors statement above. Through the Gamergate movement, feminists and social justice warriors argued that white male dominated society or the patriarchy adversely affected marginalized people (women, LGBTQ+ and POC). However, the author here says the reaction of “disaffected white men” was a result of their desire to “… preserve one of the few cultural arenas left to their near-exclusive use.” Which one is it? Either gaming was one of the last bastions of white male dominance or we live in a patriarchal white supremacist society where almost all cultural arenas are dominated by white men. It logically can’t be both.

  9. Lets keep in mind that the attitude that imperialism is “wrong” and colonialism is “bad” are very recent ideas. If we are all being true we would admit that they have their bad points and their good. Our Poundmaker friends were no saints, just as their British and French acquaintances were not either. But back to the original point, these are moral statements, and morality is a sticky thing. We are all human and imperfect, people, especially under times of great stress and lack make decisions based on survival rather than morality. Back to our Poundmaker friend, he was in jail due to the northwest rebellion, which took place because his people were starving, mostly due to a bison shortage which was in turn caused by over hunting, which was caused by greed with a little bit of lack of basic understanding of how ecosystems can be effected by our actions.

    The Native population was killed mostly by disease when white setters came to NA, neither the setters or the natives had any idea about germ theory, so while we can say it was tragic and “bad” can we really attribute the type of blame that is leveled today, as genocide? This was a tragedy of ignorance much like other tragedies of ignorance that take live around us all the time.
    Those ignorant setters came to america not with the dream of killing natives but one of escaping poverty and religious persecution. If anything we should look at them with pity and understanding.
    Lets not forget as well that those horrible european empires were made of people who were once a lot like the Natives they encountered upon arrival, disorganized, tribal, and then something happened in Europe call the Roman Empire, shall we blame these once tribal peoples for being influenced by the Romans? What about the Romans for being influenced by the Greeks, and the Greeks for ….

    If there is one constant, it is that all actions have unintended consequences. Some of the unintended consequences of what has occurred on Earth are the deaths of innocents, the extension of human lives beyond 30 yrs, the eradication of the very diseases that have killed many who came before, the lifting out of hundreds of thousand out of extreme poverty daily, the liberation of slaves, the rights granted/taken by women. You and me writing and reading on the internet and the ability to play these games on a magic window. Life happens and its messy, lets get on with our lives.

  10. Civilization is a game that’s also meant to be a learning tool. Some lessons are borne out in the mechanics of the game and some information is tucked away in the veritable encyclopedia of info on units, techs, and buildings. Pointing out where this goes wrong or falls short is important.

    For a quick example of lessons-by-game-mechanics: conquest is hard. To prosecute a successful war of aggression in Civ you must have an army, not equal to your opponent’s, but significantly stronger. The defenders are made stronger by their fortifications. Furthermore you have to pay for that army, slowing down the training of reinforcements. And when you do get around to the conquering part your forces don’t get the benefit of enemy roads, meaning you need to have even more units to succeed.

    Should you start winning it gives the enemy the benefit of a smaller army to help pay for their reinforcements as they rush to protect their cities. It’s a slog. This warfare often requires you abandon the benefits of representative government to keep your own people in line. The benefits are even reduced because of the fighting, improvements on cities or tiles are often destroyed or sold before you can seize them.

    The lesson is to take a good look at your other options before leaping into any battles. Warfare is a destructive event and seldom desirable a player’s goals just from those mechanics.

    Pollution also gets a mention in later parts of the game. It’s not a forefront, but it can harm your territory if you don’t take precautions.

    Another lesson would be that your Civilization’s tech and capabilities will always improve unless you’re defeated by something. This is, I think you’d agree, not actually a lesson that should be presented the same way ‘conquest is bad’ has been. Abstractions for gameplay’s sake should be noticed. It’s not fun to have gotten the ability to build horse archers and then to lose it for any reason (besides getting a better version).

    Which makes offering alternative mechanics options for some nations a dilemma. If one option gets a leg-up on the others it’s a lot like the mechanics are teaching you that method is better. Paradox has a few games that do this, and the ‘uncivilized’ (un-expansionist/exploitative) areas tend to do badly against the Europeans. Another successive dilemma is for the divergent mechanics to not make any notable difference in gameplay, leading to the same idea of explore-expand-exploit-exterminate with a few different sprites.

    It’s not ideal that the takeaway is that Egypt should learn gunpowder and build muskets before Otto Von Bismark decides to invade. But I think it’s understandable why the designers would choose to model everyone as approximately the same.

    A side issue is that players can be rather tone-deaf to in-game events. Before culture was added I was only ever annoyed that my conquered lands were unhappy, and until civ4 included working your own population to death did I give any thought to what happened when I set a city on the path to starvation to eke out a bit more production (on the other hand I was pretty young at the time). They get caught up in planning what they plan to do with those new horse archers…

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