Saturday, July 18, 2015

Sid Meier's Civilization IV: Colonization - 7/20 hours

I don't think I can play the unmodded game any more. It was going fairly well. After a couple of brief wars, I was left as the sole European power on the continent. I was completely satisfied with my territory (in fact, it was on the verge of too much). I'd set up a really effective trade network, with my incredible capital city of New Amerstdam as the hub. I was actually producing goods for export faster than I could ship them away, and was starting to get stupid rich. Then the Apaches declared war.

Within the space of a couple of turns, my territory was flooded with enemy units. Tile improvements were being pillaged left and right, citizens had to be removed from economically productive activities to become soldiers, and my trade caravans' automation ground to a halt as they refused to go near active war zones. New Amsterdam itself was under threat.

And I was like, "How dare they come out of nowhere and wreck my shit! I won't stop until every last one of them is wiped off the map . . ."

So, yeah. . .

It's funny. This is a sentiment I've experienced with the civ series in the past. I'd be ticking along, developing my infrastructure nicely, and some warmonger civ would come along and get ideas about taking my stuff, and I'd be filled with a righteous anger, and feel compelled to demonstrate why attacking a country with a robust economy and near-limitless resources is a bad idea, even if their military is weak on paper. But it's one thing if you're Huyana Capac or Mansa Musa retaliating against Alexander the great, and an entirely different thing if you're George Washington in a simulacrum of the American west. Especially since this is my history.

My family has been in this country since practically the beginning. I, personally, am distantly related to George Washington (a statistical inevitability, given my race and geographical origins). I can easily imagine my ancestors gathered around the hearth fire, talking in stunned, racist bafflement about the "savages" who were attacking settlers for "no reason," and this hypothetical dialogue sounds a lot like my grumbling when I suffer a setback in the game.

This is not the first time a historically themed video game has provoked a politically-incorrect mindset on my part. There were times when I was playing Crusader Kings 2 and I'd think "oh no, not another girl, why can't this wife of mine bear me a son," but that's different. Medieval nobles might as well be Martians, for all the connection they have to my life, but this stuff, here. . .

 I grew up celebrating Columbus Day. George Washington is on my currency. Colonization is dredging up a historical darkness that still has ramifications to this very day. Maybe things would be different if we'd ever reached a rapprochement with our own past, and Native peoples had full social, political, and economic equality, but as it stands, there is something grotesque about a white American sitting around cursing at simulated Indians. It is unbearably masturbatory at best, and at worst . . . it doesn't bear thinking about.

If I was a sharper social critic, I could probably catalog the ways in which Colonization subtly encourages racist thought. I noticed two - Native villages don't have visible borders, making the land around them appear "up for grabs;" and Native cultures get a "I don't like your lifestyle" opinion malus which can drive them into war with no specific inciting incident, which makes their attacks appear unprovoked.

That last is what happened with me and the Apache. I'd long lived peacefully beside the natives, but due to my expansion through French territory, I'd wound up controlling an empire that took up half the continent. If I'm being perfectly honest, I can see how I would come off looking like an aggressive imperial power, and there's no way at all the game's AI could possibly know that I was avoiding expanding into Native territory as a matter of political principle. That I felt betrayed by that turn of events is entirely on me. However, given the sensitive nature of the game's subject matter, I feel like even one genocidal crusade is one too many.

Next update, I'll be playing the Colonization 2070 mod. It's probably still problematic, given that it will inevitably borrow heavily from the basic structure of the imperialist narrative, but at least when I start thinking that the aliens are irrationally aggressive enemies of human civilization, I won't be echoing the rhetoric of real-world white supremacists.

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