Variety offended by Sid Meier’s Civilization IV: Colonization

Screenshot of Civilization IV: Colonization

You’d think the mainstream media might one day appreciate video games, but that is seemingly never the case. Over at Variety’s blog, we read hate all over their post, whose author has been offended by a game as meek as Sid Meier’s Civilization IV: Colonization.

The Sid Meier game merges the Civilization IV franchise with the relic Colonization, a Sid Meier classic that we all knew he would remake some day. As you can guess, the game is about leading one of four European powers into the New World and starting a colony, eventually working your way to declaring Independence and all.

The author of the post, Ben Fritz goes on about how offensive colonization is, and how it has always been about racism. He disagrees with Colonization‘s viewpoint of being a European who goes on to colonize, as it has usually brought about disastrous consequences upon the natives. He finds it apalling that you get to play as this oppressive power. I wonder if the fun-loving crowd at Firaxis ever thought of something like this.

I disagree with Ben completely. To start with, I am a Civilization IV addict, and I wonder if Ben has even played the original game. That being said, it should be noted that Civilization IV is a world-building strategy game first, where you take control of a civilization and lead it through the millennia of human history into glory.

Colonization is a stand-alone expansion to Civilization IV, that appears to focus on the Colonization aspect of the game. In the game, players get to trade, fight, negotiate, explore and do pretty much all that. Ben appears to be concerned by the “fight with natives” part. Now I’m not a member of the dev team, but if I know anything about Civilization IV, I know that fighting is almost always optional. I say ‘almost’ because there is always the possibility that these natives end up attacking you first and you have no choice in the matter.

Regardless, the game also does not seem to imply that it has a penchant for showing native tribes and peoples being exploited, nor do I see any themes of racism (although according to Ben’s equations, Colonization=Racism). Examine:

And “conquer[ing] and rul[ing] the New World” is inherently about engaging in the racist practice of exploiting and abusing native people.

That is strange. What form of “conquering and ruling” does not involve expoiting and abusing native people, racist or not? It pretty much happens all around the world, regardless of what race you or your conquerors are. Using a more poetical meaning of the word “conquering”, the game might also be implying that you “conquer” the world by diplomacy and economy rather than racially exploiting and abusing native people.

A game about colonization that’s entirely about controlling the settlers can either force the player to do horrific things or let him avoid doing it and whitewash some of the worst events of human history.

Come to think of it, wouldn’t that be the case with all historically set games? Are we trying to whitewash human history when you build the Eiffel Tower in Beijing after a war with the Malinese Empire in Civilization IV? Are you in the mindframe of a tyrannical feudal lord when you command unfailingly obedient villagers in Age of Empires?

(And I’m not even getting into the offensiveness of using uncritically using the phrase “New World” in the marketing material.)

And say what? America? That’s what America was called before it was named, The New World. Wouldn’t changing that make the game both historically inaccurate and whitewashed to remove offensiveness?

I hardly think that a game about colonization, especially one as darned gamey as Sid Meier’s Civilization IV: Colonization is worth getting worked up about. Fritz says “If there was a major movie coming out that uncritically told the story of Europeans colonizing America, there would be a major furor, and rightfully so.” I don’t think so. Neither would a movie with sex, violence, prostitution et al: because movies have the “art” and “conceptual approach” defences.

When will the world learn?