295: The Missing Pieces of Civilization

The Missing Pieces of Civilization

While others were skipping class to play games, Steve Butts was using games as an excuse to go to class.

Read Full Article

It's games like Civilization, Age of Empires, and others that led me to become a history major also. It's also why I dominate at Jeopardy.

I always looked upon all works of art like this article states. Not necessarily as the be-all-and-end-all of knowledge on the subject matter (which is why I have no problems with movies like King Arthur or Braveheart being historically innacurate - that is not the point of a movie. The point of it is to get you invested in the story and hopefully looking in that direction, something both of them ultimately succeeded), but they are most definitely the starting point - the thing that gets you thinking. If a movie about a subject matter *feels* good (doesn't matter if it's factual or not), chances are you'll do research on your own on the matter afterwards. Same goes with videogames, books or paintings. As Extra Credits named it - tangential learning.

Only a handful of artistic works exist which even go further than just tangential learning by also providing a credible answer with the right context *within* the work of art and I notice that the tendency for these specific works is that they are usually created by people, who are not professional bloggers or such, but who had become artists only after a long career within their subject matter (journalists, aid workers, murderers, slaves...you name it). The more art I've sampled, the more I feel as if people like myself who like to wax philosophical ultimately miss the actual context that truly matters, mainly because of our biases for the abstract and for a delusional need to make sense out of everything rather than just accept the bare facts, how they interact with one another and most importantly how we can improve this for the future.

Still...even though most works of art will always, indeed, pander to the market's expectations...yeah. It doesn't mean they can't get you thinking about stuff. They provide you with the start though, far better than dry textbooks indeed. But, having said that, it's the textbooks (written online with a measure of authority or on paper) that *then* provide you with the bulk of the information you may be interested in. And inevitably I guess you conclude it with your own viewpoint on the whole context, where hopefully you can stay aware of and limit your biases that will inevitably come up.

Of videogames...I think there was one pivotal game series called Crusader (No Remorse and No Regret later were the only two), which was a little unusual gameplay-wise I guess, but what really got me immersed into it all was the sheer amount of fictional material that came with the two boxsets (there were Top Secret resistance manuals, there were the WEC - the corporate global government against which you fought - handbook, that had rap sheets on your in-game acquaintances and hell, even a fictional newspaper!) And then there were the in-game movies, of which Origin loved to do a ton of at that time and which I am 100% certain everyone must be going 'Booo! Games are art on their own, they shouldn't imitate cinema that much!' Yeah...you know what? I don't care - it got me invested MORESO than other stuff could've in the mid 90s when the game came out and it made this fictional world feel valid and relevant.

All of that...just got me so immersed into this fictional, dystopian future and I suppose it's fuelled what would become my own brand of fascination with the world - how it could all become worse than it already is?

So yep. Videogames certainly can inspire to such things - for great justice and all that jazz.

That last point - about these grand civ games focussing on war - has been irking me too as of late. Every time I play Civ 5, everyone just wants to fight - if you're being too cultural or economic and are lacking in army, if you have too much army, if you have too many cities, or too few, even if you're allied; it's always just war :/

Same in Empire TW - there's no real way to progress without warfare, and the biggest nation is basically the most powerful. There's not much beyond that (though a friend of mine has ridiculous luck with diplomacy).

It would be cool if there was a civ builder were war was an option, not the sole driver, if the largest nation wasn't simply the most powerful. Think of the industrial revolution; GB emerged as the world super power despite being a tiny nation and in direct economic competition with France. Through a negotiated free trade agreement, Britain was able to flood France's markets with their new mass-produced goods and make titanic profits. That's just not the sort of thing that civ games encourage.

One other thing I'd like to see would be a more free-form tech tree. More creativity, less proscribed steps, more versatility, more complex interactions between research and resultant tech. I guess I kinda want it to be more complex and harder to grasp - not just a simple clear route to the game's super units or something. I dunno, rambling now...

So Im currantly a history major... so by this article, I should give Civ a try. Thanks! I needed something new and non-FPS.

Interesting article. One of the things I really enjoyed about Civ. Revolution is the alternate victories - cultural or scientific. Sure the last part of the game is usually spent defending yourself from a last gasp military offensive, and that's a shame, but I really like how different powers can "out culture" you to steal cities and the impact of great people.

Sure I enjoy the richness of Civ V, or focus Civ Colonization, I still trot out Civ. Revolution when I want to complete the game in a day.

It's funny, I've been hooked on history ever since Age of Empires II. I remember spending about an hour actually playing the game, then two reading and researching all the historical notes. I moved on to Rome: Total War, and I haven't been the same since. Really, it's interesting how experiencing history first-hand and interactively can change your outlook on how the past really happened. Playing through these games, making tough decisions and gambling with my armies, really helps me get some perspective on why leaders of the past did what they did. Damned interesting stuff.

Wicky_42:
That last point - about these grand civ games focussing on war - has been irking me too as of late. Every time I play Civ 5, everyone just wants to fight - if you're being too cultural or economic and are lacking in army, if you have too much army, if you have too many cities, or too few, even if you're allied; it's always just war :/

In 3 out of 4 games of Civ V I can avoid any conflict I don't start myself. In the 4th I end up attacked by half the other nations, which is a right bastard when you've set the game up for 20 civs.

There are a number of ways to go about it but the two main ones are don't react to verbal provocations (just go "very well" and move on) and sell luxury goods cheap to hostile nations... sure you don't make the same sort of scratch you do from selling to friendlies but when keeping their national morale positive depends on goods you sell them it makes them hesitant to attack.

Oh yeah, and keep your military tech within shouting distance. Civ V isn't the same as the old games where a spearman can mess up a tank. In V the worst that will happen to a tank is the crew having to pick bits of spearman out of the tracks.

Same in Empire TW - there's no real way to progress without warfare, and the biggest nation is basically the most powerful. There's not much beyond that (though a friend of mine has ridiculous luck with diplomacy).

Yeah, but with the Total War series it's more understandable - there's a hint about the games' focus in the series titles. All economic, infrastructural and diplomatic endeavors are to support the military... which is perfect (and somewhat historically accurate) if you play as Prussia.

Steve Butts:
While others were skipping class to play games, Steve Butts was using games as an excuse to go to class.

I used being kicked out of the student bar as an excuse to go to class.

Personally I've found the History units I've picked up have generally enhanced 'historical' 4x games for me, yet the International Studies units had the complete opposite effect. I can't stand 'geo-political' simulators anymore... they just come across as naive and overly simplistic.

The payoffs here are fairly obvious. Knowing that the Allied commanders have the same information, the Japanese sailed north because the worst possible result, no matter what the Allies did, was only two days of bombing. The Allies also had to choose to search north because, no matter what the Japanese did, they would still get at least two days of bombing. Unless the enemy made an obvious mistake, neither side can obtain a better result by changing their strategy.

An equally reasonable strategy would be for the Japanese to pick North or South with equal probability, while the USA always picks North.

Great piece! And now I want to go play Civ some more...

I've heard of varying success with Civ games in classrooms. Your thoughts on that would make a great follow-up article!

Civilization was also a major (though not critical) reason for my love of History.

I would suggest further reading of "Guns. Germs, and Steel" as an Historiographic look at the rise of Western Civilization and why it became the colonizing power. It is the book that first opened my mind to looking at History as more than just facts about peoples-but facts about persons.

walsfeo:
Sure the last part of the game is usually spent defending yourself from a last gasp military offensive, and that's a shame

It would be interesting to make a version of Civilization where the goal is to do what's best for your citizens rather than meeting win conditions. I didn't like it when a happy little Amish nation declared war on me because they didn't want me to colonize Alpha Centauri first.

I still A-Bombed them, but I felt really bad about it.

I agree with the author that Civilization is a good way to get someone interested in history. I disagree that combat is less controversial - there's no way a wounded spearman could beat a tank so easily!

that kind of depth, and understanding may not be beyond me, but it is something that I don't take note of. When I did play Civilization my tactics were more on how to achieve my goal fast, and how to keep the other nations out of my hair. probably not much differences form other people, but with less fear or honor, but a more "Leave me alone so I can do my work" attitude.

One time I A-bomed a city of a nation that declared war on me, not so much to drive them back, but more to make it harder for them to get to me, as the city was in a valley and the damaged made it impassible. I would also make city's on Islands that were easy to defend, even to the point that it became my winning strategy. To me Civilization more or less taut me that allies are good, but being in a place were it's hard for others to attack you is even better.

Great read. I have the same vice, although my liquor is not Civ. I used to like AoE for exactly this "what if" aspect of history and I also love the TW series for the exact same reason.

However, being a history lover myself, I usually tend to recreate the events and try to understand how the nations of history achieved what they achieved, instead of deviating to what if scenarios. I always play with the Romans in Rome:TW, although I am itching to try on the Greeks or Gauls in an what if scenario. I enjoyed playing the Mongols in Medieval:TW. Even in AoE, my first set of custom maps and situations were based in the campaign of Alexander the Great.

It is sad that we always end up to war to progress in such games. However, that is the sad reality of our civilization. War, after all, is what history records most of the time. That's when we get the most rapid and profound changes, for better or worse, in our society.

As an addicted player of civ from 90's; Civ 5 makes me a sad panda.

Very interesting, I had often wondered what a historian would think of Civ.

As to pride/lust for power being a powerful motivator, and the decisions people make in the past, I once read a very interesting article that basically stated human behavior is never irrational--it is always made within a cultural framework, and always seems rational to the person doing it at the time. There may be motivating factors-in a bad example, a king attacks out of pride, but that pride is based on having his elites/nobles respect and recognize his power (anything with a hierarchical power structure is based on the legitimation of power and authority). He will seem weak if he does nothing and so must maintain his image. I see this every time I play Civ. My actions are based on immediate need, whether its to keep people happy, keep them fed, or to keep France off my back-even if that means attacking their much larger fleet. Its fair to say others' motivations are similar.

Actually there is an interesting article that I haven't gotten around to completing (as I found it while researching for a paper, read the first couple of pages, downloaded it and got back to researching) called "Towards a Theory of Good History Through Gaming". The article was based on a meeting between various historians trying to figure out what research to use and how to design a historical simulation using that research. One of the key reasons the authors decided this was that although these games encourage learning, they tend to teach oversimplified views about civilizations and how they change and develop. Its really quite fascinating for anyone who can find it, atleast from what I've read. If anyone is interested in reading it actually, message me and I can try and send you a copy. Anyways, it seemed relevant to Mr.Butts' piece and now that I'm reminded I should finish that article.

Anyways, I have to say that video games like civ and AOE definitely helped peak my interest in history and the section of the article discussing civ in terms of historiography was actually a very interesting point.

The reason why war and military receive emphasis in strategic history games (with games like Paradox's Victoria and Crusader Kings putting more emphasis on economic strength/infrastructure and diplomacy respectively) is because it is the easiest to represent.

You (almost) always play as the state, and only superficially the nation. The state can declare wars and fight them, but only the nation can evolve/produce/receive/blindly stumble upon cultural innovation/evolution; the result of the (inter)actions of countless individuals which a strategy game can't (yet) recreate.

Anyway, an interesting article to say the least. Although, like any good historian, I must politely disagree with some of your interpretations on the theory of history.

Steve Butts:
While others were skipping class to play games, Steve Butts was using games as an excuse to go to class.

I wonder if this has led you to playing certain other games that are inspired (though nowhere near completely faithful to) history, such as Assassin's Creed?

I'd be genuinely interested to hear what you had to say about the real hsitory within that game as well.

Wicky_42:
That last point - about these grand civ games focussing on war - has been irking me too as of late. Every time I play Civ 5, everyone just wants to fight - if you're being too cultural or economic and are lacking in army, if you have too much army, if you have too many cities, or too few, even if you're allied; it's always just war :/

Same in Empire TW - there's no real way to progress without warfare, and the biggest nation is basically the most powerful. There's not much beyond that (though a friend of mine has ridiculous luck with diplomacy).

It would be cool if there was a civ builder were war was an option, not the sole driver, if the largest nation wasn't simply the most powerful. Think of the industrial revolution; GB emerged as the world super power despite being a tiny nation and in direct economic competition with France. Through a negotiated free trade agreement, Britain was able to flood France's markets with their new mass-produced goods and make titanic profits. That's just not the sort of thing that civ games encourage.

I ahvent played civ5 yet, but on all previous, although internal economy plays a major role in your game, global economy doesns't. Of course there are the resources on Civ3 and Ci4 (and assume on Civ5). But usually you only can obtain them through war or through a price that doesnt scale with your economy size. And on previous 4 games that was because all AI civs cheated economically. They could have a huge net loss and still would be able to pay for new units and maintain huge armies, while you had to decomission units and even sell assets in similar situations.
When proposing to buy something from them, you would be confronted with ridiculously high prices and even demands to give part of ur territory away.

On multiplayer, all players also end up just waring, and even in this case with possibility for a more peaceful approach, its totally ignored because your victory conditions call for measures that have more of an agressive side.

I will have a go on Civ5 probbaly when first expansion and a good range of decent mods are out there. But guess on these aspects it wont be much different than the previous.

Wicky_42:
That last point - about these grand civ games focussing on war - has been irking me too as of late. Every time I play Civ 5, everyone just wants to fight - if you're being too cultural or economic and are lacking in army, if you have too much army, if you have too many cities, or too few, even if you're allied; it's always just war :/

Same in Empire TW....snip.

May I suggest you try Europa Universalis 3. It's much heavier on the diplomacy/economy side of things. Lets say that if you preferred the Diplomacy board game to Risk then EU3 is for you my friend.

Just as a comment on the article, I heartily approve of the (intentional?) use of mathematical game theory terminology and reasoning, a field that, interestingly enough, has it's modern roots in mathematical exercises into outcomes of (then) all the possible scenarios of the Cold War and, for a while, became one of the driving thoughts behind early chess computers such as Deep Blue. The history-to-game-to-history story of this whole field the article dips into is something absolutely fascinating and it's still very much in its infancy in terms of the computer contribution.

IndianaJonny:
Just as a comment on the article, I heartily approve of the (intentional?) use of mathematical game theory terminology and reasoning, a field that, interestingly enough, has it's modern roots in mathematical exercises into outcomes of (then) all the possible scenarios of the Cold War and, for a while, became one of the driving thoughts behind early chess computers such as Deep Blue. The history-to-game-to-history story of this whole field the article dips into is something absolutely fascinating and it's still very much in its infancy in terms of the computer contribution.

Definitely intentional. I didn't want to make the Game Theory angle too explicit, but it is a fascinating subject. During our lunchtime D&D game, the CEO and I even used The Prisoners' Dilemma to get information out of a pair of assassins who had been hired to kill us. It's great when abstract theories find practical applications.

Steve Butts:
Definitely intentional. I didn't want to make the Game Theory angle too explicit, but it is a fascinating subject. During our lunchtime D&D game, the CEO and I even used The Prisoners' Dilemma to get information out of a pair of assassins who had been hired to kill us. It's great when abstract theories find practical applications.

Ha, what a charming example! When I first started my game theory module at university my lecturer opened with something like "this module will help you win board games, nuclear conflicts, women and parliamentary elections" and consequently the first words I wrote in my notes were 'I.Love.This.'

Ah, Civilization, you brought good memories, and still do through Civilization 5.

Right now I just finished a game as Oda Nobugana or whatever his name was, and I conquered Ramses II (Egypt) 'cause he kept looking at me funny, and whatever the Siamese king's name was used to be friendly towards me, but then got angry at me, so I went to war with him and conquered him. By that time I had met Wu Tzian (China), Elizabeth (Britain), and Catherine (Russia), and only Wu Tzian was guarded towards me, the others constantly denounced me. So, I was bored, and tried to conquer China, but then I forgot she had cities on islands, so I gave up on that since I didn't have a good navy. Then I was bored again, and decided to nuke Sidon later, and a few city-states were mad at me, but I payed them off to be fine, and now everyone is "Guarded" at me as i have a friggin' nuke. Then I built the Apollo Program and went to space earning a Technological victory at 2049.

I do agree, however, that games like Civ or Empire make it difficult to go the diplomacy route. Often times I would love to just settle a dispute, or provide a constitution to spread my ideals to another nation, or whatever. I'd be really interesting to see them expand on the concept of diplomacy.

Great piece.

Civ and strategy games, they pushed me towards sociology (and historical sociology and the study of ideology in particular).

 

Reply to Thread

Log in or Register to Comment
Have an account? Login below:
With Facebook:Login With Facebook
or
Username:  
Password:  
  
Not registered? To sign up for an account with The Escapist:
Register With Facebook
Register With Facebook
or
Register for a free account here