Tuesday, May 31, 2011

BLARGH! ARGH! or why Sid Meier such a fucking racist

I have just committed one of the huge cardinal sins of dealing with racism. I have called someone a racist, rather than their actions. However, I think I can be fucking justified with doing it this one time. Why? Well, Sid Meier -- of Civilizations fame -- came up with a game in 1995 called Colonization. That's right, it was a game where you played one of four European Nations who crossed the Atlantic and began a wholesale genocide to colonize and civilize the 'new' lands they found. When I first found it, I was a little taken aback considering that part of the game play, depending on your nation of choice, involved subjugating or eliminating the First Nations that were 'inconveniently placed' on the map. Seriously, the English would send missionaries to convert people. The French would 'negotiate' and 'befriend' the various tribes so that they could use them as soldiers when fighting off the homeland. The Spanish would just kill everything in sight and the Dutch would just steal trade for better resources and more access to the land.

I used to bring it up as something that was a pretty big black eye as far as the gaming community was concerned. I used to also use it as a marker of what was going on 16 years ago in that naive hope that maybe, just maybe we had progressed a little further than that.

Well, the past is come back today and it's upgraded! That's right, in 2008 they re-release Colonization as Sid Meier's Civ 4 - Colonization! Better graphics, better game play, and whole giant metric fucktonnes (which are of course bigger than imperial fucktonnes) of strategically racist fun for the whole family. Don't believe me? Check out the trailer. I'll wait.


Yeah. Look at these great white people coming in and building their great and powerful forts! Look at the lone 'savage' scouting the Europeans big and powerful walls with trepidation. Look at the theft and lies trading that is going on there! Isn't it great! Look at more important white folks who are busy 'building a country' and fighting for their independence.

Giant, steaming pile of shit.

This is why I feel I can safely say that Sid Meier is a fucking racist. Not only did he make one really racist game, but he then remade the same fucking game! The exact same fucking game!


Am I the only one who sees anything wrong with this?


callenghast said...

This is also from Geoff:

I was thinking about your post (and this game) on the way into work today.

I'm not sure how to say what it is that I'm going to try to say, so I'm just going to muddle through and hope that I don't make an ass out of myself.

I guess what I'm wondering is, can you make a game like this that's fair to all sides?

From what I saw, it seems that in this game you play European colonists doing whatever the hell European colonists did during the period, with all of the really big issues that you mention.

Would the game be improved if you could play a Native American side? Would that provide balance, both to game play as well as to gamer perspective, or would that only exacerbate the issue?

What would it take to do that? Can you do that? Should games like this not be made at all because they're just inherently problematic and perpetuate the issues that currently exist?

On another, related issue, what about colonial-style games that are similar thematically, but which use analogues? I'm a galactic explorer. Here is a planet that I can colonize and exploit? Does changing the names and the setting make the intent of the game any better or different?

I'm at a loss to answer most of these questions myself, but I wanted to leave my comments in any case.

Jonathan said...

I don't think you can. We're stuck with a biased historical recording for the most part, considering that we really only have ready access to colonial historical data, and the fact that in the end this was genocide, pure and simple. Making a game about it that doesn't intend to actually point that out is incredibly problematic.

I had a discussion with someone on facebook about this, and it really just came out that unless your goal in the game, like Train, is to show the horror or to reveal things about the human mind when dealing with atrocities then you're going to be unable to do it.

If someone is going to do it, it shouldn't be a white Canadian dude. However, to be fair a little bit of research shows that Brian Reynolds was the lead on Colonialization. The fact that he's working for Zynga isn't much of a surprise.

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