Cree concerns hammer home why Civ needs to reject its own traditions

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In Civilization, civilization is a competition. Land and resources are limited, and even those nations that don’t expand through military might are attempting to climb to the top of the league table in other ways. Geography, technology, culture, religion, diplomacy – they’re all, to some extent, weapons to be deployed, or at least arenas where an advantage can be gained. Culture and history are the clothes that Civ wears but it’s not really about building an empire or a nation, it’s about sharpening a knife.

The upcoming Rise and Fall expansion for Civ VI introduces several new playable nations, but the introduction of one civ has led to criticism from an unexpected source. Yesterday, Milton Tootoosis, an elected headman-councillor of the Poundmaker Cree Nation, spoke to CBC News about the inclusion of the Saskatchewan First Nation. He acknowledged excitement about the news and noted that historical chief, Poundmaker, is to be portrayed as working to build “a bridge between settlers and First Nations”. But he also voiced a fundamental concern about the portrayal: “It perpetuates this myth that First Nations had similar values that the colonial culture has, and that is one of conquering other peoples and accessing their land.” It’s a concern that cuts to the heart of what Civilization has always been and – I hope – to what it could become.

No matter how many victory types are introduced, Civ is still a game about accruing more than your opponents, or reaching the finish line before them. Even the fact that the word “opponents” fits so neatly is telling: it’s history as a race to the end and as much as I love the series, that aspect is something I’ve been critical of:

“There’s always a sense with a new Civ that it might care more about the culture that you actually decide to shape rather than the points that you’re accruing, and the more flavour the developers add, the more that seems to be the case.

And I think the gap between the animated leaders and the actual abstractions that drive them is a good microcosm of that whole issue – Civ 6 has great people and wonders and districts and religions and tourism and all the rest, but all of those things are numbers and rules by which to beat your opponents. They’re wearing fancy historical costumes, but Civ actually operates on all of these abstract rules, some of which have been in place since the very first game in the series, and they’re strongly competitive rules.”

Even the meaning behind the name of the subgenre to which Civilization belongs makes it clear why Tootoosis might object to the First Nations being placed alongside the other playable civs. 4X is derived from “eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate”, a term coined by Alan Emich in 1993. It might not have been the game on Emich’s mind (that was Master of Orion 2), but expansion into new territories and across continents, exploitation of resources and people, and extermination of rivals are all central to Civ. The series is synonymous with the genre and, by eXtension, with those verbs.

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In part, I’d argue that those verbs became the driving force of Civ and so many other strategy games because of the way they neatly slot into competitive game systems, but I think it’s also appropriate to ask whether what Tootoosis describes as the “values [of] colonial culture” are also part of the design. Strategy games often rely on conflict and conquest, either to provide objectives and impetus for players, or as the entire foundation of their being. Although there are exceptions, and grand strategy games such as Crusader Kings and Europa Universalis complicate matters, players of strategy games are usually expected to recognise that if you start small, the aim of the game is to grow.

It’s as natural as running to the right in a platformer or picking up every gun in a shooter. How different might that be if fresh voices and ideas were invited to be part of the design process?

According to CBC News, Tootoosis says that “no one from the First Nation was consulted about the project”, though Firaxis’ composer Geoff Knoor has written about working with The Poundmaker Singers for the Cree score.

“Finding performers for each of the civs in Civ VI is always a challenge. For the Cree, a few phone calls and some very helpful folks led me to Clyde Tootoosis and the Poundmaker Singers.

Yes, multiple members of this group are part of Poundmaker’s extended family! Clyde is a great, great grandson of Poundmaker’s brother, YellowMudBlanket. Some of the songs you hear in the game Poundmaker likely knew and sang.”

What Milton Tootoosis seems to be proposing, rather than expressing condemnation of Firaxis, is that a similar consultancy regarding the broader nature of the Cree Nation’s inclusion in the game would have been welcome. In the series’ current form, with that continuing reliance on the 4X template, it may not have been possible to come to an agreement about a satisfactory way to proceed. These are conversations that should be happening though, where they can, so that studios like Firaxis can avoid repeating what Tootoosis refers to as Hollywood’s “decades of portraying indigenous people in a certain way that has been very harmful.”

Representation of cultures and nations in strategy games is a complex issue. From its beginnings, Civilization has represented native villages on the map as things separate from the actual civilisations. Sometimes they’re aggressive barbarian encampments that exist only to fight and pillage, and sometimes they’re static, passive tiles that always remain within their own borders. Commonly referred to by players as “goodie huts” because of the bonuses they give to civs encountering/consuming them, these villages are described in the Civilopedia entry for Civ VI as follows:

“Tribal villages were where the unwashed, uncivilized lived. Out beyond the pale. When explorers from “civilized” places arrived in these villages, the natives often greeted them with open arms, gifts, information, awe and respect. Tribal villages were distinguished from civilized settlements by a number of factors – their faiths tended to be experiential, their government local, their economies barter-based, their laws commonsensical, their organizations cooperative (rather than competitive), their social structures straightforward, their families extended, and their culture practical. In fact, some of these tribal villages evolved into cities, where none of that primitivism survived.”

There’s a lot to unpick there, including a combination of condescension and admiration, but it’s the use of “cooperative (rather than competitive)” that is of particular interest to me. It’s a direct admission that civilisations in Civilization are competitive entities. When an indigenous population receives an ‘upgrade’ from tribal village to city, or from non-playable goodie hut to playable civ, must they become competitive? Do they become part of colonial culture, the exploiters rather than the exploited?

The most recent Civilization games have engaged with the specific ideologies and historical circumstances of various cultures much more strongly than was the case in earlier games. In both Civ V and VI there has been an emphasis on the unique qualities of playable civs, differentiating them from one another through not just special units and buildings, but alterations to the rules of the game. The unique mechanics and units are often derived from ideological concerns or personal traits of the leaders chosen to represent a civilisation.

We spoke to Civ VI’s lead designer Ed Beach after the release of the game and he acknowledged some of the difficulties involved:

“Every time you’re designing a civ, you’re taking [Civilization V’s or VI’s] simple systems and you’re saying ‘well, in order to capture the essence of either this personality or this empire we’re going to have to take all those game rules, and we’re going to have twist them, and distort them, and change them in unique ways’, four or five times, for each of the forty civilisations we have in that game…”

And new civilisations are often introduced to bolster or complicate layers of the game that aren’t working as well as intended. They have to fit the needs of those systems and rules, but in doing so they become subservient to the game’s mechanics rather than informing them. And, eventually, no matter how the numbers and rules are shuffled, twisted and distorted, that brings every nation back to the 4X objectives of colonisation and domination in one form or another.

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Civilization VI has been praised for the inclusion of a much more diverse cast of leaders and it’s something that I’ve commented on myself. The diversity is often in the flavour of the game rather than in its systems though. Those animated leaders serve the mechanics that drive everything forward rather than being meaningful in and of themselves. If Firaxis want to continue the current progress toward representation of cultures as unique entities with their own ethics, philosophies and ideals, they’ll need to do more than bend the rules that have served Civ for decades; they’ll have to start breaking them and replacing them. The 4X core may suit some imperial and colonial powers, but it is clearly not fitting for all nations. Eventually, if the series is to continue with its exploration of the diversity of cultures and people, it will have to reject the centrality of exploitation and extermination entirely.

That’s a daunting task but it’s also an exciting one. Tootoosis says, “We are challenging any individuals or groups that have taken into their possession artifacts — or stories in this case — for commercial purposes and for profit without consulting our community.” Consultation with a community is a possibility for dialogue, and where there are possibilities for dialogue with leaders and representatives about the complexities of representing their ideologies, faiths and cultures, that too represents exciting opportunities. Hopefully, the diplomatic route can be taken in this instance and in others, even if the conversation may be happening a little later than would have been ideal.

152 Comments

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    Nauallis says:

    I am amused that while you acknowledge the metaphorical clothes that a civilization wears, nowhere in your article do you seem to notice that the Cree leader is literally wearing colonial-era British clothing adapted with their own markings. The implication being that the Cree only sought to be expansionist after meeting the British or French.

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      Nauallis says:

      Oh, there is a implied allusion to this in the portrayal sentence in the second paragraph. Oh well.

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  2. Eldragon says:

    Civilization is a game of “Conquer or be conquered”. There are victory conditions beyond just military strength. So it is perfectly possible to play without pure conquest in mind. However you will still need to have borders and defend your land, or you cease to be a nation. You can avoid wars, but you cannot avoid advancing the needs of your nation. You still need power and influence.

    The 4X core may suit some imperial and colonial powers, but it is clearly not fitting for all nations.

    I would argue that a group of people that eschews all “power” and “influence” cannot be considered a “nation”; but rather just a loose collective of like minded people.

    And let us remember there were several nations in the Americas that would be considered “Imperial” or “Colonial” (using the loosest definition of these words) such as the Aztec or the Inca. So this is not strictly a topic about European colonialism.

    The only reason imperialism does not seem fitting for the Cree in the minds of some people is because they never had the opportunity; not they were incapable of imperialism. It seems far more plausible to me that any culture that has a technological superiority to another culture; will use that to their advantage (and the determent of the other less advanced culture).

    • Gormongous says:

      The assumption that all human societies, given the chance, are expansionist and exploitative, and that they all adhere to the Westphalian conceptualization of “nations” and “borders,” is depressingly Eurocentric in nature, notwithstanding your vague gesturing towards the Aztecs and Inca. If you actually want to expand your knowledge of the subject beyond the “plausible” things you’ve extracted from your posterior, maybe check out J.M. Blaut’s work, especially The Colonizer’s Model of the World: Geographical Diffusionism and Eurocentric History.

      • Eldragon says:

        Expansion, exploitation is an established pattern throughout history; and is not exclusive to Europe. To even imply otherwise is laughable and shows zero knowledge of world history.

        Your assertion that some cultures are inherently exploitative and others are not is quite simply, racist.

        • zgtc says:

          It’s an established pattern throughout history, but far from the established pattern.

          There are a vast number of cultures who developed with relative isolation (say, a week’s travel to the nearest other group), thus not necessitating defense or strict borders. Trade agreements, cultural exchange, and so forth were integral to their cultural development, but there was never any sort of animosity with other groups.

          • Eldragon says:

            Absolutely. Two cultures (A and B) can exist side by side without conflict. What happens with a third culture (C) comes along with exploitation in mind? A and B need to either defend themselves, or be conquered.

            Civ games could try something interesting with letting the player continue to play as an “occupied” culture, and that could be fun; but I don’t think that’s what the author’s original objections had in mind.

          • Dissent21 says:

            Yes, but a single, isolated culture operating independently while communicating and exchanging long distance with another single, isolated culture is basically a completely different game from Civilization. It’s more like citybuilder game with some exchange mechanics.

            And while those societies certainly exist throughout history, they are well and truly minorities in their behavior, with the vast overwhelming majority of cultures existing in a competitive framework that involved competition over limited resources with neighbors. A society without any sign of weaponry, warfare, or conflict is a rare one.

          • GepardenK says:

            It’s an established pattern throughout history, but far from the established pattern.

            No it is the established pattern. Not necessarily due to nefarious reasons but simply as a mechanical fact. The only way for a thing to be here today (culture, people, trade practice, whatever) is if it successfully perpetuated in the past. Or to put it another way: things that are here today are here because they did things that made them be here instead of something else.

            Even a people completely isolated from other people will act in this manner towards themselves (internal “competition” of culture, power, traditions, genes, etc) and towards nature around them. So by a simple matter of being here we know they have acted in a manner that made sure they are here instead of some other version of the forest without them that could have been. And this rule of course extends to all of humanity and all of life, the universe and everything.

          • Razgovory says:

            No, this the established pattern. The Cree did not just emerge from the Earth one day and subsist on sunshine. They came from somewhere. Ultimately most Amerinds (though not all!) are descended from people who expanded into North America about 15,000 years ago. They did so exploiting the native megafauna. They exploited to such a degree that most of these animals became extinct (just as their cousins in Eurasia had done). Now this particular expansion was not done at the expense of any other human (at least none that we know of), but it was certainly an expansion.

            The Cree language is part of the Algonquin family, which is only a few thousand years old. This group located over a significant portion of North America, which tells us that these the speakers of these languages expanded from one place to many. For the agriculturalists this could mean conquest; bands of warriors dominating a farming people and changing their language (this is pretty typical, it happened in Britain many times). For hunter-gathers it this tends to mean replacement. The Cree either drove out or destroyed whatever people lived in that area prior to the coming of the Cree. This is a story that has happened thousands of times in North America and elsewhere in the world.

            It is extremely rare to find a extant people that did not conquer or replace another people. Mostly these people live on islands like Hawaii or Iceland.

          • automatic says:

            @Razgovory I doubt native americans extintect species to the extent Eurasians did. If that was the case we’d see huge ruins occupying all of the american territory. In South America there are still hundreds of native tribes that live without exploitation of the environment. There are tribes with thousands of indidividuals existing for hundreds of years in balance, without expantion, and do you know what the biggest threat to their lives is? Urban expansion and agriculture. Or in other words, European based culture expansion.

          • Charles de Goal says:

            I doubt native americans extintect species to the extent Eurasians did. If that was the case we’d see huge ruins occupying all of the american territory.

            Ruins? There are two necessary conditions to see ruins: 1) the buildings had to be made of durable materials (such as stone or concrete, but not wood) 2) the ruins had to be left intact rather than their materials reused for other purposes (as was often the case in e.g. medieval Europe).

            Many extinct civilizations actually leave little sign of their past existence today.

        • ElVaquero says:

          You are a deeply silly individual

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        tigerfort says:

        I just logged in to say pretty much exactly what Gormongous says here. So: yeah, this.

      • Rictor says:

        Wait wait wait. Expansionist, aggressive civilizations are not unique to Europe. The Bronze Age empires of Mesopotamia fit that model perfectly: the Assyrians, Egyptians, Babylonians etc. As do the various civilizations in China, Japan and Korea over the years. In the Americas, too, the Mexica empire (Aztecs) were quite warlike and conquered their neighbors in the Valley of Mexico. The same can be said for various empires in Indian subcontinent and Middle East (especially after 632).

        I mean, you can’t even make the case that only settled societies fit that model. Plenty of nomadic tribes (or larger confederations) embodied the 4X verbs of exploration, expansion. exploitation and extermination. The Scythians, Huns, Mongols and Turks in Central Asia are among the most expansionist in history. The Iroquois Confederacy was warring with its neighbors hundreds of years prior to contact with Europeans.

        For better or worse, the model of civilizations competing via war, trade, technology and cultural imperialism transcends any one religion, ethnicity and region of the Earth. I’m not saying there are NO exceptions, but it is definitely the norm.

      • Ergates_Antius says:

        Perhaps you could give some examples of civilisations from history that didn’t fit the model.

        • Hedgeclipper says:

          Pre-Muslim India (which itself encompasses several civilisations) – the general mode for an aspiring leader was to take an army and force extract the submission of the other sub continental powers but this didn’t generally seem to have extended to conquest.

          Long periods of Chinese history – the early dynasties were violent expansionists but later dynasties generally preferred peaceful relationships and symbolic submission.

          Japanese isolationism.

          Ancient Egypt for the most part – the fought wars with other middle eastern powers but generally didn’t expand much beyond the Nile and when they did only established a limited and ultimately impermanent presence.

          Phoenicians – trading colonies all over the place but don’t generally seem to have been much interested in conquest – even daughter colonies like Carthage didn’t generally go for ‘Civ’ style expansion preferring colonies and client arrangements.

          Greeks – generally went for independent city states in periods of intensified warfare you might see leagues of allied cities and garrisons in conquered hostile cities but again this wasn’t a ‘civ’ style conquest where the captured city was integrated into the home state – the Romans were pretty exceptional in Europe for their willingness to integrate others and make them citizens. Even they generally worked in client relationships leaving local polities to manage much of their own affairs up to and including engaging in warfare that didn’t involve Rome or other allies.

          I could go on and they’re just examples that were not geographically isolated.

          Civ has a number of conceptual problems they’ve never really addressed including the modernist deterministic view of development and the retrofitting of Westphalian nation state concepts that don’t even work well for Europe prior to the 15th C. let alone the rest of the world. I like it well enough as a game but I defiantly get why the Cree might not be thrilled by the way the mechanics of the game shape everyone as neat little urban imperial states.

          • dsch says:

            This is the problem with not just Civ but other historical simulation games like Europa Universalis too. The mechanics all reflect certain notions of territoriality and control. All processes in these games are fitted into quantifiable systems, with the mechanic of accumulating a numerical value of “culture” in order to provide numerical upgrades to other systems (typically production and military) an especially laughable incongruity. Of course this is less a fault of game design than a reflection of the modern western world, which, to paraphrase, gets the games it deserves.

          • Archonsod says:

            Pretty much all of those did indeed conquer and assimilate at regular points during their history. Like pretty much every other civilisation there were also times when they didn’t (and with one or two rare exceptions, this usually comes down to it being a lot easier to inflict military defeat than it is to actually control and claim the land, even in the modern era).

          • Crane says:

            You talk about Japanese isolationism, but the formation of “Japan” as a single unified nation involved plenty of intercultural warfare. There’s a reason why the ruler of Japan was an Emperor, not a King. Just look at how they’ve treated the Ainu, historically.

          • SuddenSight says:

            All of your examples are wrong.

            China repeatedly expanded its borders. Seriously, look up a historical map of the Chinese dynasties. Notice the borders keep expanding with each new dynasty. They repeatedly invaded mongolia, manchuria, korea, vietnam, yunnan, tibet, often with the intent to conquer (though they settled for client states when that wasn’t feasible).

            Literally the FIRST THING Japan did upon unification was invade Korea with the intent of world domination. They killed millions of koreans, and enslaved thousands more. The sakoku that came later is better seen as a reaction to the loss of that initial war, the civil war that followed, and the destabilising influences of outside ideas.

            I don’t know about the Phoenicians, but the Greek example only works because you are treating Greece as a whole. If you instead remember that during the Hellenistic period the main powers were Athens and Sparta, Greece didn’t conquer other regions because they were busy fighting amongst themselves. And that is ignoring all of the many, many colonies they made throughout anatolia.

          • KingFunk says:

            The point about Greek city states regularly getting up to such antics has already been made but specifically in relation to your mention of Carthage I also think your assertion is false. The Punic Wars happened for a reason – the chief motivation being control of territory and (particularly) trade routes in the Med. Hell, Hannibal marched an entire army all the way from the Spanish coast into Italy and spent a number of years campaigning on the Romans’ home turf before eventually being defeated. Scipio Africanus then finally ended the conflict with some brutality and essentially removed Rome’s biggest rival from the game…

          • Smaug says:

            So the Japanese driving out Ainu is not imperialistic?

            Also the wars between the coalitions of Athens and Sparta were to assert the winners rules upon the whole of Peninsula.

      • SaintAn says:

        Aztecs invaded Europe and the middle east around the 1350’s nearly conquering everything. It’s not just Europe, Asia, and Africa, it’s all humans that thirst for war and are greedy.

      • SaunteringLion says:

        Conquering other territories and peoples was not at all unique to Europe. The Chinese and the Mongols, the Umayyad Caliphate, the Songhai Empire, the Great Zimbabwe Empire, the Inca Empire, the Aztec Empire… It happened everywhere.

      • Neutrino says:

        “The assumption that all human societies, given the chance, are expansionist and exploitative”

        Eldragon didn’t use the terms expansionist and exploitative and imo the use of those terms is colouring the discussion with emotive connotations that add nothing.

        What is unequoivocally the case is that all life ‘competes’ and this often gives rise to conflict. But to imply that this form of conflict is a purely western or European modus operandi is rather naive, and a little insulting.

    • TrenchFoot says:

      Yes, that’s true. But you see, today the social studies are triumphant and no one can talk about human nature anymore. People imagine that if you raise a child correctly, it can live on sunlight and choose its gender, and that, doggone it, if everyone was just well enough educated, we would all get along and read the Guardian. haha. We can live only a short distance from our biological imperative, and part of that is to perpetuate our line, our selfish genes. If the Cree had had the head start, they would have exercised their will to power like anyone else.

      Or all those books about our biology and all the dreary centuries of history are amenable to a class about diversity at the university. Seems unlikely.

      • MrEvilGuy says:

        There are countless books both within and without the discipline of history, some dating back to the 1700s, that suggest exactly what you are resisting, that biological determinism falls flat compared to immensely more powerful influences, political regimes, economic systems, culture, history, ideology, and so on.

        Most people with a research degree in biology nowadays do not subscribe to biological determinism either.

        Don’t make claims to knowing what books say if you haven’t read hundreds of them.

      • khamul says:

        The point of being human is that we can – and have to – do better than that. Wolves follow a biological imperative. We get to ask ‘is this really the way we want to live?’, and then make better choices.

        From my own personal experience, as a parent, my children are vastly different to each other in aptitudes, in mindset, in how their tendencies with regards to the world. It’s very hard to assign that to anything other than genetics. How I raise my children doesn’t do much to change any of that – but it sure as hell can change how it is expressed.

        We are the decisions we make – if you choose not to make decisions and just go with the biological imperative, what does that say about you?

      • BaaBaa says:

        “…it is impossible to ignore the extent to which civilization is built up on renunciation of instinctual gratifications, the degree to which the existence of civilization presupposes the non-gratification (suppression, repression, or something else?) of powerful instinctual urgencies.” – Sigmund Freud
        I’m surprised noone has linked to this yet.
        link to genius.com

      • MauvePeopleEater says:

        Oh, what a load of old tish-tosh. Human behaviour is immensely complicated, and as we learn to better appreciate the myriad factors that have influenced its development and still drive the variety of individual actions today, we arrive at a more complex understanding than the charming savanna tableaux that you’d no doubt grown used from your childhood textbooks. Your kind of scattershot tabloid grumpiness vaguely nodding in the direction of Dawkins (but, crucially, not at any of hard technical bits) is as scientifically illiterate as claiming that the dinosaurs were put in the ground to test us.

    • datreus says:

      You know how I know the dudes (and dudes they are) saying ‘EXPLOITATION IS THE ONLY WAY’ vote conservative? I’m quite surprised at the number of people here burbling about alleged scientific reasoning when the actual mechanics of human groups are really very simple.

      The baseline is not ‘exploitation’ or anything else. It is survival. If a given community is able to find the energy required for survival in a given locale then they will in most cases remain stable and static there until that changes.

      Yes, as human populations exploded post agriculture this meant that many peoples engaged in ‘exploitative’ actions as changing physical environments or population shifts modified these energy balances.

      That doesn’t make exploitation a ‘pattern’, it’s one of many mechanics employed to manage those energy balances.

      Don’t let your ideological principles fool you into thinking you’re talking sense when you’re just projecting.

      • robodojo says:

        @datreus

        The core content of your comment is (I believe) correct, and an excellent conclusion to this thread (which I have enjoyed very much). When you are correct, you don’t need the following kind of rhetoric. It has the potential to distract and confuse people who would benefit from what you have to say.

        Here is what I mean:
        First statement: “You know how I know the dudes (and dudes they are) saying ‘EXPLOITATION IS THE ONLY WAY’ vote conservative?”

        You don’t seem to answer this. But oh, wait…

        Last statement: “Don’t let your ideological principles fool you into thinking you’re talking sense when you’re just projecting.”

        Can you see the issue? You begin with projection. Again, it has the potential to distract and confuse people who would benefit from what you have to say. I would suggest you have a prejudiced sub personality, which I hope does not offend you (I think we all suffer from this) but if you can bring awareness to yourself about it you will be able to communicate more effectively, and I think people need to hear what you have to say.

  3. Jahandar says:

    These are all fantastic ideas and I would love to play the game that arose from them. However I don’t know that it would still be a civ game.

    • Mycenaeus says:

      I was about to say this. And I think the Endless Legend/Endless Space games do find the perfect solution. They provide a narrative for each civ with choices to be made by the player throughout the course of the narrative that provide unique new tech trees or buildings or achievements.

      This basically allows the player to not pay attention to the #’s, or at least only pay attention to the #’s insofar as it relates to the narrative you are trying to shape for your people, which may be peaceful, inclusive, imperial, etc. Seeing your own personal narrative through to completion is satisfying, and provides an “ending” that may have nothing to do with owning this much land or having this much science, culture, etc.

      But it’s easy to create narratives for civilizations you have made up. It gets a whole lot trickier for them to do it with historical civs. Which is why Beyond Earth was such a missed opportunity. It was civ in space with bland factions. By giving the factions a healthy dose of flavor and narrative the game would have been more on par with Alpha Cetauri, which is a game you could get lost in without the #’s due to it’s heavy reliance on faction flavor.

      • TrenchFoot says:

        Agree about Endless. It’s the way Civ should have gone in the first place, but how were they to know? So we let them do their thing with the silly but mostly inoffensive caricatures.

      • SuddenSight says:

        I really like the civ-specific quests, as well as the way minor villages are handled in Endless Legend.

        That said, I feel like violence is still the main method of interaction in the game. I haven’t played ES2, so I don’t know how much that game shakes things up, but ES1 and EL definitely have a militant focus, even though you can win without killing everyone.

        Personally, I would love to see more games take a page from Offworld Trading Company or the Settlers games. Managing an economy can be a pretty engaging process that would be fun to play with. And (getting a little off-topic) I would also love to see games that deal more with inhomogenuous cultures. Something like Victoria II’s class system.

        • FriendlyFire says:

          It depends on the race selection, in both ES2 and EL (the two games are very similar). They all have at least one faction always at war, so if that one is in the game, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to avoid war. Beyond that, there are many mechanics which allow you to seize power without necessarily warring (though some are equally brutal, like the Vodyani literally siphoning the life force of systems they target), but you’ll ultimately need to, at some point, enter conflict with someone.

          There’s no way to win in any of these games without competing with others in some aspect. It wouldn’t really be “winning” if you could play alone, would it?

    • KidWithKnife says:

      I was thinking exactly this; these are some great ideas, but expecting a Civ game to be about something other than conquest and domination of one sort or other is a bit like expecting an Unreal Tournament game about something other than shooting other people.

      That does lead me to a question though; provided that fundamentally changing the nature of the Civilization games is not a realistic possibility, which would be the more ethical choice? To depict cultures such as the Cree in a way that does not represent them accurately, or to exclude them and only use cultures whose values and histories can be fit into the framework of a Civ game? I’m not sure there’s really a great answer, but I am curious as to what someone in a better position to answer it has to say on the subject.

      • Molay says:

        There’s always the option of representing them as a victim nation akin to city states, designed to be conquered and exploited by the real players. I would quite like that, particularly seeing how ill-received it was to include the nation. Want accuracy, well get exploited. At then it’s easier to spin the sad tale of oppression that permeates culture nowadays, where everything non-european is sacred and anything european is the devil.

        • FriendlyFire says:

          The reaction to that would be even worse though. Depicting them as, essentially, cattle waiting for the farmer’s axe would rile up the same people decrying their inclusion now.

  4. Flavour Beans says:

    I am glad to see that RPS took a closer look at this. The articles I was seeing last night were more along the lines of “Cree Leader Hates This Game!”, which were largely sparking all the wrong discussions in the comments sections. This both represents what was actually said a lot better, and starts to tease out a lot of the nuances involved here without being condemning or dismissive.

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      Phasma Felis says:

      This, absolutely. It’s a shame how social justice issues so often devolve into black-and-white, and we wind up shaming people who try to do better and don’t quite get it right, more than we do people who stick to business-as-usual. No wonder so many don’t want to even try. There needs to be a middle ground.

  5. dahools says:

    Conveniently it is part of the humble monthly bundle as an early unlock now too. So have your Cree and eat it all for $12. I got Jan Feb mar for £25, so far great return. ;)

    *Cree probably not in the base game but I needed a pun. Enjoy ;)

  6. Arctem says:

    A few years ago Errant Signal/Campster made a really good video that covers similar ground to this article: link to youtube.com

  7. Rogerio Martins says:

    I think a game with the gameplay, not the setting, of Crusader Kings II would better fit the gameplay style of his description of Cree culture.

    Although he has a point, CIV is a series with well defined win conditions for all civilizations. It’s a game after all and it’s not afraid of being quirky, like having Gandhi throwing bombs left and right.

    Games like Crusader Kings or hell even, King of Dragon Pass provides a more ‘personal’ approach to nations.

    • zgtc says:

      Unless I’m misreading the various articles, and the Cree sought out inclusion in the Civ series, it feels like his response primarily boils down to “we’re flattered that you wanted to include our history, but… why?”

      I can see how it would feel odd for someone to seek out an understanding of your culture’s stories, personalities, music, etc., only to slot a bland genericized version of it alongside a bunch of other bland genericized pseudocultures.

      • Rogerio Martins says:

        Well, this is the thing with CIV games, all of the depth of Nations are skin deep. Unfortunately I’m not sure they can accommodate to treat the Cree differently from all the other faux nations of the series.

        I mean, War Boss Gandhi is a thing.

  8. Zorgulon says:

    This is an interesting article. I agree that I wish the Civilization series, or a rival, would be more willing to break with the series’ rigid lines and create a more fluid way of building cultures that would better fit the variety of different civilisations through history.

    However, I think there’s a little rose-tinting to the idea that First Nations didn’t partake in “conflict and conquest” prior to the arrival of the colonisers. It’s true, though, that not all cultures are expansionist or settled, and these are ideas I wish the series would explore.

  9. 2late2die says:

    “It perpetuates this myth that First Nations had similar values that the colonial culture has, and that is one of conquering other peoples and accessing their land.”
    This shows a fundamental lack of understanding about how the game works.
    If you look at the special abilities and units of the Cree they are all non-aggressive. A trade bonus, a diplomacy bonus, and a stronger recon unit. That’s how civ6 reflects the “personality” of a given civilization – the aggressive civs have unique attack units and bonuses that in some ways help their military strength, bolster their aggressive abilities and so on. Clearly the developers of civ wanted the Cree civ to reflect the history of the Cree people within the framework of their game.

    Beyond that, it’s up to the player to decide whether they want to follow the diplomatic/peaceful route to be more representative of Cree’s history, or if they decide to just nuke the entire continent – it’s a player’s choice, and that’s what makes it a game.
    Look, we can talk about expanding the various tools that are present in the game, but civ already has plenty of non-aggressive paths to take, and yes, they’re all ultimately boil down to just numbers that you want to be higher than the other guy’s numbers, but that’s because it’s an abstraction, it’s a freaking game. At the end of the day it will always boil down to numbers. No matter how sophisticated it gets, until you’re playing a real artificial intelligence that has evolved beyond its code – you will always be dealing with numbers.

    • Helixagon says:

      This was also my take. It seems wholly silly to me that anyone is expecting the videogame, Civilization, to become more than it is. Decisions are made in order to make a fun -game-. Civ is not a simulation, it’s an abstraction in order to put in front of the player a set of challenges. Its job is to provide entertainment, not real-world accuracy.

    • TrenchFoot says:

      Yes, and that’s why those civilizations are called “food” by other civilizations. You can’t finesse the ideology behind the game that most people assume.

  10. Lefarbe says:

    This is kind of silly. If these complaints result in more asynchronous civilizations like Amplitude’s Endless games, great. But to be honest reading the guy’s complaints it sounds like he wants a more/completely historically accurate game, something more like Europa Universalis where there are clear differences in “strength” and land mass of civilizations. And that’s not Civ, nor should it be.

    From looking at the implementation of the Cree in Civ 6, it looks like they did a decent job carrying over the broad strokes of the culture. I’m not exactly sure what the culture bombing trade route is entirely about, and I suspect that particularity is the cause of his “claiming land” criticism, if he isn’t complaining about Civ’s mechanics as a whole.

    • amos2000 says:

      I don’t think he would like Europa Universalis much. His nation is described as “primitive” until they have met Europeans, cannot build boats until they have been generously taught feudalism by us, and half of the world is simply “empty” – oh apart from the natives we are encouraged to massacre.

      • TrenchFoot says:

        That’s why Civ should have started with fake nations instead of tying them to real groups. It always seemed weird to me that they didn’t do this, which is why I have never finished a game of it, I suppose. It’s like, “What is Japan doing next to that nation on the map? What the point of this?” Just make them cultures A,B,C, and D and randomize related traits. This time bomb was ticking away since day one.

      • helmaldr says:

        I think an important distinction is that Europa Universalis is pretty openly a game about European expansion, and uses mechanics and presentation that fit the theme. On the other hand, Civilization is sort of thematically dishonest; it’s presented as being about human civilization, but mechanically it’s about particular aspects of civilization which seem to best represent European expansion.

      • Lacero says:

        There are mods for eu4 that attempt to simulate the disease epidemic on first contact.

        It’s pretty grim.

        • Vesperan says:

          Grim would be an understatement. There’s a fairly clear design choice in EUIV where the mechanics are designed to allow the new world nations to survive and, under the right circumstances / strategies, thrive – so that they are fun for people to play. But its not accurate. Would love to play with such a mod though to see the difference. Can you link one?

  11. Ghostwise says:

    I’d comment, but I already ran to the hills.

  12. toshiro says:

    It is articles like this that makes me come to this site. That goes beyond the mere game and dissect it on a deeper level. And usually reading the comments is a continuation of that rather than an trip down the abyss. As you were.

    • Nevard says:

      I feel like general quality of comments has dropped recently, as in there seems to be general hostility towards issue-based articles like this one quite often, though I don’t know what the cause would be.
      Fortunately it doesn’t seem to have happened on this page yet, and maybe it was just always there and I hadn’t noticed.

      • MrUnimport says:

        I think people are just inherently antsy about issue-based articles because they tend to be divisive and attack people’s identities in one way or another. Difficult issues need to be handled delicately.

      • toshiro says:

        I think it is a fair assumption that it has always been there. Imagine the absolute filth that would be created beneath an article like this in most other places. We got some of that too, of course, with the trolls moving in where they sense honesty, the thing they fear and hate the most. But it doesn’t take over completely, there’s always a risk of the article being linked to 4chan or something like that and the trolls roused, but that can happen everywhere really.

  13. bambusek says:

    It was always possible to win without any real conquest. True, it was harder and harder as difficulty goes up, but well, no one ever promised every path to victory will be equally easy.

    But complaints like this one is why I hate game industry became so big and drew attention. Now it is “you are screwed no matter what”. Firaxis went with diversity – they take the heat. If they had played safe, with mostly European factions + USA + major Asian civs (Japan, China, India), they would have taken the heat for lack of diversity.

    • Lefarbe says:

      It goes beyond diversity and whether it is bad or complicated.
      Someone from one of the supposedly “safe” nations could easily say, “Why does England have a good navy, that’s so stereotypical” Or question why the USA gets a mall or the Japanese get an electronics factory or some other supposedly defining trait that isn’t represented in the game.

    • April March says:

      If you consider being the target of thoughtful analysis to be the same as being screwed, then yeah, you are screwed no matter what.

      • FriendlyFire says:

        That’s not the point. This is criticism. It’s not neutral analysis, it’s definitely a complaint about the inclusion of the Cree in the game.

        So what should Firaxis have done? Not including them would easily open them to racism/discrimination/Eurocentrism claims. Including them as a city-state could be seen as belittling them. Including them as a civ, apparently, doesn’t represent them properly.

        I personally think the current situation is the best choice they could’ve made within the framework of the game, but it’s true that they’ll apparently get criticized whichever path they decided to take.

        • Buggery says:

          As it says in the article, representatives said that it would have been nice to have been consulted as it seems that only the soundtrack was consulted on by members of the people concerned. The representation isn’t offensive as such, especially given the context of the game, but it doesn’t quite work in a way they find satisfactory. Having conversations like this isn’t a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t,” situation, they’re a progressive back and forth that will hopefully see improvements in representation in future.

    • dylan says:

      I think the Cree leader’s primary complaint was that Firaxis did not reach out to the Cree for consultation about how they would like their nation, and Chief Poundmaker, to be represented.

      Seems reasonable.

      • KermitTheGuy says:

        dylan,
        that does not change anything, because many of the other civs in the game probably did not come from consultation, and even if it is the case of they are the only civ to not have had consultation then it is unreasonable for the devs to completely change civ to make one civs culture become more accurate, more accurate then the other civs.

        • SuddenSight says:

          I don’t see how this is an entirely unreasonable request. The Cree are not asking for complete creative control, just a little more input.

          Honestly, the question of expanded creative involvement from other cultures goes more or less the same as the argument surrounding cultural appropriation. The Cree are a minority in their own country, so the ability to misrepresent them is definitely there and the effects could be quite damaging.

          The Civilization series doesn’t set out to disparage the cultures it portrays, but that doesn’t mean it successfully avoids doing so (especially in the eyes of those people themselves).

          I don’t expect the game to just become a tool for cultural groups to brag about themselves, but it might be nice to see more involvement from underrepresented groups during the design process.

          • FriendlyFire says:

            And the question then becomes: why are the Cree special? Did they ask a panel of French representatives when they made France? Did they ask the Queen when they made Britain?

            Would it have been nice of them to reach out? Sure, but I don’t think it’s necessarily deserving of criticism not to. It’s implying that, if left alone, they’re going to do a bad job at it, which is a little bit insulting I think.

          • automatic says:

            @FriendlyFire It’s because different than all other cultures you cited they suffer with this kind of misrepresentation.

      • Lacero says:

        In general I mostly agree with the point Adam is making in the article, but the idea the cree and other nations in civ should be consulted is I think very dangerous.

        If a game is a work of art and not propaganda it has to say what it wants to say on its own terms. It can’t ask permission or consult on how people want to be presented.

        So, yes civ is overly competitive and forces the player to choose between different types of competition and this is… Intellectually impoverished? Like, there’s only a limited amount the game can say about the world when it approaches things in that way.

        But this is orthogonal to asking permission and consulting on adding real world cultures. it might be flawed but it’s an artistic creation and they get to comment on the history of the cree just the same as the history of England, or Scotland, or the UK. With all the implications choosing one or another of those entail.

        • dylan says:

          Meh. There’s a big difference between an American media company representing England and the Cree, and equating the two is apples and oranges.

          With today’s greater sensitivity around cultural representation, I think Firaxis could and should shoot off an invitation to cultural ambassadors of each nation in their game, and see what comes of it — especially groups who have struggled with popular misconceptions of their cultures.

          If games are indeed art, then they should be judged for using the same rigour that a quality novelist or filmmaker would use, and that includes consulting with subject-matter experts instead of just wingin’ it.

          That said, I don’t think tackling this debate in an online gaming forum is a very good idea, so I’m happy to leave it there. You’re welcome to your own opinions!

          • Cederic says:

            Why is it so different to represent the Cree or the English? Do you think that English culture shouldn’t be sensitively represented?

            Personally I think Civ should’ve had the Cree leader as Ahchuchhwahauhhatohapit just for the comedy of recording the voiceover.

  14. nottorp says:

    Why are they taking a 4X game as a political statement?

    TBH Firaxis’ emphasis on having a million leaders with unique traits has become boring. For one it’s becoming very hard to keep track of everyone. Two, they’re mostly using them to nickel-and-dime players.

    I’d rather have, I don’t know, a patch or large DLC that would fix religion and make Civ 6 non boring again…

    • TrenchFoot says:

      Every piece of entertainment or art or whatever has an ideology, without exception. The idea that this introduces it shows that a person was just more comfortable with the previous ideology.

  15. April March says:

    An interesting complaint. Games like Civ and SimCity are very deeply soaked in the Western outlook of taking the unspoiled land and turning it into civilization, otherwise it’s useless. Many people are saying that aggression isn’t the only way to win and you need only defend your borders, but (unless Civ VI changed dramatically from V, which is the last one I actually played) everything in Civ is aggression. Culture, diplomacy and science are just tools that help you be aggressive in different fields, with the stated goal of complete domination through one means or another.

    What is interesting is that many 4X games and suffer complaints from boring endgames, since you’re eventually just filling up buckets to get your perfect aggressive game ending. I think that the solution to these problems is entwined. I probably should play Endless Legend to see why it was the only game mentioned in this comments section that seems to do something different (I played Endless Space during a free weekend and was not particularly impressed).

  16. ohminus says:

    “4X is derived from “eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate”, a term coined by Alan Emich in 1993. It might not have been the game on Emich’s mind (that was Master of Orion 2), but expansion into new territories and across continents, exploitation of resources and people, and extermination of rivals are all central to Civ. ”

    Funny, given that the “canon” victory in MOO2 is not defeating the other civilizations but rather the Antarans which have been harassing all the people of the galaxy.

    And I never played Civ for domination, either. You don’t need to “exterminate” if you can raise the exploration game to a whole new level – through the space victory.

    I think a lot of the issues people have with these games is projections of their own playstyle onto others.

    • Viral Frog says:

      “And I never played Civ for domination, either. You don’t need to “exterminate” if you can raise the exploration game to a whole new level – through the space victory.”

      Oddly enough, I always play for domination and end up winning with any other victory condition. I think I’ve only won by exterminating all other Civs once.

  17. Vilos Cohaagen says:

    Ok credit where credit is due: excellent article with a nuanced take on what is a very interesting subject. I think Milton Tootoosis makes a very good point looking to collaborate on making better, more representative games (that want to be representative). Nice!

  18. Carlos Danger says:

    The complaint really just underlines the point that they really don’t belong in the game.

  19. Dachannien says:

    Come on. Shaka Zulu has been a fucking arsehole since Civ I. It’s too late to start calling the series racist now.

  20. Gus the Crocodile says:

    Thanks for this one Adam.

    RPS commenters too. I made the perhaps-silly decision yesterday to spend any time at all in the PC Gamer comments section for their (entirely straightforward and reasonable, to be clear) writeup on this, and while flipping back over here doesn’t magically mean all comments I agree with, the sudden disappearance of aggressive, opportunistic condemnation of First Nations folk sure is nice.

  21. BenAttenborough says:

    It’s interesting how attitudes are shifting. The games namesake on TV is Civilisation by Kenneth Clarke, a landmark documentary charting the rise of “civilisation” from an unquestioning western point of view.

    The BBC is now remaking this series, but it will now be called Civilisations. Rather than one presenter the show now has three, representing different ethnic and gender groups: link to bbc.co.uk

  22. biggergun says:

    There are 4x games that actually do that. Distant Worlds offered unique win conditions that often had nothing to do with expansion (hunting space monsters, for example). Paradox games essentially have no win conditions, etc.

    Civ always reminded me of a boardgame, in a bad way. In a digital game, such narrow ruleset seems needlessly constricting (not to mention boring).

    And while personally I agree that human existence is essentially a struggle for domination, life of a real polity is much broader than inventing tanks and moping up all your neighbours one by one starting from the weakest.

  23. Will Jennings-Hess says:

    I appreciated the article. I’m sure closer conversation and collaboration between Firaxis and the Cree would have made a richer game, and just have been the right thing to do.

    *And* the article seems to imply that Cree history doesn’t include the 4 Xs – that they have no history of expansion or exploitation or extermination, and so they’re out of place in a game that tells those stories. That’s not true. In the 17th and 18th centuries, and the first part of the 19th, the Cree took lots and lots of land from the Assiniboine, the Haaninin, the Dakota, the Blackfoot, the Dene, and many others, expanding possibly a thousand miles west, occupying a territory larger than any other North American people at the time and exploiting it to become significantly wealthier and more powerful than their neighbors. The expansion worked somewhat differently from colonialism and imperialism, sure, since the Cree didn’t have one central authority at that time, but not so much differently in its methods or effects that it doesn’t make sense to me to model them with similar game mechanics.

    This is complicated – how First Nations history is told has bearing on the land and life available to Indigenous people today – but the stereotype of a blissful people free of European diseases of conquest and conflict is just as reductive and false as the one of constantly warring noble savages.

    • Archonsod says:

      Pretty much. I think that’s kind of the problem with the whole tack the article takes – the scope and abstraction of Civ works well because it’s so far back that the system makes sense in terms of human nature. It also means it’s not going to do a good job of representing the specific history and culture of any given nation, because the entire point of the game is a broad-stroke rewriting of said history and culture. Or in short the Cree within the game may not bear much resemblance to the Cree outside of the game, but then I don’t think the Cree outside of the game would be quite the same culture if they’d invented powered flight in the 12th century either.

    • MrEvilGuy says:

      Fair comment, but I disagree with the following:

      “The expansion worked somewhat differently from colonialism and imperialism, sure, since the Cree didn’t have one central authority at that time, but not so much differently in its methods or effects that it doesn’t make sense to me to model them with similar game mechanics.”

      The differences in effects of colonialism and imperialism versus Cree expansion are immense. Case in point: the latter had little impact on the world we live in today, whereas colonialism and imperialism have largely shaped who we are as people and nations today, and even the way we think. To suggest that the two cases should have similar game mechanics is absurd to me, and I think highlights the issue Tootoosis is getting at: that we have trouble conceiving what colonialism actually is.

      • Molay says:

        The latter one had little impact on the world we live in today because it was inferior to the former way of expansion. Who is to say that anything you attribute to colonialism could not also be attributed to Cree expansionism if it only had been successful?

        Of course the successful shape the future. That doesn’t make those that failed something more holy than they were.

      • Will Jennings-Hess says:

        @MrEvilGuy:
        I agree with you that colonialism and imperialism have had deep effects on the way I am and think, in ways Cree expansionism hasn’t.

        But by the effects, I don’t mean the effects on dominant culture hundreds of years later, which isn’t really modeled in the game, but the destruction of human lives and cultures in order to gain access to resources. Moving units around and attacking with them until the other party is wiped out or gives up models both equally well/poorly, I think.

  24. Artyparis says:

    I like sandbox game where I write my story without ig mechanics telling me I win, I m good, etc…
    I d like to find a “4x ish” game offering this kind of gameplay. Even in multi.

    I m not king of the hill but I got damn nice cities, super health system or Zen citizens.
    When I play Dwarf Fotress I don’t aim for circus. I… Just play.

    Playing multi means you need a winner according to game mechanics ? You conquer Europe,ok. I do business. At the end we got nice stories, its fine.I don’t need Firaxis to tell me I’m the winner, I just got my own goals and write my fate.

    • Captain Narol says:

      You want your own goals and write your fate ?

      Crusader Kings II is the game you are looking for.

      • Artyparis says:

        Thanks. Yes, I already got CK.

        Even if I’d like a more economy focus game, i like to be “lost” in a huge game and playaing it like a sandbox.

  25. TrenchFoot says:

    This game was always silly, with its caricatures. As far as the problems, they always lay dormant in the very word “Civilization.” Some people today tie the whole idea to dead white males. We are at least past the time of the “noble savage” that Romanticism put forth. (Although we could use many other elements of that movement today.) As Kenneth Clarke said in that BBC series everyone should watch, paraphrased, “Some people think they want to live without civilization. Well, I doubt that they’ve ever tried it. Barbarism is boring, no books, no etc. etc.” He also pointedly refused to define it, preferring instead to point out what he thought it was like. It is like Chartres Cathedral. It’s not so much like a Viking boat bringing warriors, although Viking culture produced a lot of worthy art. For Clarke, the key in this case was some sense of permanence. He would have had respect for the Cree culture, but I doubt he would have thought it was a civilization.

    Unfortunately now the academy has gone mad and all sorts of nonsense has gotten loose. No one knows the history of the ideas that made the western world what it is today.

    As far as the game, which is probably the least interesting thing about this discussion to me, competition between civilizations can’t be made warm and cuddly; when an advanced civilization (in the sense of power) confronts a primitive one, the results are almost always catastrophic. A movie that points to this well is “Black Robe,” about the French Catholics attempting to teach Christianity to Native Americans in Quebec in the 18th (I think) century.

    PS I can’t imagine the out-pouring of hate that this resulted in on other gaming sites. Games! I have to have games!

    • Hedgeclipper says:

      “He also pointedly refused to define it, preferring instead to point out what he thought it was like. It is like Chartres Cathedral.”

      And down that rabbit hole exists all sorts of weirdness – for instance whatever you and Clarke find interesting or valuable in Charters Cathedral is almost certainly entirely alien and quite probably antithetical to the people who built it coming as it does from a completely different world view.

  26. MrEvilGuy says:

    Good thing Tootoosis hasn’t heard of Sid Meier’s Colonization!!!!

  27. xfstef says:

    oh ok
    so let’s go ahead and insert bullshit regressive nihilism in all of our other games
    How about Counter Strike with no shooting mechanics, GTA with no car theft, space invaders with no invaders and last but not least, Skyrim with friendly dragons that just want to cuddle and eat kebab with you…

    am I doing this right? am I being progressive yet?

    • Scurra says:

      I’m not quite sure what you are trying to say here. But I don’t really see the problem with what you are asking? Unless you are suggesting that those elements completely replace the existing elements. In which case, they are different games and the argument is moot.

      But including alternative ways to play is the very definition of “progressive”. It’s about not imposing your view on somebody else. And, crucially, it’s not about having to like their view (indeed, one is allowed to challenge it.) But it is about accepting that other people might want to do things differently to the way you do things. Not necessarily better, just differently. (I will carefully dodge the “moral” argument here as we are talking about video games not rape.)

      And sure, most games are not automatically suited to this. Although some of the examples you cite would be perfectly feasible inclusions – people who travel around in GTA only in taxis, for instance. But I don’t think anyone is suggesting that those elements are being removed, or “banned” which is the usual over-excited term. Just that wider options for play are now being considered perhaps slightly more standard rather than unusual.

    • skeletortoise says:

      This is a needlessly long comment for a statement that is essentially “Keep politics out of my games!!!!11!!1”. If you can’t see the difference between the things you’re asking (all of which can actually either easily be done naturally or easily modded into the games you mentioned) and arguing that inclusion of a specific nation into a video game that is designed to represent and simulate nations is inherently misrepresentative, then you are, whether deliberately or not, being obtuse.

  28. Omega T-Rex says:

    i don’t think accuracy is a thing in a game where Gandhi is a nuke happy warlord, Teddy Roosevelt and Cleopatra exist at the same period

  29. skeletortoise says:

    It’s interesting, now that I think of it, that probably 90% of games that aren’t very narrow linear experiences have a strong emphasis on atleast 3 of the 4 Xs. Kind of undermines calling a genre 4X.

  30. PaceCol says:

    Even if we accept this chaps view of the history of the Cree as historical fact, there is nothing stopping you from playing the game as a non-expansionist, pacifist nation that just wants to get on with doing their own thing.
    As long as you are happy when a stronger, more violent nation comes along and steals or destroys all you have built.
    Much as happened in reality.

  31. ChiefOfBeef says:

    This reads entirely like ‘games should be criticised for being games rather than vehicles for correct right-think’. It’s not enough that a game contains politics and history, it must BE politics and history too. Far from improving and expanding the scope of what a game can be, this prescribes a great narrowing: expand and exploit, like explore and exterminate, are all choices being catered for by the game having multiple victory paths. These have to be accounted for by numbers accruing and it has to necessarily be exclusive: being the first to discover X means no one else can be, what we mine from the ground none other can. Resources are finite, so must be numbered, otherwise we then have a troubling ecological message to moan about which I think warrants far more legitimate concern than alternative history portrayals of different cultures.

    • SuddenSight says:

      I do agree that many of the complaints in the above article strike at the core of what a game IS. But I would love to see a game seriously try to address those concerns (even if it isn’t a Civ game).

      That said, some of your points are addressed by the Civ games themselves. Civ III had pollution, which was an interesting mechanic (in my opinion) that sadly hasn’t come back.

      Games like Crusader Kings have also shown that exclusive victory conditions like those used in Civilization are not the only way to make a fun experience.

      Part of the issue is what Civ wants to be. There is Civ the competitive multiplayer game, where someone must be crowned a winner. But there is also Civ the singleplayer “simulation” (though it has never been a tremendously accurate sim) where players just do what they want, with a token challenge provided by the AI. The second play-style – the one favored by most players – could be redesigned to focus more on alternative goals without exclusive victory conditions.

      Imagine, for example, that you are conquering the world as Rome. Suddenly Arabia wins a religious victory, so you lose even though you might be very close to conquering everything. Doesn’t that seem a little silly? What if instead the game encouraged you to keep playing and focusing on your own goals, instead of forcing you to fight the spread of a religion you otherwise might not care about?

      • ChiefOfBeef says:

        There are different scales of difficulty that can serve that purpose. What I do not see in the above article is the carefully-worded disclaimer that the author’s desired changes for the franchise are not meant to replace the experiences enjoyed by fans but enhance them: therefore their merits should they ever be put into practice should be judged by whether they achieve that and discarded if they do not.

    • FriendlyFire says:

      If I’m understanding the critique correctly, they don’t feel represented by any of the X’s (well, except maybe explore). I’m not sure you can make a strategy game without at least some of them. Offworld Trading Company might be the closest to it, though it’s stylistically a very different game, since it offers only indirect conflict.

  32. jeremyalexander says:

    Are you kidding me with this garbage? I’m a liberal, socialist, and self declared social justice warrior, and in that mix I respect the truth. If this man is going to say that native American cultures did not engage in war, slavery, genocide, and colonialism, he’s a flat out liar, or out of his mind. I think that the historical victims of the Cree’s Iron Confederacy may have a different story to tell. And his objections to the trade aspect are laughable. They literally formed the Confederacy to dominate the fur trade. The only thing that is culturally insensitive is this man perpetuating the absolute myth that native Americans were somehow more inherently peaceful than their European counterparts, or anyone else for that matter. Native Americans build some of the largest and most brutal empires the world has ever seen from the Aztecs to the Inca, and they constantly fought major and minor wars between tribes and even clans within tribes. I hope Firaxis doesn’t alter a thing, this guys a liar and a joke.

    • automatic says:

      How ironic it is that “the most brutal empires the world has ever seen” were obliterated by the “civil and uninterested” europeans.

      • FriendlyFire says:

        I re-read the comment multiple times and nowhere do I see an implication that European colonists were somehow “civil” or better than the Cree, merely that the image of the pacifist, nature-loving Native American might not tell the full story.

        • automatic says:

          I just find ironic how he considers the civilizations annihilated by europeans “the most brutal empires the world has ever seen”. If they were the most brutal what does that say about the civilization that destroyed them? It’s easy to say they were bad from the conqueror pov. Historically it’s not the same as saying nazists were bad because there was no one left from the other side to testify. Even archeological registry is done by the people who dominated America after natives were killed. And remember that they were killed for their gold, nothing else. Even in a globalized world culture may be different across a street. To say ancient american civilizations had the same kind of drives our civilization has is a big leap in the dark imo.

        • automatic says:

          To me it seems too fragile the assumption that all the people are natural conquerors and domintators just like europeans, but didn’t dominated other yet just because they dindn’t had the chance. It seems some kind of excuse to keep pounding upon every inch of earth where there is not enough firepower for natives to fight back.

  33. ddaymace says:

    Of course Native Americans engaged in *all the things*. Just whiny PC untruth.

    Firaxis should make it so the Cree cannot win a battle, add Alcoholism to their research tree and make their only win condition for them to be isolated to reservations that feed off the taxpayer.

  34. jimangi says:

    I tend to look at the player in Civ as separate to the civilisation they control. That interpretation seems to work well for explaining most of the victories. It’s not that the people of the civilisation are necessarily aiming, for example, to dominate all other culture. They just like producing works of art and sharing it with the world. It’s made competitive to make it enjoyable for the player. When a civilisation wins a diplomatic victory by becoming leader of the UN and getting the support of city states/other nations, they’re not cynically doing it so they can be the winner (like the player is). They care about making the world a better place. Expansion maybe needn’t be read as having these same colonialist motivations, but just as something that civilisations do. Civilisations just develop new technology because it’s good for them. They don’t necessarily want to be the best. Military victories do seem to align the civ’s motivations with the player’s but apart from that the two often seem separate.

    This means that the Cree civilisation could be understood to have the kind of motivations they really did have, but the player’s motivations are different. It would have to be a very different game for the kind of motivations that peoples like the Cree had to be reflected in the mechanics, something more like Crusader Kings perhaps where doing well is not a simple matter of winning or losing. I may well be expecting too much from the player here and it may be that representing people like the Cree the same way everyone else is represented will do more harm than good for representation. However, I think that representation in this way should ultimately be better than no representation, even if it isn’t ideal.

  35. dbemont says:

    Interesting article. Some thoughts (apologies for my wordiness):

    1) I agree that the distinction between tribal village, independent city-state, and major civilization is silly. In 4000BC, no such lasting distinction existed. The Civ franchise could do this better.

    2) The contrast to the Paradox games sounds off-the-rails to me. EU in particular is MORE of a paint-the-map game than Civ, not less.

    3) Hollywood’s “decades of portraying indigenous people in a certain way that has been very harmful.” Certainly true, but it seems very odd to link Civ with Hollywood in this regard. Hollywood had a long history of portraying Native Americans as barbarians, and “barbarians” is simply a long-standing myth used to dehumanize others who have less technology but refuse to give in to you. (Civ does this to the early-game barbarians, but not to Native Americans.) There’s also a counter-myth idealizing the noble savages who are morally superior… and it seems to me that that provides the background for Milton Tootoosis’s contrast between the values of colonial nations and the values of indigenous people… What Civ actually does is make all civs, ancient and modern, Eurasian and American, pretty much alike. And I don’t know that that distorts the truth any more than treating Ancient Greece, Tsarist Russia, and Washington’s America as pretty much alike.

    4) The grayest area is whether European colonial nations really had such different values than First Nations. Yes, those colonial nations, by definition, relied heavily on expansionism. But the idea that First Nations did not exist in 1492 as the winners of competition in the Americas, that’s just not in touch with reality. The term “First Nations” is itself propaganda — they had been competing for ages, and the winners were the ones holding portions of the continent when Europeans arrived.

    Of course, the most basic fact here is that Civ is a game, and as a mass market game, it is aiming to be entertainment for very large numbers of people. I am sure there would be a market for a more accurate portrayal of the history of civilizations, but it would be a niche market. Furthermore, the more such a game claimed accuracy, the more divisive their portrayal would be. Lots of historical ink has been spilled debating why some civilizations dominated, some survived, and many were wiped out; no way a supposedly “true” game could satisfy all the plausible points of view. How essential was military and expansion to the survival and success of civilizations? No definitive answer to that question, and only those with surface knowledge of history think there is a simple, definite answer.

  36. cpt_freakout says:

    There’s so many issues ingrained deep into the texture of what makes Civ Civ that I think it would be impossible to address them without making an entirely different game altogether. Even the name is a problem, like you catch on with their mixed-message definition of a ‘barbarian’ population. The best they could do, I think, would be to embrace all those issues and openly admit that what you’re going to play reflects a settler-colonialist mentality that invariably leads to caricatures of entire peoples. I don’t think people would have a problem with that, and we could all move on to hoping other games will tackle historical differences meaningfully, without an underlying metaphysical universalization of European history.

  37. Incompleteness says:

    I’m looking for that radio interview that Milton Tootoosis gave, but I can’t find it. I’d love to hear from the man himself, rather than the distilled headline.

  38. Pharaoh Nanjulian says:

    “Future Primitive”, one of John Zerzan’s collections of essays, explores the idea that it’s Civilisation itself that has been the cause of our problems. Like Kropotkin’s ‘mutual aid’ there’s some compelling evidence that ‘uncivilised’ peoples were (are?) able to exist without an assumption of expansion and conquest.

    “The Broken String”, a sad and beautiful book about the extermination of the Xam Bushmen by Boers and the British elucidates a similar sustainable way of life.

    • automatic says:

      I discussed this theme a lot with a friend. I don’t know if this is part of Zerzan’s theory but he went as far as saying that any kind of work that considers natural elements as feedstock for any product eventually leads to an exploitative culture, wich I can’t straight agree with. It seems like he makes too much speculation without proper reasoning.

      • Gelor says:

        Everysingle human, society, or animal is “exploitative” (a human invented term ironically) somehow. What do you think predators like lions or polar bears are doing when they hunt? They also don’t target the strongest prey because that doesn’t make sense. They target the sick and weak. So by our standards animals are cruel, merciless, greedy, and dishonorable. It’s a good thing morality is human invention. Otherwise I would have lost my faith in animal kingdom long ago. /sarc

        I’m sick of this romanticizing of native Americans by people who never have actually lived in their society. Even the descendants of Native Americans today use modern technology and goods. Life in the Indian society was harsh, cruel, and short. Every single day was just constant struggle for survival. Modern people have grown fat and lazy. They complain about everything while taking all the huge improvements we and our ancestors made for granted. And ironically refusing to actually give up them. I don’t want anything to do with that life, and I don’t think you really either.

        • automatic says:

          I’m not romancizing anything. For starters I don’t think lions are cruel. They are violent, but afaik cruelty is a human exclusive behaviour. Other animals only kill to eat. And they are not exploitative. Predators only thrive when their prey is abundant so they are not exploiting anything. Different from what our civilization does, their sucess is a natural consequence of other species sucess and not the domination of other species or cultures. I really don’t see where you’re trying to get. Tribal people also only thrive when nature is thriving aswell, that’s not exclusve to american indians, that’s they why they respect nature. It doesn’t mean they can’t use technology.

          • tlwest says:

            Other animals only kill to eat.

            You’ve never owned a cat, have you?

            In fact there’s a whole tumblr devoted to animals being well… inhumane to each other.

            Just like my beautiful 7 year old son could not lie because he lacked theory of mind (and was much loved by his teachers for his ‘truthfulness’), the ability to be cruel probably requires sentience (although possibly by definition.)

          • automatic says:

            @tlwest I own a cat. Cats are domesticated: animals who depend and whose behaviour was shaped by humans. Show me a wild, free animal that kills other animals and do not eat them. The fact some of us find killing for sport natural is a cultural trait. Not even all humans are ok with that. It’s derived from the strong domination drive present in the culture that shapes our civilization. You can trace this back in milenar christianism (or any other antropocentric religion) where god gives earth to humans to do as they please and all other beings are just antagonists to our existence. Think about the reaction of the church when they find out there was people in the place we now call America who didn’t recognized their god, neither their authority.

          • Baines says:

            @automatic
            Bottlenose dolphins have been shown to apparently kill for fun. 20 years ago, porpoise corpses were found that had been literally beaten to death by bottlenose dolphins. Such assaults were later filmed. When porpoises neared, the dolphins would actively hunt and kill them rather than just chasing them away. Bottlenose dolphins were also found to kill their own young of both sexes, for no yet discovered reason.

            Chimps wage wars, launching organized raids and killing each other over territory.

            Male silverback gorillas will attack and even kill baby gorillas, seemingly out of jealousy.

            Honey badgers attack pretty much everything, seemingly just because it is there.

            That is without getting into “surplus killing”, which various animals practice. Surplus killing is a bit of an iffy area, as in moderation it can be viewed as a legitimate survival instinct (coming back at later dates to eat the leftovers), but there are also various cases where predators have been showed to kill in much greater numbers than they’d ever eat.

          • automatic says:

            @Baines Maybe saying they kill just to eat is a bit restrictive. Understand it as killing for survival, which involves having access and protecting a territory with enough food for your species. There’s no animal with the same kind of global domination drive that humans from our culture does. It’s the drive that leads us to find satisfaction on unproductive feats, like climbing icy mountains, but at the same time it’s the drive that leads people to do cruel things, like killing wild animals for sport.

        • Pharaoh Nanjulian says:

          The scholarship actually shows that uncivilised societies spent (spend?) far less time searching for things required for survival than civilised societies do in working a regulated week. Leisure time until the dawn of civilisation was the greatest part of the day.

          Similarly, even up until the Feudal period it can be shown that a 14th Century peasant having to work his burgage plot, tithe and work the manorial land worked far fewer hours per year than an office worker today. English farmers were even known to celebrate ‘St Monday’ so they could nurse their hangovers without having to work.

          In France at a similar period, about a third of the year was given over to holidays. Even in these marginal farming societies, winter was a period of plenty and very little work, while August was the hungry month before the next harvest.

          I’d hesitate before saying that modern life is full of ‘improvements’. The journalist Barbara Ehrenreich is good on this – her book “Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy” is a fine collection of the references on the Mediaeval mind and working patterns for the casual reader.

          • Charles de Goal says:

            > In France at a similar period, about a third of the year was given over to holidays.

            Yeah… But you forget to ask “why”? You seem to take it for granted that they weren’t more active because they didn’t need to. But, most likely, the reason they weren’t more active was that there was simply nothing to do. In a technologically primitive society, you are severely limited by nature’s output. Just because you stay idle at times doesn’t mean you’re well off. More likely you’re suffering malnutrition (and, at times, famine) — of course not to mention other causes of suffering such as diseases, wars, etc.

          • automatic says:

            Modern societies work more because our social system depends on trade. The work required for food production and other basic needs is mostly automated. We are an Ouroboros civilization, working to solve new problems our work create.

      • Pharaoh Nanjulian says:

        Do you mean that’s what your friend cleaves to, or Zerzan? It sounds rather like Garrett Hardin’s points in ‘Living Within Limits’. Of course we cannot see natural bounty as a given for any of our exploitative processes, as that’s simply extraction for profit which fails to realise that it’s a zero-sum game where Nature is losing out. By extension, we all do through running out of resources and causing untold damage to the world.

        The lion in the comment below is tied into his system – if the prey animal’s numbers decrease, then the lions’ numbers decrease. This isn’t exploitation but a sustainable system. We have, through the temporary exploitation of squashed dinosaurs, managed to circumvent these limits for a short (but, crucially, finite) time.

        So what’s the aim of Civilisation if it causes all this damage? (not the game, ho ho!) Die with all the toys? Pretty vapid if you ask me.

        • automatic says:

          I don’t know because I’ve never read Zerzan. I was discouraged by my friend’s arguments. He says every civilization on history is essentially the same and that any kind of use of nature’s resources as feedstock, be it balanced or not, eventually leads to an exploitative culture. Resources like squashed dinosaurs are finite therefore they shouldn’t be used careless but I don’t understand how something like wind turbines (properly placed away from natural life) can be bad. The way he says they are all the same, only the former gives us some extra time before inevitable disaster.

        • automatic says:

          I mean the latter.

  39. Imperialist says:

    While it would make sense if the Cree were being portrayed in a negative light, i think CivVI does a pretty good job tailoring nation abilities towards their historical counterparts in BROAD strokes. Civ is all BROAD strokes, theres very little nuance, and almost no historical accuracy to be found when it comes to the portrayal of nations. And thats ok, this isnt Europa Universalis IV. Plus, in almost every Civ game ive played, Native Americans end up running for the space program almost every time. How is that even remotely true to life?

    I also hate to say it, but the current Cree have about as much in common with their ancestors as modern Japanese people have with Samurai. The fact theyve given a damn about a video game at all says as much.

    • Gelor says:

      True. There are also plenty of other people in the world who NEVER even had a civilization in this game. What about those people? As a Finn I should be deeply offended that we don’t even have our civilization depicted in this game. And even if we had, we could find a reason to complain how it’s disrespectful and offensive. How it doesn’t properly depict our peaceful mentality and our struggles against Swedes and Russians. But then I would remind myself that this is a video game, and that these events happened decades or hundreds of years ago, and that we should move on.

      I hate political correctness and this weird competition we have: “who is most offended?”.

      • tlwest says:

        Well for one, the Finn’s survived and prospered, while the First Nations… not so much. If you live in a castle, a gale means nothing. If you live in a grass hut, it doesn’t take much to bring the walls tumbling down.

        So, it’s perfectly reasonable to expect those for whom history has dealt a tragic hand to be a heck of a lot more sensitive to even the smallest of slights.

        Offense is not transitive </nerd humor>

  40. Gelor says:

    By that same logic, every single civilization suffers from the same problem. Why is nobody complaining about the nuclear Gandhi joke? You could play pacifist Genghis Khan. Isn’t that also disrespectful for the mongolians? Why aren’t they complaining about that? As a history buff, I could come up with dozens of more reasons to be offended because somebodys favorite civilization or leader isn’t behaving the way they did historically.

    This is a game for god’s sake. Though I suspect those people already know that. This is about publicity and politics. Victimization is a powerful tool these days. The sad part is that this is not going to help those people. They should be thankful that Cree are depicted in a video game which means that more people will know about them, but no, it’s easier to just bitch about things in the hopes that somebody pities them. Is that what their ancestors would have wanted?

    And yes, ironically the Cree civilization focuses on non-conquest. And there are other ways to win in Civilization other than conquest, but we already knew that. Facts are overrated these days. Yelling that you are a offended and a victim gathers so much more attention and sympathy.

  41. Premium User Badge

    DelrueOfDetroit says:

    Hey, I am not touching these goddamn comments with a ten foot poll, but just wanted to comment it’s cool to see some Saskatchewan news being talked about on RPS.

  42. Oakreef says:

    Thank you! Articles like this that look at game mechanics through a more meaningful lens is why I’m a paid supporter.

  43. Creamice says:

    So… there’s a basic contradiction in this article that annoys me.

    There seems to be a condemnation of the fact that Culture/Science/Religion (i.e. non-warlike aspects) are just a means to an end in the game.

    But there simply is no other way to include them that makes sense to me.

    Mechanics in a game *need* to provide a way to influence the gamestate (i.e. get you closer to winning, ideally). If they don’t do that, then they would be by definition inconsequential.

    And that can’t really be what anyone is proposing here, can it?

  44. Ham Solo says:

    If the Battlefield 1 controversy about black and female soldiers in WW1 taught us anything, it’s that history does not matter. Everyone who’s complaining about Civ now and wasn’t about Battlefield should take a good, long look into the mirror and question their moral double standards.

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