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Civilization IV: Colonization... Wow that looks offensive

Colonization_mashead I literally exclaimed "holy sh*t" out loud when I was reading an e-mail this morning listing the "Games for Windows" coming out this year and I came across this:

“Sid Meier’s Civilization IV: Colonization™” (2K Games). In “Sid Meier’s Civilization IV: Colonization,” players lead one of four European nations on a quest to conquer and rule the New World. Players will be challenged to guide their people from the oppressive motherland, discover the New World, and negotiate, trade and fight with both the natives and other nations as they acquire power and fight for freedom and independence. As a complete reimagining of the 1994 classic, “Colonization” is a total conversion of “Civilization IV®” that combines the latter’s  addictive “just one more turn” gameplay with all-new graphics and features that add more depth to the franchise. (“Sid Meier’s Civilization IV: Colonization” does not require the original “Civilization IV” product in order to be played.)

Now yes, a simple google search tells me that the game was actually announced two weeks ago and I missed that, so forgive me my tardiness...

But goddamit, am I the only one who think it's morally disturbing to make a game that celebratesColbox COLONIZATION? It's ironic, actually, because just a few months ago a friend sent me a link to some information about the original "Colonization" game from 1994 (pictured left) that this one updates. At first, I thought it had to be a joke, but sure enough, it was real. However, I dismissed it as a relic from a time when neither developers nor players took videogames seriously as media with moral implications.

But the idea that 2K and Firaxis and Sid Meier himself would make and release a game in the year 2008 that is not only about colonization, but celebrates it by having the player control the people doing the colonizing is truly mind boggling.

(A huge caveat up front: Of course, the game hasn't come out yet. So this post is based entirely on that marketing blurb and the description on the website. If the game turns out to be something entirely different than it appears to be, that's fantastic and I'll withdraw everything in here.)

Remember all the debate when Newsweek's N'Gai Croal said of the "Resident Evil 5" trailer with the African zombies that "Even if you are familiar with the franchise, if you are familiar with those images and their historical weight, you look at it and say, 'Man, that’s kind of messed up.'" Well, I agreed with N'Gai on that issue, but in my opinion, a game about colonization is about 100 times more messed up.

And yes, while the description says that you "fight with... the natives," it also claims there is "improved diplomacy." It's entirely possible, even likely, that you can finish the game without killing any Native Americans. And I'm sure there are no options to give the Native Americans smallpox or send them on a death march. But that's irrelevant. A game about colonization that's entirely about controlling the settlers can either force the player to do horrific things or let him avoid doing it and whitewash some of the worst events of human history. Either option is offensive.

Forgive me if this sounds like an obnoxious history lesson, but the lack of outrage over the game does make me feel like I have to explain myself... Throughout history, colonization regularly involved stealing, killing, abuse, deceit, and the exploitation or decimation of native people. Anybody with a shred of a moral concience who studies the history will be appalled. Whether itColonial_dominion_1700_1763_2 was British rule of India or slavery in Africa or Aboriginal children kidnapped and taken to Christian schools in Australia or the dislocation of Native Americans in the U.S., there were no positive colonization experiences.

Even more disturbing, though, is that colonization was and is a racist process. The colonizing people ALWAYS thought they were superior by dint of their ethnicity or nationality (often connected to their religious beliefs) and that this somehow justified taking land from native people, exploiting their resources, or simply "educating" them. In modern history, of course, this was always European racism playing itself out as they colonized other parts of the world. But this isn't a "white=bad" argument. It's a "colonization=racism=bad" argument.

So now, in the year 2008, we have a videogame being released by a major public company (2K is part of Take-Two Interactive) in which "players lead one of four European nations on a quest to conquer and rule the New World." The obvious comparison that spring to my mind would be if somebody released a game called "Civilization IV: Confederacy," in which players have to "lead a proud people to defend their values and traditions against their oppressive neighbors to the North." Sure the game might not require you to own and abuse your slaves. But defending the Confederacy is inherently about defending the racist practice of slavery. And "conquer[ing] and rul[ing] the New World" is inherently about engaging in the racist practice of exploiting and abusing native people. (And I'm not even getting into the offensiveness of using uncritically using the phrase "New World" in the marketing material.)

I'm sure you can make a non-offensive videogame about colonization. But it would have to in some way show things from the perspective of the people being colonized and it would have to deal with all the horrible practices that colonization has involved in the world's history. "Civilization IV: Colonization," does not appear to be that game.

And yes, before anyone brings it up, I believe in the First Amendment. Of course 2K has the right to release it. Nobody should stop them from doing so. But I think personally think they shouldn't release it, if it's at all what it appears to be based on the early marketing. And I'm hoping a lot of people agree with me and will say so publicly.

As Leigh Alexander aptly put it in Kotaku on Monday, "It must also be our responsibility to uphold a willingness to examine games, to discuss them civilly, to be willing to see what we're saying about ourselves through play." If there was a major movie coming out that uncritically told the story of Europeans colonizing America, there would be a major furor, and rightfully so. Why should it be any different with a videogame?

(map of European colonization from the 18th century taken from here.)

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It is only a game, and how it is played is entirely up to the person playing it. I play a free version called FreeCol available for both windows and linux. I like playing the French who were very friendly with the native peoples, or the Russians who settled near Alaska. In all my games, I never have any need to destroy any native villages. Quite the opposite, it is very profitable to trade with them, and use them to train new settlers in skills such as farming, trapping, lumber cutting, ore mining, etc.

Douchenozzle

It's not nearly as bad as Civ-3. I remember spending hours destroying the cities of various nationalities, then transporting the captured ethnic workers to my homeland for some good old-fashioned slave labor. When i finished I'd usually confine them in a concentration camp (fort) and drop a nuke on them. Burn in hell you filthy Frenchmen!

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Jon

Shut your fucking mouth you goddamn fucking ignorant shit! Its shit heads like you that cause fucking wars! Normal people run out of patience with people like you, and end up killing you pieces of fucking cat shit. Please do all of us a favor and die a slow, agonizing, death. You have no friends. No one, not even your own fucking common whore of a mother will miss you. Thank you "If Necessary" for a more perspective based response. I knew there was liberals like you somewhere, I just didn't expect to find them here.

Free Dsi

Sweet game, have played it and its the best of the bunch, beats the last Civilisation game!

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piss ant leftist

Those who get offended by history are just advertising their desire to rewrite it. They announce to the world that they are a closet tyrant, afraid to come out and say that their view of the world is unquestionable and absolute. Instead, they hide behind acceptable victims and "moral crusades" until the timing is in their favor.

Mr. Fritz, you are of the same cloth as a dime-a-dozen hyper-sensitive emotionally-intoxicated academic. History is not something that exists for you to flip through and get enraged about. History teaches the only lesson that matters: The universe is ruthless. Stay on your toes or become someone else's food.

If you cannot handle the peaking order, Mr. Fritz, I'm sure the slow-living in the poverty-stricken Southern states that I'm guessing you routinely mock is more your speed.

BlanketsCoveredInSmallpox

Wow, what a politically correct moron. Maybe we should ban every game someone disagrees with.
No Call of Duty, I believe such nationalistic garbage is dangerous!
No Final Fantasy, people shouldn't pretend.

After reading this review, I'm going to play the game again and slaughter all the natives, just to make this guy happy

Historically Accurate

About a game about defending the Confederay; "Sid Meier's Gettysburg" is not unrelated. While it is true that you could play the Union forces, you could also play on the Confederate side.

John

"But goddamit, am I the only one who thinks it's morally disturbing to make a game that celebrates COLONIZATION?"

No, but anyone else who does is equally as ignorant as you. Yeah, nasty shit happened, but nobody who is alive today had a hand in it, so nobody, even, *gasp* you, Ben, needs to feel guilty or go on a crusade (wait, maybe I shouldn't use that word, might offend the camel jockeys, shit, did it again. Wait, I am one, never mind) about it.

It was a part of our history, and this politically correct bullshit you're peddling gets in the way of really learning about and understanding the events that transpired to make the New World, and Old, into what they are today, which, if you had half a brain, is by FAR, the best way to make sure that none of the evils that DID occur due to the colonizations never happen again. If a computer game is willing help that learning process along, then why complain, except to thump your own chest and toot your own horn?

enozth

i like this game it give more fun and history knowledge for me

Kieran

This guy is a nut. -_-

Vincent

How did this idiot become an editor for such a well known magazine as Variety?

YouAndNativeAmericansNeedToSTFU

I couldn't help myself, I just had to comment on this. First of all, you're getting worked up over a game. Get over it. On top of that, it is part of history so why NOT have a game about it. Lastly, you're a complete idiot.

24 Hour Locksmith

Can't wait to sit down in front of my TV and play colonization, so excited!

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Frank Grimes

Colonization is a great game. Get over your liberal delusions. Freaking lefties ruin everything.

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Mark

How about just not creating anything that may offend someone and all sit around doing nothing creative just in case someone gets offended... some people just miss the point? If you are that bothered then why not play Civ IV as the Native Americans and conquer the world or why not re-write history and go one of the Evil, Fascist European nations and instead of killing, conquering and spreading plague try a peacful game without religion where your population just hugs trees and smokes pot all day.

John

Excellent post, and well discussed position. I too have the same visceral reaction, and those who automatically disregard your perspective of being "wussy" or other equally demeaning terms probably don't have the ability to step back and regard the matter from someone else's perspective.

It is a shame that the knee-jerk reaction to concerns regarding colonization, race, gender, and sundry other political "hot topics" is to call names and spit vim. Would that that were not the case.

Continue writing, questioning, and thinking.

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I have utterly no respect for the sanctimonious point of view espoused by the writer, which is fundamentally anti-intellectual, not to mention stifling of creativity and good gameplay.

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stephen matthews

The europeans were more advanced, thats why they won, quit making up attrocities that did not happen, the indians stood in the way of technology, and in turn were pushed aside by it. They were unfortunate victims of disease and their own collective stubborness. The liberal cause is just, I know I used to be one, we seek to avoid conflict and race wars, as happened in the twentieth century multiple times. We do this by saying that all are equal and that race is a "social construct". But by lying about the differences between races and cultures of man we will inevitably create the same situation again. When people figure out the liberals are lying, they will completely reject their message of peace and tolerance as well. The truth shall set you free, no matter how uncomfortable or pollitically incorrect it is, in the end truth shall prevail.

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Nate

Someone ought to make a truly brutal game about colonization, where massacres, enslavement and forced assimilation available as in-game actions in their rawest forms -- or not, as the player sees fit. I'd play that game.

It's both entertaining and realistic to have a simulation where you can balance the benefits and detriments of beneficent and evil styles of rule. Nobody ever got rich by being a nice guy every minute of the day, but at the same time someone who overindulges in evil will soon have too many enemies and too few friends.

By the way, Ben, nobody ever decided to "give the Native Americans smallpox" on purpose. That's a myth. In fact they didn't even know how smallpox spread because they didn't know what caused it. Suggesting that they did is as preposterous as suggesting that Mexicans have been intentionally spreading H1N1 flu around the world, or that the existence of that flu is somehow Mexico's fault. Likewise, we can't blame the Black Death on the Mongols who carried it to Europe. Humans can't prevent disease, or its spread. The death of the majority of the native population of the Americas from European diseases was inevitable from the day that Europeans set foot in the New World.

Bob, you are totally wrong when you say that nobody tried to colonize Europe during the Dark Age. In fact, the reason that we call it the Dark Age is because of a seemingly endless series of Germanic and other invasions from the east that ravaged the former Roman Empire as the invaders colonized large swathes of the Continent and Great Britain. The Romans themselves had previously been colonizing much of Europe and the Near East. The Celtic peoples, who inhabited most of Western Europe before the Roman and Germanic invasions, now only retain a semblance of their ancient culture in a few small scraps of northwestern Europe.

Roland Hulme

What an offensively stupid article.

Considering colonization is what created the United States - and is such a deeply ingrained part of this nation's rich heritage - I find it equally 'mind boggling' that Ben Fritz would have such a 'moral' problem with this game.

The Civilization game that Colonization was based on was all about empire building. Was that any less 'morally dubious?'

Certainly, American colonial history has some dark patches - the genocide of the Indians being the worst. However, it's also the process in which America - then the most progressive nation in the world - was created.

The fact that we study American Independence in school and it's such an important part of our cultural identity makes it highly appropriate material for a strategy game. What were the challenges the founding fathers faced? What were their ultimate aims?

Admittedly, it's a censored version of playable history - the 'indentured servants' in the game probably represent the slaves who built much of the Americas. However, it's still valid, educational and thought provoking.

Ben Fritz clearly believes that if a part of history is less than spotless, it should be erased from the public consciousness - or only touched by the thought police who make up the politically correct mafia.

While bad things happened during American colonialism, it was also the process which created this great nation and provided freedom and sanctuary for Fritz' ancestors when they moved here.

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P. Williams

To the author of the above post,

Civilization IV does allow to play civil war scenarios where you can choose your side! You can even adopt slavery as a civic option and be the Confederate States of America or the Germans in WW2!

Civilization is an amazingly addictive and open-ended game, very well designed. There are far worst games on the market than Colonization.

I thought your post was a joke at first, and I still think it might have been...

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Not importamt

Colonization is the act of moving a small group of one nations populous to an area outwith the political and cultural borders of the parent country.

With this said I believe Sid Meiers representation of the process to be as accurate as the civilization 4 engine could allow. His handling over a delicate subject is well though out and open.

The real genius behind said game is the ability to choose a path. One may quite easily decide not to encroach on the natives territory and respect cultural differences. It must be considered that were the settlers that did arrive in America to deign this course of action the correct one then the USA would most certainly have never existed.

Mr Fritz you're ability to comprehend moral complexity seems somewhat lacking. Perhaps it is your history that may need revised. The only real difference between the europeans and the natives were that we had guns.

Fridgid

It's just a game. Does Grand Theft Auto glorify murder and car theft? Do the already released civilization games where you can adopt such civics as slavery or police state glorify those things? There's nothing wrong with a game where you can do something evil, because it's JUST A GAME!

Although I do think it would be fun to have the option of playing the game as one of the Native civilizations or even as the Mother country(who has to go in and try to prevent the colonies from successfully becoming independent).

Sid Meier

Oh bite my ass you liberal dumbass!

Johnny English

Wow, yes, the problem is with games like Colonization, not things like GTA/Manhunt et al.

Our kids can grow up to be murderers, as long as they don't become racist...

Tek

He's a liberal, I feel so sorry for him.

Kaiser_wilhelm

sorry dude, this is real mode. Colonization is not a cruel thing, its a fact of the world. I like how you don't think that the natives thought they were superior, many were. So I assume you'd like to play as the Aztec and be a tyrannical nation? Or the Inca? Not only that, but colonization has been blacks whites gorillas blue people monkey beasts and all sorts of things. This game is not racist, its a historical reenactment game and the more realistic the better as to show people the reality of this world. Everybody kills lies cheats and steals and is a fucker regardless of race, the end. Not only that, slavery is not racist. During that time period if you were black you were not automatically a slave. Though dumb shits did use peoples inferiority as a basis for slavery as many people have done.

Aaron

Eddy Izzard told us the reason colonization was fair: We had a flag.

But seriously, chill out. This isn't the first game based on the "racist qualities" you state. I've played civil war games, both sides by the way, WWII Games, and the Wermacht was rather good with it's Blitzkreig doctrine. Do I support racism? Not at all.

What's more, by being completely PC on all this, you're perpetuating racism. "RAWR! Defend the Native American's and Slave's honor by not allowing people to interact with the possibilities of history!" If anything, concieling history is what would allow the circle to come around. Turn a blind eye to events transpired, and you often recreate those events.

So, yeah, like, by the way... If I remember right, Disney did make a movie about colonization... Something about... I dunno, John Smith and his interactions with Pocahontas? You know... Jamestown? Yeah... Parents took their kids to see that... rawr and stuff.

Get a flag, maybe I'd listen then.

ddc

we should remove all history classes from all schools. we might offend somebody.

Lolling at Ben Fritz

This guy is a complete idiot. How many other games involve war, colonization, gang violence, murder, sex, thievery, etc? And you're picking on a 2D history game just because of the title??? Ever think of becoming a Florida lawyer?

Mr WIllow

Oh my....
You are a very political correct weasel, aren't you?
There are games on the market where the bloodshed is really glorified, but Colonization is surely not one of them.
You can choose to cooperate with the natives if you prefer.

If you are too narrowminded to write reviews, don't.

anonymous

Idiot.

If Necessary

I'm really sorry that this guy gives us liberals such a bad name. We're not all as "Oh, horrors, how benighted you are for even thinking such a primitive thought" as he is.

What was even more priceless was when he brought up the evil slavery of the Civil War as a way of making his point. It just goes to show how disconnected from reality he is. It's almost like he's saying, "Well, at least they haven't made any video games supporting the evil Confederacy, because that would be giving tacit approval to slavery." How can he be so removed from reality? There are hundreds of Civil War video games. (In most of them, you can play the Confederates.)

If I play a video game set in World War II, I'd often get the option of playing the Germans. Does this mean I'm giving tacit approval to the Holocaust? He reminds me a little of my sister, who was horrified when I bought a video game about hunting deer. (Poor Bambi!)

None of the Colonization video games allow us to remake history in our own (more enlightened) image. If you'd like to try that, start with Orson Scott Card's excellent sci-fi book "Pastwatch : the redemption of Christopher Columbus." It's fantastic (in more ways than one).

Colonization is evil. Hell, war is evil. Thankfully, not everyone thinks the best way to deal with evil is by saying, "Oh, horrors, let's cover our eyes and ears and not even talk about such things."

No, burying your head in the sand is how things like the Holocaust happen. It's far better to see it and try to understand it, so that we're better able to deal with it. And if we really understand evil, we see that it's not just "out there," but also "in here," inside each one of us.

I often delude myself into thinking that it's the Evil Conservatives who refuse to see reality. (Like Bush and Iraq.) What an idiot I've been! This author certainly proves that liberals can be equally blind.

Amasari

This is..unbelievable, I admit my response is very late, beyond late maybe. But I must speak here.

To say that all video games, historical or not, are evil and satanic is just...beyond idiotic.

Has America really devolved to this level?

The sniper that blamed grand theft auto for his choice, the game didn't force him, he "CHOSE" to snipe people, he chose to kill people. He blames the game, but a game doesn't make a person kill people in real life, because its fiction. The moment a video game of any sort is created, no matter if its historical based or not, is fiction. Its instantly fictitious.

History has had one major thing that most people don't pay attention to, choices.

Hitler chose to be a genocidal dictator/tyrant. American colonists CHOSE to subjugate the natives. Not all choices were good, History shows us the consequences of our actions, and some people attempt to not repeat them again, others do not care.

But video games are a completely different story. If video games were bad, they would never have the popularity they do now. They would have been outlawed from the get go, even MILITARY people love video games. I'll bet you, I'll bet you thousands of dollars that even george bush plays video games when he can spare the time.

A video game satisfies humanities "What If?" Imagination.

What if Hitler was assassinated before he could take over Nazi Germany? What if England had been taken over by a dictator instead of Germany in WW2? What if Hitler WASN't EVil? things like that, The Human imagination is vivid and...suffice to say, downright epic in scale.

That is why many people consider your opinion a load of tripe, Yes. History has been violent, Yes, racism is not good. But your load of whitewash comment and just sheer ignorance of the fact that. No. Matter. What, it comes down to the fact that Video Games are works of fiction, No matter what universe its in. A video game about this arguement right here would STILL be a work of fiction.

Humanity as a race are violent and hostile. But to be honest, the crime rate has gone down due to video games. Truely, look up the information, the crimerate has gone down since the inception of Video Games. I do not like to compare people to Jack Thompson, but you are truely as ignorant as him. Please do the world a favor and quit your job until you truely study history and learn the difference between history and video games.

That is all.

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About

Chris Morris reports on the business and culture of video games and offers analysis of recent events and industry trends.
Tips and feedback are encouraged at chris.r.morris-at-gmail-com




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