September 10, 2010

Indians in Civilization video games

Stephen Bridenstine provides an overview of the Civilization series of video games in his Drawing on Indians blog:

Digital Empires:  Civilization Indians

You can read Stephen's posting at the source, so I'll just quote some highlights:On one hand, I fault the Civilization series for essentially stereotyping every major civilization and history in general. This became most apparent with Civilization III when each civilization was given two unique qualities and a unique unit which provided bonuses and affected gameplay. Previous to this, each civilization was essentially equal with just superficial differences in naming and color.The four Native civilizations in Civilization III are the Aztecs, Iroquois, Mayans, and Incans. Since the Maya and Aztec civilizations overlap, I would've included someone else rather than the Maya. Perhaps the Comanche, whose "empire" has received a lot of press recently.

Possibly the worst blunder in Civilization III, according to Stephen:Iroquois--mounted warrior. (Really? Apparently, the Iroquois stood in to represent all of Native America in Civ III. So their "great leaders" include Tecumseh, Red Cloud, and Sitting Bull.)The Aztecs are represented by a Jaguar warrior. No word on whether they practice the little-known "Aztec martial art" of yaomachtia. Perhaps they get woodland hunting and tracking skills to make up for the Iroquois's horse-riding abilities.

Stephen continues:On the other hand, despite being based on real history, the beauty of the Civilization series is your ability to write a new history. It's every history buff's dream come true. You can send the Spanish Armada to invade China, surprise Germany with a "blitzkrieg" of French tanks, or send your Iroquois musketeers to subject the native English population on some newly discovered continent!

"Iroquois leader Hiawatha circa the European Renaissance."

Civilization IV and V

Stephen continues:The series did hit a bump in the road with Civilization IV: Beyond the Sword which represents the 550+ distinct Native North American nations as one generic Native American Civilization.There's also a spinoff version called Civilization IV: Colonization, which I reported on before. Here's Stephen's take on it:Essentially, this is the standard American historical narrative in video game form. Europeans come to the Americas to flee oppression and strike it rich, all while engaging in the exciting activities of discovery, trading, and fighting.Finally, there's Civilization V:In the latest reiteration, Civilization V the series has gotten better in expanding beyond the Western world. You can play as India, Japan, China, Songhai, Siam, Aztecs, and Iroquois. Despite the attempts to define each civilization with two distinct qualities, the series otherwise treats each civilization equally. Everyone starts in the Stone Age and so has an equal chance of ruling the world. It's a refreshing take on history that Iroquois and Aztec civilization is placed on the same level as Roman or American civilization.Comment:  Thanks for the roundup on the Civilization series, Stephen. Fans of Newspaper Rock should check out his Drawing on Indians blog for more news and reviews.

For more on the subject, see Natives Criticize Sid Meier's Colonization and Colonization the Video Game. For more on the subject in general, see Video Games Featuring Indians.

Below:  Screenshot from Civilization III.

1 comment:

Stephen Bridenstine said...

Thanks for the add.

I don't think I really did the modding community justice in the original article. Literally hundreds if not thousands of add-ons and modifications have been created for each Civilization game. They do everything from add in new civilizations to balance the game to make it more realistic.

For an interesting read, check out these two forum discussions about Native American mods

It's a fascinating look at a group of game fans and modders deliberating how to create a Native American Mod. (and the right Native American "look")

I appreciate their efforts at correcting the flaws in the original game but I also can't help but wonder if these modders aren't just 21st century electronic Indian hobbyists. I guess it all depends on the final product. (And how do I know the modders couldn't be Native themselves?)