"You Have Unleashed a Horde of Barbarians!": Fighting Indians, Playing Games, Forming Disciplines

“[T]he Civilization series is infused with an American ideology that is comforting insofar as it justifies genocidal practices and the stealing of land by positing an empty virgin continent….Among other ideological effects, Civilization III makes inevitable, natural and universal several Western-centered ideas of technological progress, the use of the land, and the opposition between ‘civilization’ and ‘savagery.’ In this way, historical specificity is forgotten, and the game reinforces the sense that those who have been displaced were only ever natural obstacles erupting randomly from the wilderness to block (American) civilization’s advance…. A player playing the Iroquois nation, or India, for example, might dominate the game, crushing opponents such as the Americans and the British and the Chinese, and win by either defeating everyone else or by sending a colony ship to Alpha Centauri (Civilization II’s and III’s other ‘winning condition’). In a lovely moment of irony and anachronism, a player playing Mohandas Gandhi (the game’s suggested ruler name for one playing as India, whose robed portrait appears during the diplomacy screens), might face down and conquer Elizabeth I of England, Catherine the Great of Russia, and others. What would be revealed in such a narrative is the contingency of human history; that things might have turned out differently…” Christopher Douglas

“You Have Unleashed a Horde of Barbarians!”: Fighting Indians, Playing Games, Forming DisciplinesPostmodern Culture)

About six years ago, Chris and I were graduate research assistants, working on the University of Toronto English Library for Ian Lancashire. I recall he spent quite a lot of time playing Civilization II, and had figured out how to crush the computer at the highest level. “I never negotiate,” he said.