The Redemption of Colonization

17 Sep

I only play computer games that are (at least) five years old. So I went back to play Sid Meier’s Colonization–the original from 1994–and thought… how can I play this in such a way that I don’t genocide the Native Americans?

Colonization is a dirty word these days, so it’s not surprising that this game doesn’t get a lot of love. For those of you not familiar with either the ’94 or ’08 remake, the idea is that you play one of the four major colonizing powers (English, France, Spain, or Netherlands), build up settlements in the New World, build up your cash crops, deal with the Indians, and eventually build up a power base to declare independence from your European power… and then win the war and gain your freedom!

You see the problem. In academic circles, this would be called exploitative, early-stage capitalism (and late-stage mercantilism), and terribly, terribly racist. And it is… after all, he only problem is that the most ideal spaces to build a colony are already taken… by the native inhabitants. (Fancy that!) However, this IS what happened in our history, so it should not be hidden or ignored. It is also terribly enjoyable, but instead of playing the “normal” way (wipe out the inconvenient Indians, pacify the convenient ones, and build your Empire), I decided to take (what I’m calling) the Treaty of Waitangi approach.

For most of us, that makes no sense, but it was a treaty signed in New Zealand between the British and the local Maoris that granted (local) sovereignty to the Maoris, in exchange for Brits being able to buy land to put it under that control. Most of this treaty was ignored, the Maoris were exploited, BUT… after several wars and a hundred years, the New Zealand government decided to actually follow this treaty and made reparations, creating a joint government between Anglos and Maori.

So what I do is settle on the land NOT occupied by the natives and give them a wide berth, send out missions to pacify the nearby tribes (yeah, I’m not Christian either, but it works! Think of them as embassies), and agree to every Indian request for food. The result? Peaceable colonies, only ONE fight with the natives, and plenty of room to expand. My current game is in the Pacific, so I only occupied HALF of New Zealand, and I’m still working my way across Australia. No genocide of Tasmania, the aboriginals still control half the country, and I’m still able to exploit most of the subcontinent to my heart’s content.

Usually in my games, the natives get honked off, and I have to fight off Indian attacks until I have to destroy the nearby villages to protect my colonies. However now… we have a good balance. I do wonder what the future of this approach would be for an independent Australasia. My guess is the Canadian model; unequal treaties, intermarriage (half-breeds commonplace or Metis), and smaller and smaller reserves for the Native population. Not genocidal, but just as exploitive. I would PREFER to think that the two populations would blend into a new culture, half-European, half-native… but history tells us that doesn’t happen. Even in places where the native population still overwhelms the European settlers (like Samoa), the native culture still suffers.

So I’m still being exploitive, but with the best intentions. What do you think? Is there a way to redeem Christopher Columbus (there’s a whole sci-fi book written on this topic)? Or do we just plow through the way history actually happened? Or do we just assure ourselves, “It’s a game, it’s NOT history?” Let me know in the comments below!

One Response to “The Redemption of Colonization”

  1. chape September 18, 2021 at 12:02 am #

    I remember this game. About that time (1443) Portugal discovered Africa, establishing commercial posts instead of conquering African territories. That wasn´t nice either, buying slaves and all that but somehow less awful than all the killing done by the Spanish in America. So, how it would be different if America was discovered by Portugal instead of Spain? Would it change anything or just delay colonization?

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