Tag Archives: video games

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!

Preserving the Ephemeral

18 Feb

Turns out, there are at least three college libraries in the United States that have video game collections. After I got past my initial “You’ve got to be kidding me” reaction, the more it made more sense. Video games are history–and that history needs to be preserved.

I came across this article from the American Libraries Magazine (no, I’m not a subscriber), which interviewed librarians at the University of Michigan’s (UM) Computer Video and Game Archive (CVGA), the University of Utah’s J. Willard Marriott Library, and the University of California, Santa Cruz’s (UCSC) Science and Engineering Library. Now why would these three libraries have such an archive? Simple–they have huge software design programs.

It makes perfect sense–if you want to get inspired to make your own game–or you want to understand the programming behind a historically huge game–it helps to have access to the materials.

Now I’m a great fan of abandonware–software that is no longer distributed or supported by the copyright holder–and at first, you wouldn’t think that older programs would be that expensive to store. Just shove it on a flash drive, hook it up to the internet, and there you go. However, it’s never that easy. First, it takes an emulator–I have games that run on Windows 98 that I can’t use, because the operating systems don’t talk to each other… even with the same publisher. So you need someone to take the time and effort to make sure that modern systems talk to each other, and I’m glad there are people who do that for free, but that still takes storage space and money.

The other option is simpler–play the games on the machines they were intended for. Great… except even laptops fall apart in 5-7 years. How likely is your much loved Nintendo NES will work after 20? That’s why these libraries exist, so you CAN play Ironman Off-Road Racing on the NES. (My favorite game on the Nintendo.) You can pay someone to actually make sure these machines work, as well as clean the cartridges, fix the controllers, and sometimes have to 3D print new hardware to keep them working.

So I’m grateful that some folks are actually preserving these things that will help the programmers of the future… and historians understand how folks interacted with these objects. However, I could be biased–what do you think? Is this a worthwhile use of university funds? Should more libraries have video game collections? Let me know in the comments below!

Simulating Wars Prevents Wars

15 Feb

When I was in college, a friend of mine asked an international student where she was from. She said a town name and my friend said, “Oh, yeah–in Turkey, along the Aegean Sea.” Shocked that an American knew her obscure hometown, she asked, “How did you know?” Sheepishly, he admitted, “because I’ve conquered it in a game many times.”

The game was called Empire Deluxe–it was originally developed in 1993, and remains to this day, one of my favorite games of all time. You can play it for free here or you can buy the slightly modernized version that I have here. I personally love turn-based strategy games–Civilization, the Total War series, X-Com–anywhere that I can kick some butt, but where I can think before the Mongol Horde tries to ride me down.

I’m not like most gamers–many games have a challenge that you have overcome. I don’t enjoy those games. I enjoy games where I can build up my little empire, crush some opponents if they get a little touchy, and slowly expand to prominence. It’s that freedom to create… whatever I want to create that I find fascinating.

AND… blow stuff up. Because as Tears for Fears taught us, “Everybody wants to rule the world.” However, Counting Crows also taught us, “We’ve got different reasons for that.” I think it’s a natural inclination of everyone to want to mold reality to fit our choosing. The only problem is that everyone else wants the same thing, and unless you feel like putting yourself at risk, the likelihood of actually fighting in a war, tearing down the old social structures… simply having agency over your own life is rare.

It’s frustrating and it’s easy to feel that “vanity of vanities, all is vanity.” Since I’m quoting song lyrics, I might as add one more, “I want to blow you all away, but I don’t want them put those bullets into anyone.” I don’t actually want Palawan to break away from the Philippine Commonwealth and conquer Mindanao… but it’s terribly entertaining.

So yes, these games become an opiate. After all, the guy who loves Madden 2021 doesn’t have to be frustrated that they never made it past high school junior varsity. They can lead a professional football team to victory without having to take a hit or leave the comfort of their own living room. Frustrated musicians can play Guitar Hero and actually feel that they’re playing before a live audience. I have no evidence, but I’m pretty sure that guitar stores took a serious hit once that game hit the market, since they didn’t have to even pretend to play an actual instrument.

But in the end… is that a bad thing? No. In fact, I’d say that violent video games actually LOWER crime. You get that impulse out of your system, those dark fantasies that we all have, and you’re able to not have to bring them back into the rest of your life. Sure, I’ll never be the captain of a naval ship, or command armies into battle, but trust me… that wasn’t going to happen anyway. But instead of beating myself up for not finishing Army ROTC, I can indulge that part of my mind for a few hours, and not join a militia.

That’s my take on it, but what’s yours? Can video games actually fill those needs we have for agency or are they simply covering up something that will explode later? Let me know in the comments below!

Weapon Name or Novel Title?

15 Dec

I’ve discovered my next random title generator–the Destiny 2 Weapon List! Now I’ve never played this game, but I discovered just how good this weapon list was for generating story ideas, because there are just so many names!

For all the legendary weapons–which I doubt are very legendary with so flipping many of them–they all have memorable names. Now somebody might be able to tell me that they all do different bad-ass things, and some have cooler paint schemes than others, but for my money, they generate so many story ideas.

The first one that caught my eye was Beringer’s Memory. What memory? Who is Beringer? What happened in his/her/its past that might come back to haunt them? Anonymous Autumn just sounds cool, even though that might be a little simple–your main character is called Autumn, but no one can keep a memory of her.

Similar to this screen shot, strapping on the word “Eternal” in front of everything sounds great. I actually bought a book called “Eternity Road” by Jack McDevitt and absolutely hated it. I didn’t read another book by Jack for another five years, and… it turned out he actually was a good writer, he just had a bad book.

Home for the Lost and Last Perdition are fricking awesome psuedo-Western stories just waiting to be written. Similar to Patron of Lost Causes, however, Peace by Consensus or Perfect Paradox have some wonderful time travel possibilities. Seventh Seraph could be anything, but if I need a good cyberpunk title, we can go with Stochastic Variable. I have no idea what that means, but it sounds vaguely mathematical and cool.

That’s what a lot of these boil down to–something that sounds cool. Telemachus-C has that main character from The Odyssey with a “C” in it to make you wonder, “Is it a robot? Is it a satellite? Is it a computer virus?” I’ve got three story ideas right there! I can put it in an anthology called The Militia’s Birthright which will also have a short story called The Time-Worn Spire.

This list is really good! Much better than the Pulp Adventure Name Generator, which I’ve also used on previous occasions, but that’s going for a Conan/Cthulhu vibe. What random generators (purpose built or not) have you found that are really useful? Let us know in the comments below!

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