Civ VI DLC and the Historical Process

From a historians point of view the new update for Sid Meir’s Civilisation VI is truly fascinating. One of the many criticisms of the Civ franchise has always been the way in which it portrays the historical process. Nobody can deny that essentially, due to the mechanics of the game itself, it adheres itself to an entirely whiggish view of history, one of constant progression from the start point through to the end. I have seen it suggested in places before that any technology-centred examination of the past is always going to lend itself to whiggish tendencies. With others going as far as to suggest that the history of science in its entirety is whiggish.[1] Indeed within the last decade there have not only been whiggish views of scientific history published but even defences of the whiggish view of history the likes of which would not possibly be considered within more socially-based historical approaches. William Cronon, in his article “Two Cheers for the Whig Interpretation of History.”[2] Is in my opinion one of the best examples of this view of the supposed benefits of whiggish history. He is wrong of course, and whiggish history has been accepted as being a rather poor method of conducting historical enquiry regardless of field as it completely eschews important concepts such as historical post-modernism in writing. But nevertheless, the whiggish view of history, while not academically, is one of the most popular form of historical narrative within society and culture.

So why is this relevant to Civ VI? Well, the Civilisation series, as many historical based strategy games, is more entwined with historical process than necessarily historical fact. While the game does contain real life Civilisations[3] as well as interpretations of culturally relevant buildings and units (such as the Teutonic Knight for the German Civilisation and even Golf Courses for the Scottish), due to the nature of the game itself it is equally, if not more, an engagement with a perceived historical process rather than with established history itself. While you could go on for pages about the ability to engage with established history through what is provided within the game, I will leave that for another time. The important thing to take away is that the game mechanics of Civilisation lead to the player engaging with the prescribed historical process as is handled through the constraints, limitation or scope of the game engine.

This then leads to a significant issue, the way in which the game mechanics handle the historical process is one of undoubted whiggish-history. Basically, to get to the end objective of the game, which is to win with your Civilisation there are two ways; Conquer everything, which is an inherent problem in itself and present within most top-down strategy games or ‘advance’ with technology. Though progression can technically be achieved through ‘culture’[4] even this takes of the form of cultural advancement presented in the same way as technological advancement, in that you ‘research’ a new cultural concept or technological innovation which then allows you access to research the next tier of cultural advancement or scientific advancement, there are even trees to show what the prerequisites for progression. Obviously, this would boil of the blood of most social historians anyway by suggesting cultural change is so simplistic, but the problems of this system are not the point of this musing. Civilisation a game of engaging with historical process is therefore portraying only an extremely whiggish view of history of constant advancement which is obviously problematic for historians wishing to engage with it.

Though, a DLC[5] for Civlisation VI which only very recently has been released is perhaps taking slow and steady baby steps towards trying to remedy this. Civilisation VI: Rise and Fall announced at the end of last year has introduced new key core game mechanics to allow for a more realistic engagement with historical process. (Trailer seen here, narrated by Sean Bean, it’s pretty cool https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IOT9T15mkX0) Obviously this expansion added a whole heap of new features which could all be discussed at length but for this piece the new mechanic I will focus is is the addition of “Golden and Dark Ages.” Now, golden ages are not a new thing in the games series and featured heavily as part of the previous instalment, the cleverly named Civilisation V. The idea being loosely based on what we view as golden ages for cultures in history now, that if things are going particularly well for a group of people in a particular time frame then we tend to label it as their golden age. What is new, and extremely exciting however, is the new addition of dark ages for a civilisation, which is that if things are going badly for your Civilisation, you can fall into a dark and depressing age (when within a dark age, the screen literally tints itself darker for the duration just to help you feel as gloomy and depressed as your people). Within golden ages your chosen civilisation gets powerful bonuses and all of your cities exert higher than normal loyalty to your capital city, while within a dark age your citizens become significantly less loyal and you gain access to extremely powerful abilities to try to overcome this but with these abilities coming at a steep price (such as one exactly, the aptly named ‘Rogue State’ which allows you to produce nuclear weapons much faster but at the cost of not being able to engage in diplomacy). The entire concept of being able to adapt policies such as this is fascinating and endless parallels can be drawn to ‘dark ages’ for civilisations and the double-edged policies they then introduce to combat this, particularly in modern times, and certainly warrants a closer investigation. The introduction of these dark ages in general are at the least a repudiation that your Civilisation in particular will always progress from worse to better as the game unfolds, and as a player you may even begin to miss the Medieval Age when your people were happy and life was good, as you skulk into a depressing Industrial Age for your people.

So, while the game is still inherently and undoubtedly an exercise of engaging with a whiggish model of historical narratives it is interesting that even within this system they are finding new and innovative ways to keep the game from being purely a linear progression of worse-better. It is still early days for the game, and hopefully further expansions down the line can follow on from this and potentially make the game less problematic for historians. At the very least, it gives us more to talk about.

Bibliography:

Ernst Mayr, “When is Historiography Whiggish?” Journal of the History of Ideas. Vol. 51, No. 2 (Apr. – Jun., 1990), pp. 301-309

Rebekah Higgitt, “Why Whiggish Wont Do.” The Guardian. (3rd October 2012) [Accessed 17/02/18] https://www.theguardian.com/science/the-h-word/2012/oct/03/history-science

Sid Meir’s Civilisation, “Civilization VI: Rise and Fall Expansion Announcement Trailer.” 3:29. YouTube. 28th November 2017 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IOT9T15mkX0

William Cronon, “Two Cheers for the Whig Interpretation of History.” Perspectives on History. (September 2012) [Accessed 17/02/18] https://www.historians.org/publications-and-directories/perspectives-on-history/september-2012/two-cheers-for-the-whig-interpretation-of-history

 

Footnotes:

[1] Ernst Mayr, “When is Historiography Whiggish?” Journal of the History of Ideas. Vol. 51, No. 2 (Apr. – Jun., 1990), pp. 301-309

[2] William Cronon, “Two Cheers for the Whig Interpretation of History.” Perspectives on History. (September 2012) [Accessed 17/02/18] https://www.historians.org/publications-and-directories/perspectives-on-history/september-2012/two-cheers-for-the-whig-interpretation-of-history

[3] Obviously, a debated term, but used here in the context of how it is used within the game.

[4] I’m sure there is a fascinating article already out there on culture in Civilisation I will have to go look for it at some point.

[5] DLC=‘Downloadable Content’, usually a large addition to the game from the developer which can be purchased for a fraction of the cost of the original game.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s