March 6, 2012

Civilization IV

Playing Civilization IV (I know, late to the party as usual), I notice a number of issues with its depiction of history.

- Livestock are universally beneficial to public health. In reality, the domestication of the pig, cattle, chicken (not present) and also shellfish have led to some of the biggest public health disasters of all time. Smallpox, influenza, measles, cholera to name but a few. When Europeans colonised the Americas, it wasn’t iron and gunpowder that killed over 90% of the indigenous population; it was the introduction of diseases originally transmitted from Eurasian livestock.

- Unemployment doesn’t happen. Marx’s analysis of the contradictions within capitalism, whereby improvements in productivity reduce the number of people needed to do a certain job and it’s impossible for demand for goods and supply of raw materials to rise quickly enough to give everyone work, can be quite simply proven by thinking about it for a minute or looking at a newspaper’s economy section.

- The U.N. can implement a single world currency and improve the global economy. If this worked, we’d all still be on the Gold Standard. We’re not. We’re on fiat currency, issued by national banks. The attempt to homogenise European money has been an absolute disaster that looks set to bankrupt Greece and make her a slave to German bankers. And that was with a fairly small number of similarly developed, fairly stable economies. 

- No Sikhism. The replacement of generic ‘religion’ with seven real-world faiths adds a lot of colour to the experience, but it does present issues when a couple of isolated countries discover the lot and leave everybody else without temples and monasteries (essential for maintaining public order and developing ideas in pre-industrial eras). If you’ve got Hinduism and Islam present, it’s fairly easy to figure out how to code the appearance of Sikhism.

- No Atheism. You can implement a secular state, but historically a number of governments have banned religion altogether. A Stalinism tech could have brought with it an Atheism civic, which if it gave out happiness bonuses for education buildings and cities with no faith but created unhappiness for every faith present could have been handy for players isolated from the Missionary-hogs.

- No divide and rule and scapegoating. I can see why a developer keen to avoid controversy might not include Hitler and Mussolini as leaders and not give the player the option to blame immigrants for social problems, but it wouldn’t be difficult to balance this potentially offensive content with the possibility of civil rights movements rising up against the regime - which would have been more educational than offensive.

Sometime I’ll have a computer with the specs to run Civilization 5. It’ll be interesting to see if the designers have had a read of Guns, Germs and Steel and Das Kapital and worked out how to reconcile historical accuracy with engaging playability.