darkskywatcher (darkskywatcher) wrote,

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What's more awesome than a Samurai? A Samurai riding an elephant.

So I play more than my fair share of Civilization IV, and have done so basically since I got a working platform for it in my trusty laptop. I don't have any of the expansions, but enjoy the base game quite a lot.

Note: from this point on I'm going to be discussing a few specific game concepts and how they relate to Anthropology/Archeology as best I know it. I make no promises that it will be sensible to those that haven't played the game.

The thing that I find really interesting about the game are the resources, especially those that are in play for most of the game's 6000 year time span. I generally will get a new map if I don't like the resources the around my starting location in a new game, because resources are so productive as tiles that any city with a minimal resources is going to develop more slowly and be more limited in what it can reasonably accomplish.

Where this becomes interesting to my anthropological sense is in thinking about how resources-and their underlying terrain types-influence the evolution of a civilization's characteristics.

The game has decided, for its purposes, that cultural characteristics are defined by cultural fiat, and not subject to environment, religion, or even time. A financial civilization is still financial, whether it is 1000 BC or 1792 AD.

I'll give them the religion one: major world religions are practiced quite differently in different cultures. Also, they claim in the attached documentation that they picked the religions they did specifically because they thought those would be the most recognizable to their audience. Time, too, needs to be swept aside from a game design perspective: I would certainly be frustrated if my chosen traits were replaced by others that I considered of inferior quality.

But environment is much trickier. As the title indicates, I first started really thinking about this while imagining a what if scenario of being able to mount the Japanese Samurai unit on elephants, and how badass that would be. To dig a little deeper, if my Japanese civilization has been hunting elephants for the last 3000+ years, and lives on the nice tropical river plains to support these animals, why wouldn't the military elite take to the field mounted on such fearsome steeds?

A better example are the special units for the Arabians, and especially the Aztecs. In both cases, their special unit exists to make up for the absence of one or more critical resources. Including these units in the game as representative of each civilization makes sense: Camels were widely employed in a martial environment that horses could not perform well in, if they could tolerate them at all. And the Aztecs did develop fierce infantry traditions, despite their lack of the war materials so prevalent in the eastern hemisphere.

But in the game world, there is absolutely no guarantee that these environmental conditions will be recreated. It is entirely possible, if not likely, that the Aztecs will wind up with access to either copper or iron (given the utility of these resources, they should want to be near them). It is equally likely that the Aztecs will not start near appreciable amount of jungle, to negate of the unit's other feature. Why create a "representative cultural military unit" which is highly likely to be unrepresentative?

Needless to say, I don't play the Aztecs.

To examine things at a less critical level, I'll use the example of the English in a game I started the other day. I did start on my own landmass, but one the size of a continent rather than a few sizable islands separated from the continent by a narrow channel. In fact, I started isolated, and didn't have contact with another civilization until the 15th century AD. To break even more with English history, the barbarians were quiet: no series of invasions here, just a few minor cities and a few probing attacks that were quickly dispatched. Also, half the country was carved out of the jungle. Is it reasonable to say these are still the same English as the ones we read about in the history books?

I'm running out of steam, so I'll quit now.


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