Many video games allow their players to explore history by taking control of an empire. The player must manage their empire, balancing war, culture, science, and funds, among other things. Some games, like the Civilization series, start at the dawn of agriculture, allowing players to experience the entirety of history. Others, like the Europa Universalis, Victoria, and Total War series, start and end at specified dates, aiming to capture specific periods. Although there are many games in this genre, known as “strategy” or “grand strategy”, these series are some of the most renowned in the field. For my print project, I will analyze how these series depict imperialism from 1444 (the start date of Europa Universalis IV) to 1936 (the end date of Victoria II).
The specific games I will be looking at are the most modern entries in each series that takes place during this time period. This will be Europa Universalis IV (2013), Victoria II (2010), Civilization VI (2016), and Empire: Total War (2009). Each game either takes place during or includes the era of European imperialism. I will explore different aspects of imperialism and how these games handle these aspects. Examples may include reasons behind colonialism, the depictions of indigenous people, and how the process of colonialism occurs, among others. These games also have in-game text that gives context to the action, such as biographies of important figures and descriptions of technologies. I will look at this text as well, since it provides the best approximation for how the game itself views these topics. One source I am currently unsure about is out-of-game information, such as interviews with game designers. This could provide valuable insight into how these games are meant to depict these topics. However, developers’ intentions and how the game actually plays out often differ, and for the average player, the games’ depictions are usually more prevalent. Depending on what I find, and if it can fit in, it might be an interesting topic to see how developers’ intentions played out in the final product.
Other topics I may explore include the change over time in these games. Three of these games are sequels, and all of those have significant changes from the first entries in their series. This has come with different depictions of imperialism and associated topics. The games themselves have also changed over time, through updates. These can reflect changing views on imperialism and treatment of indigenous cultures, such as Civilization’s recent update on how “barbarian” cultures are handled. If it is appropriate, I can present possibilities of how these games may better show these topics. I am also interested in doing research into how these games affect public perception of these topics. There are popular public forums for these games, on which I would be able to create polls. Although these polls would not be scientific surveys, they may provide some information on what players know about topics like imperialism, and how they feel the games relate to those topics.
Games are a very interactive medium for history. Although education is not the first goal for most of them, they can still provide some information that players did not know. By studying the depiction of imperialism in these games, I hope to learn whether the information these games provide is accurate, or whether it is even trying to be accurate. Colonialism and imperialism are still touchy topics today, and I am interested to see how they intersect with entertainment.