Reflections on an interesting semester

As hard as it is to believe, another semester’s already come and gone. I’ve loved having this class with y’all! I enjoyed our discussions in class, as well as seeing your insights on our blog and how your projects have developed. I’ve also enjoyed the work that I’ve done, which has felt very helpful in developing as an academic and a professional historian.

I already know that some of what I learned here will be useful to me over the summer. My internship will involve working with digital collections, so I’ll definitely give what we talked about a second look as I prepare for that. This past year has shown us how important digital history is, so I’m sure I will be referring back to my notes for this class more often in the future.

This project has also taught me a lot. I have always enjoyed historical video games, and I’ve stuck with the Civilization series since I was in elementary school. However, I’d never really considered them in an academically historic way. Doing this project has given me a new view on how these games portray history, and how they have a lot of improvements that could still be made.

First, though, this project taught me about scope. I started out considering four games, since I had no idea how much I’d be able to write about each one. It wasn’t until I’d started my work that I realized just how in-depth a proper study should be, and that was when I trimmed down my project to just one game. I’ll try to be more considerate of this next time, since this kind of overestimation could have bigger consequences if I’m doing something like applying for a grant.

My research was a lot different than for other academic papers I’ve done in the past. Part of it was opening up the game and playing it, with an eye out for specific aspects of gameplay. I also went into the game having read several essays and papers, and I kept their findings and conclusions in mind as I played the game. I found myself surprised at how even basic aspects of gameplay could be seen in a different light with the analytical perspective I had, and how often I had just glossed over some things as “just part of the game” in the past.

My findings are in the poster below, and in the paper itself, so I’ll be brief with them. I was again surprised by how many shortcomings there were that I hadn’t considered in the past. At launch, the game was arguably less representative of indigenous cultures than the very first game in the series, released 25 years ago! However, I also noted the potential for change, especially with the move towards digital games that aren’t tied to a physical disk. Everything is becoming more mutable, and even core elements of gameplay can be updated to be better representative.

In the end, my findings were overall pretty negative. I will still play and enjoy this game, but this project has given me a lot to think about how historical games represent indigenous groups and their history. There are many ways that things could change for the better, but change doesn’t always come fast, and some things may not change until the eventual Civilization VII, whenever that may be. The question of how fans feel about the game’s representation of indigenous groups is one that I wasn’t able to answer, unfortunately, since I just didn’t have the time to ask it. Maybe I can save that for a future study. Overall, this study has shown me how history and digital media can be intertwined, and how important proper representation of history is.

I feel like I will remember this class for a long time going forward. What I learned is sure to be useful in the increasingly digital world of history that I hope to join. I’m proud of my project, and I’d like to consider how I can take it to the next step going forward. In general, I’m excited for the next steps of my path in history, and I hope to see many of you in person next semester! Thank you for being part of this class, and thank you to Trevor for teaching this course!

5 Replies to “Reflections on an interesting semester”

  1. Shaan, I was really excited to see the results of your project and your findings are so interesting, and it is unfortunate that many of them are negative because of the shortcomings of the game’s representation of the Indigenous populations. I thought your comments about the model of development and European standards of civilization and progress were really interesting, and the fact that the game follows this same way of thinking is even more interesting, and of course disappointing for its lack of depth.

  2. Hi Shaan, I think your project is really fascinating! I identify with many of the things you reflected from doing a project involving both history and digital media. It’s really interesting how many new perspectives are revealed from something we are already familiar with when looking at them from an analytical perspective. I look forward to reading more about your findings in your final draft!

  3. Hi Shaan — I am so intrigued by your findings! I absolutely agree with you that the nature of games no longer being tied to digital disks opens up new realms in terms of fixing issues and mistakes in games. While I’m not sure how often (or even if) Civilization VI does periodic updates, I feel that better portrayal of indigenous cultures is one which should not wait for the next iteration of the game. I would really be interested in how you can carry this project forward — perhaps. a survey of Civilization VI players would be an interesting next step.

  4. Hey Shaan, I’m loving looking at your findings with this project! I think it’s really important to offer current examples of how systemic representations and “histories” have been passed on in American culture, such as the erasure of current native communities as simply victims, simply villains, or as an extinct peoples. I think your points about development, etc. are especially salient for “world building” games; I wonder how some of these same concepts would adapt to FPS/TPS, MOBA, or more narrative-based RPGs? Anyways, loved reading about this, thanks!

  5. Shaan, I had fun going through your project, especially because I have played a fair bit of Civilization V and VI, so I already had working knowledge of some concepts that you outlined in your project. While the representation of indigenous peoples in Civ IV: Colonization is blatantly problematic, that is not the case for Civ VI, where it can be less clear, as you outline. Overall, really liked the project, and how it makes it clear that, while these might seem like minor issues initially, the fact that it exists in a widely consumed form of media is important to consider.

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