lim_ak / Member

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Civilized History Lessons

I never much liked learning history in school. Mostly I found the class to be rather dull, punctuated by occasional tidbits of information that were fun and interesting. It wouldn't be until a few years later that I would figure out why I was at times fascinated in learning historical facts and stories in my free time while at the same time being utterly bored by the same subject in class. Some of this was in part to school history curriculum just not being particularly interesting

I played a lot of Total War when I was a teenager and I got into playing Civilization a little bit after that. In Civilization there is a lot of stuff to digest, you can play it without getting too deep into everything but when you start digging into planning strategies you will probably end up plumbing the depths of the in built Civilopedia. It's an in game encyclopaedia of sorts, which addition to giving you the specifics on how the mechanics work also gives you a small brief on the real history behind the thing you were looking up.

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It has really great bios on the civilisations, the technologies, units. The information that is relevant to how to play the game is immediately apparent, but right below that information is that brief that you can just read if you choose to. I ended up in the Civilopedia because I wanted to learn how to play the game properly, but it's so easy to start at 'What civilisation best fits how I want to play?' to end up just reading about the early life of Ghandi. Firaxis have done a good job of condensing the history into relatively short pieces, but there's enough there that it does inspire that interest beyond the game.

Looking at Civ from a more mechanical point of view, what it teaches is a bit of a double edged sword. The tech tree follows a lot of what real life history was like. Mostly. The first technology in the game, which you get for free, is Agriculture. Agriculture was the basis for pretty much all civilisations around the world and was developed independently of each other. It was that idea that allowed to create cities, it allowed people to create a food surplus that could sustain higher populations. Prior to the agricultural revolution most, if not everyone was a hunter or forager of some kind, which doesn't really allow for populations to grow to large sizes, because a large population would eat out it's local area much faster than the land would naturally provide.

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It also showed that the development of technology around the world didn't progress at the same pace. The Mayans who in addition to not predicting the end of the world, built massive stone structures and developed a base twenty number system and understood that the number 0 is super important to mathematics. And they did all of this without ever having developed metal working. On the flip side some technologies just weren't available to some cultures, not within their local environment anyway. While many parts of the world developed the bow and arrow, many places couldn't. Not all wood can be used to make bows and without trade and transport of more suitable materials the technology just wasn't ever an option for some early civilisations. Raw materials put a fairly hard limit on what technologies were able to be developed by some civilisations, without our vast international trade and infrastructure much of what we rely on in our modern day lives just wouldn't be possible.

There are also some rather unfortunate implications for what the game teaches you although that bit is perhaps more indicative of who I am as a leader. Unlike real life, Civilization has a number of victory conditions that players try to win the game with. In reality the win condition for a civilisation boils down to don't get your population killed. Debatable by some but lets move on. Much of how Civ works is that it encourages the use of large expansive empires. The concept of not using empires as a form of government is actually relatively new as far as humans are concerned, explaining why the United Kingdom still owns a not so small chunk of Antartica*.

In Civ one of the best ways to gain power in the early game is through the use of military force. Against whom? Well, everyone. Other major powers and budding empires to be. And also the nearby barbarian** encampments who don't take too kindly to your encroaching expansionism. It seems the locals to that area don't take too kindly to other people coming in and taking their land. But Civ, particularly Civ V, does encourage this kind of expansionism. If you take more land you have more stuff that you can use. You have more people, you can produce more stuff and you can use that stuff to take more land. Empire building in a nutshell. The only thing that can stop you is, well, another Empire. To be fair to Civilization this kind of expansionism, conquest and just owning lots of land mimics much of, it precludes the possibility that there could've been another method of government that might have worked but didn't for whatever reason. Ancient Greece for example was an alliance of independent city states although one could argue that was an alliance of mini-empires. Being entirely peaceful in the early stages of the game is pretty much impossible.

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While Civilization hardly attempts to directly teach history, there is plenty of real history learning that exists in the game. Both on a gameplay mechanical level as well as a little bit more explicitly with the Civilopedia. What the game does though more than anything is that it wraps all of it up and makes it interesting. The game itself is so much fun to play that it makes the idea of learning more about how these things work and how they came to exist in the real world, fun and interesting.

If you're interested in history at all I have to recommend the YouTube channel Crash Course. 40 Episodes of World History alongside other subjects like Chemistry, Biology and Literature. I might do a part 2 of this post into about how I'm just an awful person when playing Civ, but I'll stick to the Civ makes history fun, awesome and interesting vibe for the moment!

*Kind of untrue, lookup British Oversees Territory for the wonderful complexities of that

**The word barbarian originating from Ancient Greece meaning not Greek