How Age Of Empires 3: Definitive Edition Is Fixing Representation Of First Nations Civilizations
The first and most important step was to involve Indigenous people in the development of the game.
Age Of Empires III: Definitive Edition is releasing on October 15, and the game's development blog has been sharing more about what fans can expect from the re-release. One of these blogs included an interview with Anthony Brave, who worked on the game as a consultant and writer to fix AOE3's often problematic depictions of Native American civilizations in its WarChiefs expansion.
"A key focus of our work at World’s Edge is to authentically represent the cultures and peoples that we depict in our games," the blog explains. "In creating Age III: DE, we realized that we weren’t upholding that value as well as we could regarding the Indigenous North American cultures represented. So we set out to fix that: working directly with tribal consultants to respectfully and accurately capture the uniqueness of their peoples, history, and cultures."
The changes made for the Definitive Edition extend to the very names of the First Nations civilizations, but also involve changes to how they play and progress through the game, as well as a full re-write of the Shadow storyline. "Before we started working on the DE with our Native American and First Nations consultants, we didn’t know that the names Sioux and Iroquois were given to them by European settlers," developer World's Edge explained. "So we have changed those civ names in the DE to their Indigenous names--Lakota (Sioux) and Haudenosaunee (Iroquois)."
"To be honest: there were times playing [Age of Empires 3] as a Lakota guy that felt pretty cringey," Brave says of the original game. "For example, the Fire Pit is pretty bad—not to mention the skulls on spikes at, like, all Indigenous villages in the main game. The mining was just nonsensical for Native people, too."
In response to Brave's feedback, mining has been swapped out for those civilizations for a Tribal Marketplace, giving First Nations civilizations an alternative way to gather Coin. The Fire Pit was another feature that needed to be completely re-worked, according to Brave.
"The Fire Pit works magically in that having people dance around a fire somehow gives warriors on the battlefield more power," Brave explains. "On the other hand, the Western people get power through logical means: like the development of technology or increasing their capacity for war by developing their forts. This perpetuates the old, tired 'savage vs civilized' dichotomy."
The Fire Pit will now be replaced by the Community Plaza, a building where villagers can work together to create upgrades for the civilization. World's Edge also removed the Nature Friendship ability, which is based on a trope that Brave says "seems particularly prevalent in video games to the point where it seems like if there is a Native character in a video game, that character must have animal powers."
Brave also rewrote the Shadow plotline, which he talks about in detail in the full interview on World's Edge's website. More studios are now turning to cultural consultants when including Indigenous people in their games, though Brave also recommends curious players to check out wholly Indigenous-made games such as When Rivers Were Trails, Thunderbird Strike, Umurangi Generation, Terra Nova, and Never Alone.
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