• smcmanus

Dayn, Civilization Revolution

One of the first video games I remember watching my father play was Sid Meier’sCivilization. I was too young to comprehend what it was, but I knew I enjoyed the music, and the colours and maps fascinated me. The Civilizationgame he played the longest in my lifetime was Civilization Revolution. Originally released in 2008, Sid Meier and 2K games made it available on multiple platforms, including PlayStation 3, which was my dad’s choice of console. This game was my introduction into many historical concepts, such as Cleopatra, Julius Caesar, and Genghis Khan. I quickly learned what it meant to conquer other nations and how those with better technologies were usually the ones to win wars. There were some things that it taught me that were not true. For example: in my dad’s playthroughs, Germany always won everything. They were always the strongest, smartest, fastest and had the most land around the world. This, of course, was due to the fact that my dad’s favourite country to play as was Germany and ironically, this led to me learning the least about Germany.

There are pros and cons to all video games that are based in history. In Civilization Revolution’scase, its historic basis is only used to ground the countries, people and some of the game’s events in reality. The historic elements are lost quickly as gameplay continues and the player is allowed to do whatever they want regarding what their country does and when, as long as they are able to strategically plan it out, or, in my personal experience, just get lucky enough to have it all work out. Before I examine the historical values of the game, as well as what the historic elements lack, I want to give a brief explanation of the game play itself.

Civilization Revolution is a turn based strategy game in which the player begins in 4000 B.C. with one small city. The player must decide what to do on each turn, either moving, attacking, learning, or build. The player choses between sixteen civilizations to play as, all led by a historical figure from that time period, and the remaining ones become the players opponents who are also trying to win. The player can win in four different ways: domination, culture, economics, or technology.[1]The player can choose to make enemies, allies or stay neutral with the other civilizations as they plan out their root to victory.

There are many pros to the historic side of Civilization Revolution,mainly surrounding the characters themselves. Each of the playable characters is based off an actual historic leader from that country or civilization, and each character has abilities that are based in history, at least loosely. For example, one of Greece’s abilities is democracy, which gives them bonus gold and science production. While this does show that Greece was in fact where democracy began, it may confuse players about the role Alexander the Great had in the formation democracy, due to him being the playable leader of Greece. Most agree that democracy began around 500 BCE in Greece[2], which is nearly two hundred years before Alexander was born, so he had nothing to do with the origin of democracy. There are many characters and civilizations with technologies and abilities based on the history surrounding them, however, the historic likeness stops there.

Civilization Revolutionallows the player to choose any nation and any play style they wish. They can choose to be Mongolia and play as Genghis Khan, a fierce warrior from the thirteenth century Asia who united the Mongols, lead multiple raids and wars, and is generally feared throughout history[3], and the player can make the decision to be peaceful with everyone, focus on settlements and technology, attempt to win in a way other than domination. The real Genghis Khan would probably not have even believed in any other way than domination, but he is dead and cannot have a say in how the player decides to win.

There is no real way of knowing if a Japanese Samurai could beat a Viking in one-on-one combat[4], and yet the Civilization games allow us to play out that scenario. The reason Civilizationworks as a video game based in history is because it allows the player to make their own history. It gives the players real historic characters and real civilizations and allows them to mold them in the way they want. According to an article on edsurge.com, Civilizationis able to “[bring] historical characters to life in a fantastically engaging fashion that a dusty old textbook never could”, however it loses historic value due to “its misrepresentation of historical cause and effect.” I completely agree with these statements. Regarding the first, I believe that all video games based in history allow for players to live out a piece of history and engage with it, making it fun and possibly even teaching them something. However, video games are often only good if they are extremely interactive, and therefore do lose some of their historic facts along the way. Based or grounded in history does not mean they are always extremely accurate. In Civilization’s case, the game play is not really historic at all. Players can choose to fight any battle they chose, go to war with whomever they please, and to advance technology at whatever rate they chose.

So, while all of this information is interesting and thought provoking, it would be nothing without a “so what now?” conclusion. I play video games multiple times a week, and almost none of them have anything to do with history or have any real educational aspect to them on the surface level. However, when I was a kid, my parents bought me all kinds of educational video games. For example, I played a game called JumpStart 3rdGrade: Mystery Mountain, in which the ‘villain’ sends back her robots to the past to try to alter the past, and the player has to solve puzzle, learn about history and ultimately bring all the robots back from the past[5]. That game, as well as many more, helped me through elementary school. They had even more historical basis than Civilization, but are far more obscure. I believe that video games are a great way to teach anyone about history while they also have fun. Video games are difficult to make educational due to their tendency to favour gameplay mechanics, graphics, story, and the interactive ‘fun’ value over educational value. But games like Civilization, Assassin’s Creed and many others show that it is possible to have historic elements in a game that might spark an interest in their players for history. Civilizationand Mystery Mountainhad more influence on me when it came to deciding to study history than any grade school history or social studies class. They were able to show me that learning is fun, no matter how cliché that may sound.

History should be fun in my opinion. Not all history enthusiasts have to be professional historians who read manuscript after manuscript trying to decipher what exactly went on in the past. Sometimes it’s okay to just enjoy little snip bits of history through the lens of a video game, or some other form of media. And while Civilization Revolutionmay not have taught me everything about Napoleon or Otto von Bismarck, it was able to spark a love of history in me that no teacher was able to do. History in video games is so important to help spark interest and educate those who might not retain that information from school. It’s also important because now, video games are becoming a part of history. They aren’t brand new anymore. One day, there may be a sub-group (or sub-genre to stay on the video game theme) of historians dedicated to studying old video games! So it is important now to realize that video games, while having their main goal to entertain, can have historic value and help spark the interests of a new generation of historians.

Bibliography

"Civilization Revolution." Civilization Wiki. Accessed April 08, 2019.

https://civilization.fandom.com/wiki/Civilization_Revolution#cite_note-1.

Fukumoto, Brady. "Sid Meier's Civilization: Is It Educational?” EdSurge. December 27, 2018.

Accessed April 08, 2019. https://www.edsurge.com/news/2015-08-14-sid-meiers-

civilization-is-it-educational.

"Genghis Khan." History.com. November 09, 2009. Accessed April 08,

2019. https://www.history.com/topics/china/genghis-khan.

"JumpStart Adventures 3rd Grade: Mystery Mountain." Wikipedia. February 11, 2019. Accessed

April 08, 2019. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/JumpStart_Adventures

_3rd_Grade:_Mystery_Mountain.

Walbank, Frank W. "Alexander the Great." Encyclopædia Britannica. February 08, 2019.

Accessed April 08, 2019. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Alexander-the-Great.


[1]Civilization Wiki

[2]Britannica.com

[3]History.com

[4]Edsurge.com

[5]Wikipedia

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Contact me for more information:

Sheila McManus

Professor, Department of History

University of Lethbridge

(403) 329-2540