Who Gets to Be a CIVILIZATION? – Between the Lines

Who Gets to Be a CIVILIZATION? – Between the Lines


I’ve been playing Sid Meier’s Civilization for decades and so have many other people. It sold well over 30 million copies. It’s one of the most popular examples of what
game critic Alan Emrich dubbed a 4X game; explore, expand, exploit, exterminate. And players have been using it
to conquer the world for twenty-five years. But I don’t think it ever directly addresses
the core assumption in its tagline. What is a civilization? Most people tend to rest on the notion that civilization
is the most advanced stage of human development, that just as we evolved from ape to human,
so society evolves. In fact, that’s how the early Civilization games began, by putting the dawn of human society
in the context of cosmic history and evolution. The game tells the narrative of a rise
from simplicity to complexity, from savagery to barbarism to civilization. But what makes a civilization
different from a barbarian? Now, most schools in the United States,
when answering this question, teach some variant of a checklist first compiled by 20th
century Australian archaeologist V. Gordon Childe. But even they’re a bit vague. How large should the urban centers be? What makes architecture monumental? Of course, the split between civilized and barbarian
has always been arbitrary, though in the game Civilization,
it’s always been clear. Civilizations can win. Barbarians must be wiped out. In later games, they were nameless nuisances
that existed to help you build up an early military. But the barbarian tribes used to have names,
often names from antiquity, and some of them names of people
who still use them as identifiers. I mean, Bantu, Polynesian? Are these people barbarians? But barbarians aren’t the only ones
excluded from playing the game. Civiliation V added an interesting middle ground;
the city-state. Single cities that can be bought, swayed, or conquered. But like the barbarians, they can’t win. Unless they can. Sweden, Denmark, Poland, Indonesia, and Brazil
were all represented by city-states in the base game, but later expansions made them playable. But, if you wanted to play as the Philippines,
Congo, Kenya, Tibet, Israel; too bad. They’re simply periphery peoples, given power and influence only as
protectorates and satellites of the civilized. But, I’m delaying the question. Who are the civilized? These fourteen civilizations, or civs,
as nicknamed by the fans, have been in nearly every iteration of the series
in some form or another. Four from the ancient Mediterranean,
four modern European nations, three from Asia, one from Africa,
one Native American, and one former European colony. In the first games, these differences
were essentially cosmetic. Each civ played identically and the only difference was in the AI personalities of non-human players, from the calm and reasonable Lincoln
to the insane war criminal…Ghandi. But, that’s all the difference they needed; same mechanics, different visuals,
equal in the eyes of the game. But in Civilization III,
the civs became more unique. They got unique bonuses, unique units, all matched to perceived features
thought emblematic of that civilization; Russian cossacks, Japanese samurai, and such. And with each game since, Firaxis has added
unique buildings, improvements, making every civ’s play style match
a particular perception about that people’s history. Let’s focus on one civ. Germany; always a fascinating case study
in the history of nationalism. In Civ I, they were led by Frederick the Great. In Civ II, you had a choice between
Frederick Barbarossa or Maria Theresa. Frederick was Prussian, Maria was Austrian, and Barbarossa did hold the title of King of Germany, but he also held the title of King of Italy,
King of Burgundy, and of course, Holy Roman Emperor. None of these people lived during a time
when a state called ‘Germany’ existed. In Civilization III, that changed,
when Germany’s leader was Otto von Bismarck, the founder of the modern German state. The game gave them the bonuses of
Militaristic and Scientific, and granted them the unique unit of
the panzer, a stronger version of the tank. In Civilization IV, you had the choice
of Frederick or Bismarck, the return of the panzer,
and the unique building of the assembly plant. So in both III and IV, we get a sense that the Germany
we’re playing as is the modern German state, the one founded by Bismarck,
defeated at Versailles, and then fell to fascism. An unbroken line from the Hall of Mirrors to Hitler. In Civilization V, that line stretched back farther, with a unique ability which ties
the Germany that you play as to the one that defeated the Roman Empire
at the Battle of Teutoburg Forest, and a unique building which linked
the Germany of Bismarck to the Germany that participated
in the Hanseatic League. In each of these, a portrait is drawn
over thousands of years, looking from the present backwards,
begetting an inverted family tree, from Angela to Adolf to Alte Fritz
to Aachen to Arminius. Remarkably different societies,
though all differences forgotten and remembered as a single idea called “Germany”. And yet, Civilization IV made
the Holy Roman Empire its own civ, just to get Charlemagne into the game. That line isn’t always drawn so long. In Civs III and V, you could play as
Romans, Greeks, and also the Byzantines, yet the Byzantines never called themselves Byzantines; they were Romans,
heirs of the Eastern Roman Empire, and they generally spoke Greek
and had Greek customs. And yet, Greece, Rome,
and Byzantium are separate civs, remembered uniquely, their mutual ties forgotten. Even stranger is how the series handled India. The people of the Indian subcontinent
speak thirty languages, worship nearly every god, have spent the last 5,000 years
of recorded history uniting and dividing land through the rise and fall of empires in a history as
varied and complex as the entirety of western Europe. But in Civilization, they’ve always been led by
an English-educated Gujarati man who has never held official office,
a man credited for fathering the idea of a unified India, an entity that’s only existed
for sixty-nine years out of a 5,000 year history. Differences forgotten and remembered,
the struggle to unify remembered and forgotten. All profound changes in consciousness
by their very nature bring with them characteristic amnesias. Out of such oblivions, in specific
historical circumstances, spring narratives. Benedict Anderson became one of this era’s
most influential historians with his widely read book
on nationalism, Imagined Communities. In it, he argued that
the modern nation was a social construct that could only manifest through
important breakthroughs in information technology. In short, we can only live in a civilization
if we see it as one. Anderson believed that in the medieval era, the origins of national consciousness
began linguistically. After all, “barbarian” was originally a Greek word
for anyone who didn’t speak Greek. But over time, that linguistic community
became the language of the state, where a bilingual few understood the prestige language, the language of scholars and scripture, that of truth, whether that language was Church Latin,
Classical Arabic, or examination Chinese. But with the invention of the printing press,
a popular legitimacy was given to vernacular languages. In Europe, with the rise of newspapers
and the spread of print media, the populace became less concerned with
the language of intellectuals and foreign-born dynasts and more with the languages spoken by their neighbors. And it wasn’t until these beliefs were in place that we could see official enforcement
of nationalism in the 19th century, with state-backed national identities, such as the Russification policies
under Catherine the Great or the Anglicization throughout Victoria’s empire. Nevermind that both Catherine and Victoria
came from German families. And because of colonization,
those models began to be applied to the conquered. It’s how a multilingual, multiethnic nation
like India can call itself Indian, or how an equally diverse colonial nation
like Indonesia could call itself Indonesian. Anderson thought that nation-building was possible
thanks to three key mechanisms; the census, the map, and the museum. Through the census, in colonial countries
and colonized alike, people were asked to declare
their own identities in official documents, reinforcing awareness of their place in a community, even more aware if they were forced to check
that demeaning box labeled ‘other’. Through the map, specifically accurate,
western-style maps, people could see the land they lived on. The age of colonization brought
the first color-coded maps, where borders gave a
physical manifestation to the nation. No longer an abstract symbol,
the nation was literally grounded. And through the museum, through the restoration of
ancient sites and the accumulation of artifacts, people could construct the narrative
of their past from their vantage point in the present. Ed Beach is the lead designer of Civilization VI, and previously developed
the last expansion to Civilization V, and I get the feeling that Ed Beach
is familiar with Anderson’s writing, since in his revamped version of the cultural victory, archaeology, museums, and tourism are key mechanics. He seems to understand that our tribes
aren’t something that we are, but something that we do. But Anderson’s view of history
doesn’t fit well with Civilization, because its mechanics won’t allow it. Just as it was in the game’s oldest predecessor, chess. For centuries, chess has been used
to teach princes the art of warfare, the value of strategy and tactics;
humanity seen as pieces on a board. A piece can upgrade if it gets to the end, but it can never switch sides,
nor declare itself a third player. What’s more, there’s no way to achieve peace in chess. Every opposing piece is a threat
and every game has to end with a winner and a loser. It’s a popular model of history and a simplistic one. Also, Civilization, like chess,
is being used to teach history. But is it so different from
the more common models we use? Don’t we already keep score? We already quantify our lives with studies like the World
Happiness Report and the Global Development Index. Our politicians talk about winning and falling behind, as if there’s a grand game we’re capable of losing. Even professional historians do this from time to time. We see history as the great game
of explore, expand, exploit, exterminate. And there’s the problem. Defining who is a civilization means
defining who can win. You can win as the Romans,
but never as modern Italy. You could win as the Zulu, never as South Africa. You could win as the Aztecs, but never Mexico. Certain iterations of humanity are given privilege
over a broad, undefined other, much like in our reality. But the good news is that the Civilization series
began to ask itself this very question, expanding the definition of civilization. In later games, you could play as a city-state. In Civilization VI, the precolonial nation of Congo
is available in the base game, and so is the rising superpower of Brazil. Even the Huns, marginalized for millenia as
mere barbarians, became playable in Civ V. Still, there’s no mechanic in the game to create a nation. There’s no process by which
one civ can become another. They’re only pieces on a board;
the colors never change. The idea of American or Chinese or Roman
metamorphosing over millenia into the same thing. But, with tanks instead of spearmen. Civilization and games like it are only models of history, because we aren’t pieces, but people. Daily, we reaffirm the meaning of our civilization
as we redefine it and recognize it in others. Maybe civilization is just the honor
of being seen as a player. Maybe that’s the only way to win, by realizing that we all deserve to play. [music]

100 thoughts on “Who Gets to Be a CIVILIZATION? – Between the Lines

  1. Optimum Civ Choices (my opinion)

    N AMERICA:
    USA
    Aztecs
    Canada (up to you)

    S AMERICA:
    Brazil
    Incas
    Argentina (up to you)

    EUROPE:
    England/UK
    France
    Spain
    Portugal (up to you)
    Germany
    Austria (up to you)
    Poland
    Italy/Rome
    Turkey/Ottomans
    Greece
    Russia
    Sweden/Norway/Denmark (Up to you)

    AFRICA:
    Egypt
    Morocco/Carthage
    Mali
    Kanem-Bornu/Nigeria (up to you)
    Kongo
    Ethiopia
    South Africa/Zulu
    Tanzania (up to you)

    ASIA:
    Arabia
    Assyria (up to you)
    Israel
    Persia/Iran
    Kazakhstan (up to you)
    Mughal Empire/Delhi Sultanate
    Bengal Sultanate/Bangladesh (up to you)
    Vijayanagar/Chola
    China
    Korea
    Japan
    Mongolia
    Manchuria (up to you)
    Vietnam/Khmer (up to you)
    Thailand/Burma
    Indonesia

    OCEANIA:
    Australia

  2. There are other games that allow creation of your own civilization. Games by Paradox allow this, but most are infinitely more complex.

  3. Melhor vídeo que eu já vi sobre um jogo a sua ideia e fantástica e estou escrevendo em português porque você está certo na sua ideia do vídeo se quiserem saber o que eu digo corre atrás de traduzir

  4. >And yet the game doesn't generate new material as if through creative osmosis, so can't do infinite things like real life

    good point, hipster critical theory paper. Except you can totally augment your civilization and/or actually create mods that will, in fact, allow you to create new civs. Like I'll take The Shoshone, rename them Scythians and then rename cities things like Kurgan, Sarmatia, whatever. The fact that you can pick a variety of different religious symbols in 6 is pretty nice as well. Like the turtle for playing as China or lion as Rome.

  5. For anyone intrigued by this video, it predated some interesting discussions that took place surrounding criticism from the Cree Nation about being included in the Rise and Fall expansion pack. Here are two of my favorites: https://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2018/01/05/civilization-vi-cree-nation-cultural-representation
    https://venturebeat.com/2018/02/02/rise-and-fall-asks-the-question-can-civilization-vi-become-something-its-not

  6. The main goal of civ 5 is to make sure india never ever ever becomes a democracy all civ players knows that, in fact just play as india instead its safer

  7. In 19th century were done many theories about WHO is a Player who can win and who can't. They came to the conclusion that the five states that make world politics are Berlin London Vienna Paris and New York (Idk why he did not wrote Washington)

  8. This is a perfect illustration of how the postmodern tragedy has set our philosophical comprehension of categories, forms, and the entire field of ontology back to a level inferior to that of Greek people almost 2,500 years ago.

  9. @KyleKallgrenBHH unlike some others in the comments, I saw a deeper meaning in your video. I saw that you were trying to convey to us that no matter how much the game tries to represent how civilizations actually are, that there is no way it could do that accurately. We have all come from different "tribes" from over millions and millions of years of evolution that its impossible to define what actually is or isn't a "civilization". The bottom line is we're all people on this earth and we're in this together and if we just keep trying to expand, explore, exploit, or exterminate, we'll all eventually kill each other off.

  10. I mean, Civ IV had the ability to create new civs mid game with colonies… but it was fairly tepid and controlled. Imagine if they incorporated this into the free city revolts from Rise and Fall so if a city flipped it could take a few around low loyalty cities around it and spawn a civ based on some aggregate of their composition.

  11. I still wish we get the chance to play as Hitler at some point without mods.

    Edit: We can play as Atilla the Hun and Genghis Khan and not Hitler, why?

  12. Mother Nature doesn't hand out participation trophies. Some civilizations win because some civilizations are better at changing the course of human history.

  13. No. North Korea doesn't deserve to play. Yes, foreign policy is more like chess than your "civilizations are social constructions" historian says. Until there is no desire for conflict worldwide, military actions are zero sum gains, unlike trade.

  14. Am I the only one who doesn't understand why the f*ck Charlemagne is the leader of the Holy Roman Empire if the Holy Roman Empire was founded 100 years after Charlemagne died?

  15. Wow… that was intense and a lot deeper than I thought it would be. At a glance, I thought it was just gonna be about how Firaxis chooses which games to represent.

    Still, I am intrigued because I have long been fascinated by the idea of the evolution of civilization. The ancient people's that existed like the Etruscans and the Phoenicians and how history played out and would have done so differently if certain things went another way. What if Alexander went west instead of east? What if Constantine never converted to Christianity (and maybe outlawed it instead)? What if Islam did not rise? What of Japan was successfully invaded centuries before by China? The questions go on and on.

    Personally, I'd love to see a more dynamic approach in future Civilization titles. A more evolved way of growing from a tribe to a culture to a nation.

  16. huh strange i never thought about it that way. it is almost like the game is limited by some kind of constraint that prevents it from being able to accurately simulate what would happen if any given set of peoples were placed down in a world with different geography and simplified resources while also being "balanced" for fun gameplay. is it processing power? or maybe it is the uncountable man hours that it would take to program and create that requiring time spent not only constructing the code but also attaining such a fundamental understanding of humanity that they can even begin to figure out how to begin synthesising it.

    also it could be that they are making a video game with the intent and purpose of entertainment and want it to be good and not boring af. who knows?

  17. Who gets to be a Civilization? Hopefully me…

    …What, don't you want to see a Civilization that is entirely male and female clones of myself?

  18. Awesome video. I mostly enjoyed just the imagery and sounds of Civ, very well edited. I spent countless hours on Civ 1 – 4.

  19. when am playing turnys in chess I got 4 points know 1 can get past u make a peacefull draw to get 1 place don that many times just so I have time to scout people skills next time ;]

  20. no offence but everyone here is talking like he meant this as the real definition THIS IS JUST FOR CIVILIZATION AND IT HAD A FEW CROSSING POINTS SO STOP GETTING YOUR BRITCHES IN A BUNDLE

  21. in Civ 4, there is a mod called rhyes and fall that brings a very interestic mechanic: if you expand too widely your empire and dont make it stable, the nation will revolt and create new civilisations (players)

  22. Really thoughtful video! The mods for Civ on Steamworks and other mod communities add an entire additional layer of meaning I wish I had the technical skills to make a video about. The fact that I can play as anyone from Mormons to Appalachia or the pride from The Lion King certainly makes for some… interesting… questions in light of this reading.

  23. Civilizations are something we can see while looking back in history. Yet Canada is a playable "Civilization" in Civ 6 despite being a de facto extension of US American culture. You can actually say that about the entire modern Western world. Hence the term "Western civilization". Because of globalization we are more alike culturally/economically then ever before.

  24. There was a mod for Civilization… 5, I think, where Barbarians had the full gameplay options of actual Civilizations, but still couldn't "win". They were like City States+, because they were able to expand for territory and capture cities in war. It was actually really neat. As far as random encounters go to encourage military production, I think Beyond Earth has actually done it the best so far – because the game actually makes the planet itself dangerous. It'll be interesting to see how the new expansion improves on this with natural disasters, but so long as you can just walk through a herd of elephants without being trampled… the world is pretty tame.

  25. I think you're thinking too deep into this.
    if they were make a civ of EVERY nation in history, there would be WAY too many
    And balancing them would be an impossible nightmare, it IS still a game after all… XD

  26. In Civ there should be added a new mechanic:
    Start the game as Rome
    When medieval era starts, become the Papal States
    When modern era starts, become Italy
    Or
    Start as the Anglosaxons
    Become England (middle ages)
    Become the United Kingdom (Industrial)
    Or
    Saxons
    Holy Roman Empire (Middle Ages)
    Prussia (Reinassance)
    Germany (Modern)
    Or
    Slavs
    Kievan Rus (middle ages)
    Russia (Reinassance)
    Or
    Athens/Spartha
    Macedon (Classic)
    Byzantium (Middle Ages)
    Greece (Modern)
    Or
    Gupta
    Vyjayangar (Middle Ages)
    Mughals (Industral)
    India (Atomic)

  27. The difference between Civilizations and Barbarians is that civilizations have the decency to not horse archer rush at turn 7

  28. On the subject of civilizations experiencing transformations in identity, I had a mod to Civ 5 that would change the official name of a civilization based on its social/governmental policy choices (e.g. "Democratic Republic of X" or "Confederate States of Y"). It was a small step in that direction, though I couldn't enjoy it for long, since I found this mod shortly before two things happened. First, a Windows update made sure Civ 5 wouldn't load on my computer anymore (Windows updates are just generally the bane of my existence). Second, Civ 6 debuted, and though I was skeptical about the more cartoony graphics, I couldn't resist upgrading, and overall, I'm glad I did. They took another step in the direction Kyle talks about with the Rise and Fall expansion, but if you ask me, they stopped short of taking it to its logical conclusion. If a city becomes too unhappy and/or disloyal, it can rebel and secede, but then it can only persist as a Free City, be (re-)conquered by force, or cave to cultural influence and join (or re-join) a playable civ peacefully. I've always thought that there should be a time limit or something, so that if a city stays Free past a certain point, it spawns a new mainstream civ. It would've been especially interesting if adjacent Free Cities could band together and form a new nation!

    One thing that I've long thought was missing as a core mechanism of the game was the concept of centralization. The new Loyalty mechanism in Rise and Fall touches on this, in that frontier cities tend to be less loyal than those closer to cultural centers, but even that seems only partially realized. Especially in the earlier eras, it would've taken significant resources and particular technological and/or civic attainments to have the kind of far-flung control that the game just gives you from the very first turn. I wonder if a future version could begin with you only having absolute control over your capital, with one of the main thrusts in the early game being to expand and maintain that control in nearby cities that are culturally yours but politically semi-autonomous. Think of the rabble of city-states that was classical Hellas gradually coalescing into something resembling the nation-state we now call Greece.

    Another thing I might like to see implemented in future iterations would be migration and ethnic diversity. For example, say Germany conquers an Australian city. Even after any overt rebellion is put down and the new territory becomes fully productive, the citizens retain their original cultural or ethnic identity. Then, as this and other cities grow, maybe it becomes a cultural center and attracts native Germans to move there. On the flip side, maybe a nearby native German city attracts Australian migrants (mainly from conquered Australian cities, but if it's strong and close enough, perhaps from cities that are still under Australia's political control as well). This could lead to the granting of certain bonuses for cultural syncretism.

  29. Look, this is a lovely video and analysis. But you didn't even mention why Ghandi leads the indian civilization over all the other possible options. None of the other candidates dared to oppose the man with the monopoly of nuclear weapons.

  30. Funny thing about that map — England didn't have an actual map of their road network until the early 1800s.

  31. With the recent loyalty mechanic. One civ can actually become another 😛 Or at least it's cities. Plus religion in civ is not between two binary values, a single city can hold a plethora of multiple different beliefs. The reason why city-states aren't civs is due to development costs and popular demand. And you can actually create your own civ since the games tend to be very modder friendly. Games can help people not interested in reading "stuffy" history text books, become interested in the very fabric of our cultural identities. For that reason I believe games like civ are actually a service to society, not just a flawed model.

  32. Related: The Map is also what helped kill the English Commons, as it was greater understanding of boundaries and territories that encouraged the king and his aristocrats to try to claim land as their own, fencing it in and giving things names.

    Incidentally, does anyone know any good critics who talk about plays? I know Kyle does Shakespeare, but this has me thinking of Translations now.

  33. Brilliant video. I've only recently gotten into PC strategy games, and I have a background in history, so I've given some thought to the ideas of historical change, meaning, and teleology embedded in these models. I may try to write or make a video about this in the not-near future, but in the meantime this is one of the few genuinely good YouTube videos about a videogame I've seen. Videogaming is a very insular community focused on mechanics, pricing strategies, supercession of one tech generation by another, and so on. This can be good, in that a vocabulary is constructed to relate works to one another. But a lot of social meaning and interdisciplinary possibilities are missed. In fact, many people in the community seem overtly hostile to any sort of analysis beyond "is this worth my money?" or "is it fun?" I would like to see more stuff like this in the future from creators on YouTube.

  34. Make Israel a civ ancient ear king David
    The special unit a buffed slinger with archer range and more damage
    It will be a religious and science civ focus on defense and gets a + 15 buff for a defensive war on their home continent.

  35. tl;dw Man explains that video game is not a model of reality.

    In other news: Shooters still show no statistically significant correlation with increased violence.

  36. Can we just agree that every president who has never been in such a position of international affairs, be taught to play chess.

  37. I want to answer that question with a question, what are we actually saying when we say civilization?
    It's either a value judgement, either you're civilized or barbarous, savage, or primitive, or you're referring to societies ruled by a state or form of centralized, coercive apparatus in which one group of political/economic elites rule over all others through "legitimate" violence; much like a racket, which doesn't seem at all very "civilized" when put that way

  38. Well, it would be quite interesting to see a video on how a game like Europa Universalis IV handles these concepts.

  39. You can have draws in Chess.

    Not just stalemates….you can offer a draw and have it accepted. You can choose peace.

  40. That’s why I like crusader Kings II so much. It’s more people focused than Civ. Cultures evolve and combine into melting pot ones.

  41. You mention how weird Germany is but you don't even talk about how NONSENSICAL Indonesia is represented in Civ5 and Civ6. Majapahit leaders leading modern Indonesia. That's like having Augustus Caesar leading modern Italy!

  42. 4:20: That's not really true; Barbie was Holy Roman emperor; the holy roman empire being the 'First Reich' In other words: he's no less legitimate than Otto.

  43. The trouble is real civilisations can be redefined as the descendants of their constituent people change whereas a video game session is played by just one person. The player does not choose to rename his civilisation and would be annoyed if the game did.

    However, there is a certain level of redefinition that started with version 1, namely government type.

  44. I love Here I Stand and Virgin Queen board games by Ed Beach, they really showed man has studied and they offer more nuanced view on nation simulation experience.

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