Europa Universalis IV is The Best Genocide Simulator of The Year

The dark heart of Paradox Interactive’s Europa Universalis IV.

The first minutes I spent with Europa Universalis IV were a beautiful tragedy. I’d elected to start the game as Austria in 1492. Right away I was faced with a troubling situation. Some of my provinces in the western half of Europe were separated from me by the national borders of several other countries, and cut off from their motherland had forgotten the joys of living under my benevolent rule.

Nationalists had risen up and laid siege to several of my forts. They were in fact very close to forcing their demands for independence.

All that lay between my loyal subjects (For all of my subjects are loyal, even if they don’t always know it themselves. That’s why they need me, you see: because I know what’s best for them) and the purposeless ennui of independence were the sixty thousand men of the Austrian army.

But you can’t just march a doom stack of troops across five countries without permission, not unless you’re willing to fight your way through. My diplomats scurried along, carrying my will to the less enlightened segments of Europe that had not yet accepted me into their hearts.

Now they may be backwards and ignorant foreigners, but they know a good idea when they hear it, and letting thousands and thousands of foreign soldiers tramp through their fields and clog up their roads is a marvelous idea. I felt so generous not even asking for anything in return.

Not all were so wise, but enough were that I could plot a twisty route across Europe for my soldiers to go liberate the shit out of my wayward provinces. I would save them from the rising doom of independence. I would save them from themselves. So off my soldiers marched, sixty thousand of the finest conscripts my commissars could drag from under their beds.
So off my soldiers marched, sixty thousand of the finest conscripts my commissars could drag from under their beds. Five thousand made it back.
Five thousand made it back.

I couldn’t believe it. How had such a catastrophe happened? Venice took the opportunity to pounce and crossed my southern border, burning everything in their path. I couldn’t afford to replace my losses, and what replacements I could scrounge up wouldn’t be ready for months. I went back to an earlier save and tried again. Again, my army melted away like spring snow. This is how I learned about attrition.

You see every province can only support so many soldiers. If more soldiers are present in that province than can be supported, some of them start to die. The route I’d selected for My glorious march against freedom couldn’t support more than twenty thousand troops in any given province. So the army had simply died of starvation until it was down to a more manageable size.

With their morale low and their numbers depleted, they were cut to ribbons by the rebels, and only found victory by burying the enemy under mountains of corpses. Again, I reloaded an earlier save. Again I tried, but this time I broke the army into three parts, and plotted three separate routes across Europe and had them fall on three separate rebel-held provinces. Success.

From that moment on I was in love with this game. Europa Universalis IV is a pitiless tutor. There are dozens of systems to keep track of, many of which interact with each other and can create perverse cycles of dysfunction in an otherwise well-run empire. At the start of the game, troops can take months to recruit and even a small army can bankrupt a great power. Planning requires forethought measured in decades, if not centuries.

And all the while, the engines of history churn on, heedless of of the desires of rulers and peasants alike. Drifting cultural loyalties, religious insurrection, disputed lines of succession, and even simple bad luck can wreck a scheme decades in the making. Your challenge, as the kind of immortal, disembodied spirit of a country, is to withstand the onslaught of perils and misfortune and lead your country to greatness.

When any given week can bring an ill omen in the sky which leads to a drop in stability which leads to a rebellion breaking out in one corner of the empire which leads to three other rebellions in three other provinces, leading to the ruin of all you have striven for these past five decades and more, you must plan for catastrophe.

You must learn to prioritize, to put out fires quickly, and to keep your eyes on the goal. When you’re fighting three separate wars, putting down rebellions, managing a religious conversion, bringing insolent merchants to heel, and thinking “yes, it’s all going according to plan,” then you’ll have arrived. You won’t be a master, but you’ll have unlocked the secret to playing and enjoying such a gargantuan, sprawling, and fundamentally unforgiving game.

After getting Austria up to snuff as a central European powerhouse, I thought I’d try my hand at overrunning the New World as the British. As an American, I have a perverse fascination with playing as the British and trying to keep the Revolution from happening. Or, if that’s not possible, at least win it for King and Country.

So after a dicey few decades in which I cut the Hundred Year’s War short by about two thirds, I untangled myself from Continental politics and focused on rushing up the tech tree as fast as my country could go. The history of this alternate world is filled with the names of explorers I sent west, never to be heard from again. Finally, I managed to get a ship out to Labrador and back without losing it, and was able to plant the flag and start my first overseas colony.

And it’s here where things started to get a bit…fucked up. I was still having loads of fun, but suddenly I couldn’t get into playing a jovial dictator relentlessly pushing her borders back and using the bones of dead peasants as the mortar in her new palace. Somewhere, deep in my chest, a little voice was whispering this is really fucking sick.

Let’s be clear about one thing: in real life, the colonization of North America by European settlers was only possible because of the accompanying slow-motion genocide of the people who were already living here. The First Nations of the Americas did not have castles, or royal dynasties, or a continent-spanning church like the Europeans, but they did have a civilization.

They had politics, trade, cultural exchange, territorial disputes, and wars. They built cities and temples, domesticated animals, and mastered their environment just as thoroughly as any other people on the planet.

I knew going in that I’d playing a game about a topic that, in real life, is horrifying to my (white, privileged) progressive sensibilities. I thought I was prepared for it.

Then I actually saw how they treat the Americas. For reference, here is what Europe looks like about a hundred and fifty years into the game, after several of the smaller states have been gobbled up by their larger neighbors.

Look at all that detail!

Europe in Europa Universalis IV

And here is what North America looks like, about ninety years after English settlers first landed in Canada.

Doesn't this seem a little...empty to you?

North America in Europa Universalis IV

Something is off. It took me a while to figure out what it was, but something felt a little strange about colonizing the Americas. It couldn’t be that I was not comfortable with playing a ruthlessly expansionary state. I mean, have you read the first part of this article?

Perhaps it was my uneasiness with gamifying a genocide that I directly benefit from, even centuries after it started. (Yes, white Americans, you ARE the beneficiaries of genocide. Get used to it.) That’s probably part of it, but a greater part of it, I think, is how the game portrays that atrocity.

When you finally get a ship over to North America, you’ll notice that things look a little different. Europe is crammed cheek to jowl with minor duchies and single-province powers, at least in the early game. There is no square inch of territory unaccounted for. But when you get to the Americas, you’ll see a lot of “empty” territory. The provinces and territories that are not claimed by any power or nation can be colonized.

You do this by sending a colonist to that province, and watch as its population grows. Once it hits a threshold, it becomes a productive city, and you can recall your colonist to do it again elsewhere.

Except that there wasn’t any “empty” territory in real life. There were people who already lived in the Americas, and in Africa, and in Asia. Entire cultures rose and fell, for thousands of years without European involvement. But when you get to where a lot of these people lived in Europa Universalis IV, you are presented with a blank spot on the map, and a suggestion that nobody who matters lives there.

This is not to say that there is no thought given to the natives. Oh, they’re represented all right.

And with that, an entire culture is reduced to a 3 entry stat line and caricature.

Colonization screen in Europa Universalis IV

You can see a simplified take on their religion, a rough population estimate, and the only two stats that most indigenous peoples are allowed to have in this game: “aggressiveness” and “ferocity”. That’s right, your ancestors might have been a peaceful culture of fishermen, but in EUIV they were aggressive and ferocious. Like animals in need of taming, really.

And can you really call it aggression if they attack the colonists for taking their land? Since when does self defense, or the defense of one’s territory, become aggressive? Why, when brown people are doing it, of course!

(Speaking of which, look at how Native Americans are actually pictured here. That doesn’t strike anyone else as a bit…broad? A bit caricatured? A bit…say it with me now…racist?)

There are some indigenous cultures that are granted the dignity of being represented as actual political actors. The Creek, the Iroquois, and so on. The problem is that these countries are superficially defined, and intentionally limited. Cultures with the “new world” technology group accrue technology at a snail’s pace, and are much slower to gather resources.

This means that no matter what you do, by the time the Europeans show up, you’re facing an apocalyptic war for survival that you can’t hope to win.

While there is some effort to reflect a different culture, mainly in the names of your national leaders and the graphics used to represent the buildings in your provinces, this is clearly a halfhearted effort. For example, the advisers that you hire to gain extra administrative, diplomatic, or military resources for example are all Europeans, no matter what culture you are playing as.

Some limitations that make a bit of sense in the European setting, like the inability to explore uncharted territory without first developing your technology base, only serve to lock Native American factions into their starting area. While European cultures are allowed to expand or contract their borders in gleeful disregard of historical fact, Native American cultures are chained to a rough approximation of where they historically existed.

The national decisions and missions available for a player to select are greatly reduced as well, which means that most countries that don’t border the Mediterranean are going to be very stale and generic compared to, for example, the intrigues of the Holy Roman Empire.

And it’s hard to believe that this isn’t intentional. It’s hard to believe that the existence of the Huron and the Iroquois aren’t only there for the European player’s benefit. Having some cultures represented by countries with definable borders and a diplomacy screen allows players who are playing a European power to simulate the diplomatic relations that some colonial powers had with some of the Native Americans.

I’m pretty sure that’s the only reason why some Native Americans are given “European-style” countries in this game at all. The problem with this game is not that you can colonize the New World; the problem is that this game only includes the New World so that it can be colonized.

A pretty good piece of evidence for this theory is how trade is handled in EUIV. Trade, in Europa Universalis IV, is a one-way prospect. A province creates trade power, and that trade power is pushed up along a linear path, where it is eventually collected either at your capital or by a merchant you’ve sent to collect it.

There is no way for trade to flow “backwards,” which means it is impossible for cultures at the “upstream” end of a trade network to benefit from it. In this game, trade is only for extracting wealth from places that aren’t Europe. I haven’t played much with trying to colonize Africa. Not after I saw one of the provinces had as its trade good “slaves” with a picture of a big iron ball and chain.

For a game about creating alternate histories, Europa Universalis IV has some very firm opinions about what should happen to the peoples living in the parts of the world that aren’t Europe. None of them good. I don’t mean to say that it endorses genocide, merely that it doesn’t question it. The game accepts it as natural, inevitable, and unworthy of comment.

There’s plenty of winking humor in how it treats the various atrocities that happened in Europe during this time, so I know they are aware of how things were horrible for many Europeans during that era. But there’s no clues to indicate that they really understand the horrors of colonization, as well.

Everyone knows that religious wars and inquisitions and violently repressing your own people is wrong. But not everybody agrees that colonizing other nations is wrong, and that makes all the difference. It’s like how in Grand Theft Auto players can have a grand old time perpetrating mass murder on the streets of Liberty City, but many would have problems with a rape mini-game. We all agree murder is wrong, but rape is something people make excuses for.

We all agree that dictatorships are wrong, but colonization is something we make excuses for.

It’s an unsettled question. It’s a moral problem we have not yet agreed on an answer to. The distancing assumptions that allow us to vicariously enjoy the chaos of a 5-star rampage in downtown Los Santos are not available. Or, perhaps the assumptions are too available; perhaps the game relies on the assumption that moral question would never be asked.

And so for those of us who are aware of the question, and who care about it, it’s not a very exciting premise for a game.

It’s a fun game. A masterful game. A work of passion and talent. But I can’t enjoy it without reservations or recommend it without caveats. The moment you begin your colonization effort, the game takes a dark and troubling turn. It never really recovers from that. Now, if you don’t mind, I’ll be over here, attempting to unify the Holy Roman Empire into the modern state of Germany. And not doing any colonization.

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There are 168 comments

  1. Sovetskysoyuz

    Something that has been overlooked in all the sound and fury here…
    If you import a Sunset Invasion save from CK2, the Aztec and Inca will have all the unique treatment you could ask for (since Sunset Invasion posits a hypothetical reality of technological parity).

  2. Mojrim

    While you have done a fine job of analyzing what is in EUIV it seems you are making projections based on a false notion of what was in the New World at the time. Simply put, it was never possible for the Americas to develop the food sources needed to create the population density that drove Eurasian political development. With a couple notable (and tragically limited) examples that degree of complexity, with taxation, standing armies, and specialized political advisors was literally never going to happen. Absent turning it into a fantasy game there is no way for the Aztecs to invade Europe. The one-way technological and organizational imbalance made treating the locals as terrain obstacles inevitable.

  3. dudre

    Considering the fact that slavery is not something that existed just because Europeans made it exist I don’t see why having slaves as a trade good is oh so wrong. Slavery existed because local warlords captured the warriors and tribesmen of their enemies. They then traded these captives, or slaves, among their allies, themselves or sometimes to outside powers like Europeans or Muslim states. If these people didn’t voluntarily sell off their own captives slavery would not have existed at all. There is no possible way that Europeans would have single handedly, and without heavy casualties of their own, invaded Africa and captured thousands upon thousands of Africans before advanced technology and medicine came along (think 1850 and onward). Slaves would have existed no matter what the Europeans thought to do with them because it was a lucrative business nonetheless. In fact slavery has existed for about as long as civilization itself has.

    Furthermore, the reason for the Americas being largely empty is because of the fact that for most of the period there simply didn’t exist states in those areas in the way that states and nations are represented in the EU series. It would not make sense for an Inuit state or nation to exist in northern Canada or Greenland because there simply was no such thing. It wouldn’t make sense for a nomadic north American people to be represented with a state because there was no such thing. Loose confederations or some such thing, yes. Not something that ran along the same lines as the Spanish empire or the Japanese shogunate or any other nation that makes more sense to include in a game that’s about actual nations with bureaucracies and kings and what have you. The American states that were similar to other nations in the world (the Aztecs and other cultures of Central America and the Incans of the Andes) are included because they can be represented in a somewhat realistic way, even though they are, perhaps, unfairly disadvantaged (though their technology really wasn’t up to par with Europeans or other old world nations at all). I would go so far as to say there simply shouldn’t be any north American states at all.

    Before you think to write an article such as this at least make sure you have a clue what you’re talking about. It’s not just about being “politically correct” when you’re making a game such as this, it’s about closely resembling history while allowing for some wiggle room to exist. If they didn’t represent things such as slaves they would lack something that truly defined the era the game is about, and that’s without saying anything about the fact that slaves really only play a very minor role in the game as it is (the system should ideally be expanded).

    1. A2theK

      A lot of implausible, unrealistic and ahistorical opportunities for expansion exist for European powers are available in the game. However inflicting the indigenous cultures with same system of colonization and exploration in effect denies them anything that even resembles those opportunities, even a variation that keeps them effectively stunted until the appearance of Western powers with their much more advanced and devastating technologies.

      Treating slavery as just another trade good is also doing the notion a great deal of injustice. True it may have been practiced by African cultures at the time, a reality that would have otherwise made the industrial scale use of African descended slaves in the American colonies an implausible joke. In reality even at the times portrayed in the game it was a matter of growing controversy – the documented history of the abolition movements goes back to the third century BC, a number of European states banned the trade of slavery prior to the games start-date including a Papal banning of slave taking in the Canary Islands a decade before the game starts. For the European based powers, mostly explicitly Catholic, that are the unabashed focus of the game to treat slaves as just another commodity is a repudiation of history regardless of what the practices of the African nations were historically.

      Even the one way trade patterns of the game lock the world into a very predatory worldview. While it’s possible to platy the game in a manner that allows you to portray an anachronistically enlightened world power or elsewhere – expansion through consent and defensive wars exclusively, the trade cycle is predicated on some troubling assumptions.

      In fact the game is built on some very dicey moral assumptions. It may not possible, or even desirable, to create a game like EU4 with modern attitudes as the starting point, but the discussion of the more problematic assumption underlying the game is a worthwhile one. Not only does it potentially lead to better and more thoroughly thought out games in the future, it contributes to the ongoing societal discussion on issues that while many of us prefer to ignore as being dead history do continue to shape the way the world functions on a practical level.

      I believe the author’s GTA analogy to be on the money. Only a very isolated minority don’t see the wholesale carnage a player can inflict during play as being beyond the pale, but who hasn’t gone on an in-game rampage because a random bystander yelled something at them as they drove like a lunatic? In the latest installment, which I’ve played the only scene in the whole game that bothered me was the torture scene. Assuming you haven’t been in a coma for the last 13 years you’re probably aware of how controversial a topic torture has been, and how far we are from reaching a cultural consensus on the morality of using torture as a tool of interrogation.

      Armed robbery? Drug dealing? Kidnapping? Random violence against strangers for imagined slights? Never bothered me ingame. Torture, i.e. the only criminal act presented in game that has a significant advocacy in real life? My reaction was visceral – it’s the only scene in any of the games I play through as fast as possible so that I don’t have to think about it again until next time I replay it.

  4. Darthtatersalad

    I have to disagree because if I remember correctly if you play as a native American you have the option to westernize your technology when the Europeans come so rather than it being impossible it is really more like a new layer of difficulty.

  5. dariusstewart

    April has some really good insights here. I don’t think she is wholly correct, and her conclusions are somewhat misguided, but the fact remains that EU IV fails to depict genocide. However, we have to remember that EU IV is based on an old French board game – it was not originally intended to be a world simulation, but rather a European one. So, in that light, many of the assumptions that the game makes are simply made from a European perspective in that time period.

    There certainly could be some improvements made in the realm of accurate depiction of non-European cultures and better handling of issues like slavery and genocide, but one team of developers cannot be expected to calculate, quantify, and program an entire world of cultures, religions, ideas, and historical events into one happy platform that doesn’t offend anyone.

    The bottom line is history happened the way it did and it was very offensive and unfair. Technological and economic disparity, genocide, and slavery did (and do) exist.

    If you want the (EU IV) world to be fair, make a Mod (I think there is one in progress).

  6. anon eu4 player

    Very interesting and insightful (albeit unevenly). I found the title sufficiently provocative (to which point I will return) that I read your whole article. I was taken particularly by four points:

    1. “It’s an unsettled question. It’s a moral problem we have not yet agreed on an answer to.”. Indeed (which also applies generally to gaming and life in general).

    2. “Or, perhaps the assumptions are too available; perhaps the game relies on the assumption that moral question would never be asked.” I would have to dissent: there are constant debates raging on the game fora about precisely such issues. In fairness I don’t know how many players never go on the fora to find out; and perhaps you are hinting at an “educational” issue?

    3. “The moment you begin your colonization effort, the game takes a dark and troubling turn. It never really recovers from that”. That is not my experience. However, that may be an immersion issue. Perhaps for those that play the game as a self-aware “role-player” that is the result. And again there may be a hidden educational issue, including whether and in what way a game should educate. On that note (it seems to me, whether intended or otherwise) the game mechanics contingently seem to discourage genocide even by power-gamers. But, reverting to 1 and 2, I am unsure if that is even a relevant point.

    4. The title of the article I would assume is deliberately unfair. Otherwise I would rate it as not up to the insightful standard of the article or its author generally: simply because it easily might be construed as accusing the game, or those that play the game, of committing the naturalistic fallacy. I cannot really see the case as made out on either of those alternatives. But perhaps you were taking journalistic licence, very successfully?

  7. Ben

    This has to be the funniest article I’ve ever read. +1 for holier then thou. Slavery has long existed and in fact those poor natives and Africans you are bawling over were some of the biggest culprits. The sun never set on the British Empire, stop acting like the power of Europe was some lucky roll of the dice. By the starting date of this game the inevitability of Europes power is locked into history, deal with it. If this was Civilization I could understand your whining but it isn’t.

    Let’s all join hands and be historical revisionists together. Because…ewwwww bad stuff happened back there which I don’t like.

  8. Jose

    This is a terrible article and I’m a historian of people who were ruthlessly exploited by Europeans.

  9. Charles

    I can live with the depiction of natives in “uncolonized” provinces, given the inclusion of nations like the Creek and Iroquois. Europe is so tightly packed not because of racial superiority, but because of condensed historical competition for resources and space. Europe was the destination for thousands of migrations over time and the result is a hotly-disputed, carefully-partitioned land of nations that HAVE to be dynamic and aggressive in resource exploitation to survive. The same cannot be said of vast, empty American plains or the more desolate regions elsewhere in the world. Sure, something like the Iroquoi Nation deserves a slot as a genuinely civilized group of human beings, but it wouldn’t be the same if you looked at every small nomadic clan. At that point the complete lack of resources and advancement would be justified for them.

    What DOES bother me is how they handle the aftermath of colonists-meet-natives. In the EU series, when your colony reaches full province status by reaching a certain population mark (this was 1,000 in EU3), the colony instantly absorbs all remaining native population into the culture of the colonists – even if they still outnumber them. Similarly, and I don’t know if this is the case in EU4, conquering a province of a native nation and then converting it to your religion automatically converted the culture as well, as though overnight the Huron tribe sprouted wigs and painted their flesh palor and started shouting Hail, Mary!

    There are mods in place that address the tech disparity between cultures, though again I can agree with slowed innovation until people are exposed to foreign ideas, be they European or otherwise. Necessity and adversity breed advancement faster than peace and prosperity. But I’d love it if Paradox would add a little more complexity to the colonization process.

    …The notion that all advisors and specialists you hire are European is new to me, though. Having played EU3, I can attest that advisors you commissioned internally always had names relevant to your culture, including the native american factions. It’s just that the global hiring market for advisors generally remained European unless you flooded it with your own, since those were the factions with the money and culture points built up to generate them beyond their own immediate use. You could save up culture as Japan and commission say, Tori Odanawa the genius statesman, but until then you could hire the less impressive Hans van Glyck once you had contact with Dutch (and thus access to their pool of excess advisors-for-hire).

    1. Charles

      As for this comment:
      “(Yes, white Americans, you ARE the beneficiaries of genocide. Get used to it.)”

      Just so. But that does not make every white American guilty of it, nor obliged to feel personal guilt or pay modern reparation for it. That is a distinction too often lost in translation.

  10. Hanson

    You are the reason why games should not be played by women, ever. Paradox are one of the few developers who actually produce original and exciting games which don’t pander to a majority which has no real interest in anything, other than making sure the games are as uncreative, moronically pc and terrible as possible. If you want some white genocide game then go fund it yourself with your other tumblr mates. MUH VAGINA.

    1. Seymion

      You have got to be the biggest ass on this forum, games are not exclusive to men and I have had just as much fun playing with women as I’ve had with men. I don’t know where you reached the conclusion that just because she is female she is part of “a majority which has no real interest in anything, other than making sure the games are as uncreative, moronically pc and terrible as possible.” as I understood the article she actually enjoyed the game quite a lot she just diddn’t fin the interpretation of colonization fair which it isn’t, I disagree with how she think it should be fixed but you are the biggest tool if you want to deny a medium that you, (and I for that matter) love so much to half the world just because they form an opinion and have a vagina.

  11. drlivingstonipresume

    I honestly think they model colonization quite well. The writers desire for some kind of political correctness in the game is ludicrous. This might come as a shock but, the European colonization of North America was not a fair fight and quite frankly the Europeans did not care and had little reason to care about the natives. The match was fixed long before EUIV kicks off and the game models that inequity quite well.

    I recommend you lose the rose tented glasses and modern ideas of political correctness if you have any intention of seriously partaking in a simulation of that era.

    1. Seymion

      Charled voices my opinion fairly well with his “aftermath” problem of the colonization. But yeah it wasn’t a fair fight.

    1. anon

      4! Constructive variants but:
      women, I hate god
      I hate god women, [or is that goddesses?]
      god women hate I
      misogynists god hate I
      women god hate I
      Shrek.I But adore

  12. The Canadian

    This is the worst article I’ve read all year. The writer is inaccurate in her understanding of history and colonialism, and is obviously extremely biased. She assumes that the Americas were covered in civilized nations, and that the native Americans were civilized. They were not. The article also assumes that the colonists colonizing the Americas would butcher and kill the natives. Sometimes they were killed, just as other Europeans were killed if they interfered with the territory of another nation. The writer of this article is obviously an ultra-liberal progressive that knows nothing of history.

    1. Kaaz

      Im glad I read this article because the comments show me that most people still have a brain and don’t buy into this crap. This article is the same whiny revisionist history that is showing up all over the place, luckily most people who know anything about history reject it. The idea that the Indians were these wonderful peaceful people and then the big bad Europeans came over and only because they were so mean did they decide to colonize is such a childish farce it makes my head spin. In the end, would it have been better if a few million people lived in a stone age culture in North America rather than 350+ Million people who live a first-world quality of life? Absolutely not. Thank you The Canadian, and most of the other readers here, for not being bleeding heart fools like the author.

    2. kkvictoria

      I’m actually writing a paper on the topic of the systemic violence inherent in colonization efforts, and the recorded history regarding these efforts.

      I’m going to cite your article because it’s really rather nuanced with how you perceive Europa’s pitfalls.

      Also these comments defending colonialism reflects a complete misunderstanding of the intentionally poorly cultivated records regarding colonization efforts.

      Please, don’t try to make the argument that the Native Americans would never come up with European standards of ‘Culture’ like you know anything about that at all. Not only are you dealing in what-ifs, but you’re doing it poorly.

      Not only that, but you’re revealing your hands: You do not understand history beyond your armchair.

      -So, thanks for this brilliant article.

  13. Splashtop

    You know what? Just stop it. You would not exist had it not been for colonialism. Was it wrong? Yeah, but I guarantee you are of mixed ancestry, which had the ability to come together due to mass immigration to the Americas. Colonialism let you exist.

    Next, I hate how people say all this stuff about how the Native Americans were great people and blah blah blah. Some of them were, but they committed genocide on a larger scale than the Europeans up to that point. Look at the Aztecs, they totally f*cked over Central America.

    And wars were just as common between them as between Europeans. Think of it this way – Europeans were vicious, but didn’t show it. The Native Americans displayed it (except for some peaceful tribes, who I am not attacking in this post.) In my view, if they had been as advanced as the Europeans, they still would’ve been conquered. The European mindset at this time was not Social Darwinism – it was conquering for a profit. And if another European nation had been this weak, they would’ve been conquered too.

    Race was not a factor until the 1700s. At the start of colonization, it was about money, power, and religion. Genocide, extinction, etc were not because of inferior race at the time, they were due to those three reasons. Stop bullish*ting.

  14. Nek

    >This means that no matter what you do, by the time the Europeans show up, you’re facing an apocalyptic war for survival that you can’t hope to win.

    git gud

  15. A2theK

    The colonizing mechanic as it stands in the game I purchased makes the native american factions effectively unplayable.

    Historical accuracy be damned, if they’re going to make a faction playable they should make them at least have a chance no matter how uphill the slog is.

    In future games I hope that indigenous factions have a different expansion mechanic than the European factions’ colonization process to reflect them subjugating and incorporating other communities into their own rather than the hamfisted colony mechanic that freezes them in time until their conquerors arrive to exterminate them for God, King and Country.

    As the writer noted it is a good and highly enjoyable game, but this is one aspect that disappoints.

  16. Colin

    I found this to be a wonderful article. It made some very excellent points. The way non-Europeans are portrayed in the game is truly shameful, especially in the Americas. The fact that the gameplay encourages and glorifies genocide makes it all the more disgusting. It’s good to see that some people recognize this, if only some of the people in the comments section could be

    That said, it seems that the recent “Conquest of Paradise” mod is a step in the right direction at least.

    Either way this was an excellent article, my compliments to the author.

    1. Seymion

      How is it glorified, the game has no goal, at no time does it force you or tell you to go colonize, it presents the option and let’s the player go nuts. Hell I wouldn’t even agree on the encouraging part, you can easily survive till the end of the game without ever colonizing just as the author chooses to do with her unification of germany.

    2. Nate

      What points? I agree colonization was a bit too much of a stream roll, instead of gradual, but that’s not a point worth as many words.

  17. The Great Discerner

    If anything I’m upset that you couldn’t do more atrocities, when you colonize an empty area, it becomes your culture, wouldn’t it be more historical if there were left over Indians in your province? therefore you could intermarry, convert, butcher them or be butchered by them like in history. seriously the colonial experience would be much more vibrant if you had to worry about the Indians in your midst going all tomahawk on Sunday and butchering people in their pews. Think about it, there could be decisions to move the Indian tribes into the mainland forcibly, you could make treaties with them, use them against your political enemies in wars and if civil wars were included that too. currently the culture system isn’t very intricate. For example modern day Mexicans are a mixture of Spanish and various central American tribes, The game doesn’t accurately model the intermarrying, if Mexico revolts late game, it gets the culture of its colonizer, but if it were accurate there would be a culture that is a Spanish-Aztec hybrid that forms during colonization. Also why can’t you do a Saint Bartholemy’s Day massacre if you have a Mixture of different religious sects? How come the plight of Jews from being confined to the ghettos of Europe, to our supreme overlords of finance isn’t portrayed? Also how come the game doesn’t represent the dislike that most Muslims have for Turks in this time period? If it were accurate The Turks would have inherently worse relations with fellow non-Turk Muslims. Also why doesn’t the game include the burning of witches and heretics? Also why doesn’t the game portray the fact that slave populations often create their own culture and violently revolt. Why doesn’t the game mirror represent the slave owning black Cajuns? Why doesn’t the game mirror the rampant alcoholism and laziness that is shown in American Indian populations over time? Clearly the capacity of this game for genocide is limited and should be expanded upon.

  18. anon

    You’re very wrong. It’s fundamentally wrong to try to commit atrocities in an empty area, the game rightly won’t permit it. Your “tomahawk on Sunday” scenario is already well represented if players are stupid enough to colonize without troops, or commit acts of genocide. By design genocide is extremely costly in the short term and economically disastrous in the long term: because cultural harmony is guaranteed, ultimately all you achieve is reduction of your tax base. Witches are in the game already, haven’t you noticed? Now if you want to get into burning witches on a more personal level, sure passing Witchcraft Acts is disappointingly trivial and I completely understand your frustration, we’ve all been there. But you’re still wrong, because if you want to stop fiddling while witches burn, if you really want to get out there and do them one-by-one to get experience points and build up your unique with accordingly, you’re really getting off-topic because EU4 is simply not that kind of game, do what I do and get yourself a one-person-burner, I recommend the unexpected Malleus Malifecarum 3: Spanish Inquisitor, where to win you have to burn every last witch infesting the Spanish Inquisition. As for the black slave-owners, you’re missing the point: it’s too narrow an issue to bother. For example, if you implemented that then you’d also have to factor in that for most of the time frame the majority of the slaves were white slaves, because they formed most of the colonists, so you either factor in all of that or don’t bother. Your deeply distasteful economic ghetto-to-overlord simulation proposal is also utterly wrong because even it were a plausible idea, it still couldn’t get going until the brilliant Rothschild insider trading maneuver on the day of the battle of Waterloo which is right at the end of the game period, and likewise even the great David Ricardo wasn’t a player until right at the end. Besides, if Paradox were foolish enough to adopt your proposal on that point, they might decide to go all PC about it and conceal the fact by adding, say, a Wealth of Nations module, which would not only be anachronistic for the same reasons, but also deeply un-PC and horrifically subversive. Remember: Adam Smith and Tom Paine both published their communistic rubbish in 1776, they’d both been trained by that hotbed of genocidal proto-marxist radicalism the Excise to undermine respectable anti-genocidal PC smugglers vital to the economy like John Hancock, and so between them they destroyed the ancien regime, the Paradox world in which genocide is punished, by creating the modern genocidal world. So please stop trying to destroy it. In summary: you’re wrong.

  19. Richard

    I agree with how unsettling the genocide aspect can be.
    However, I feel it should be pointed out that the game rewards you for not slaughtering natives. Sure, it is quicker and makes colonization easier. However, natives that survive once a colony becomes firmly under your nation’s control contribute significantly to the wealth and manpower of a province.

    Conquest of Paradise loads the New World with additional native nations, and really helps alleviate the problems you describe.

  20. Willzyx Garrett

    History is ugly. If you play a historical simulation, then whine about how it offends your delicate sensibilities, the problem isn’t with the game. The problem is your ignorance of history. Read a book, then try again.

    1. Bogmire

      Sadly this is a popular line of thought, “I dislike history so I’m going to interpret it in some ridiculous way that makes it suit my ideology better.” Its rampant on college campuses (I’m a history major and I have to slap my head sometimes reading my fellow student’s revisionist papers.) Luckily I think the problem exists with a minority of people, and most intelligent people see the stupidity of treating history in such a manor.

      Also, Grover Cleveland FTW.

  21. zimmah (@zimmah)

    The game is about how it was at that time, slaves were considered ‘normal’ way into the 19th century or so.

    One of the mayor sources of income from the america’s were the sugar plantations in Brazil, of course the labor had to be done by someone, and they collected slaves to work the sugar plantations from Africa, they literally just raided African villages, killed anyone they couldn’t use (either not co-operative enough, too weak, too old, or just because they couldn’t fit in the ship anymore). They stacked them up in ships so much that they quite had to sleep on top of each other because there was no room. And over half of them died during the trip.

    All of this is of course a horribly dark side of European history, as well of the genocide against the American natives (and the elitist nature most ‘Americans’ have nowadays, as if they’re the absolute rulers of the world, let’s face it though, all white Americans are basically just Europeans).

    Still, even though it’s a very bad thing to do, these things happened and shaped history significantly, there is no reason to exclude facts from the game. Especially not facts that matter in such a big way.

    By the way, the whole point of that time was to gain either money or power (or both), by whatever means necessary (even the [roman catholic] church was just a way to gain more money and power, the protestant church was mostly opposed to the corruption of the catholic church, which is also portrayed quite well in the game. At that time, the people didn’t know much about other cultures at all (remember, traveling outside your city was rare, traveling outside your country was almost unheard of, they knew almost nothing of other culture, and most people have never seen a black person in their live. and even if they saw one, they would always see them as inferior humans or possible not even human at all).

    General ideas around that time (note: i do not approve of any of these ideas, but they were basically the STANDARD back then, and sadly, some people still have such ideas):
    – Any culture other then mine, is savage/uncivilized
    – Any other religion or idea that conflicts with my religion is either pagan or heresy (or both)
    – The people of my culture are superior in every way, other people are either not human, or lesser beings
    – Spreading our superior culture (even if by force) is only helping the poor uncivilized people
    – If you can force ‘trade’ in your favor by having better weapons and an army covering you, it’s perfectly fine to trade gold for trash. (Those uncivilized savages don’t have any use for gold anyway).

  22. Jonathan

    Some good points about the ethics of colonisation. From the game playing side too the weakness of the coverage of Native American tribes makes it hard to imagine reproducing some nice storytelling in the game – it would be great to play a scenario based on Kim Stanley-Robinson’s book “the years of rice and salt”. Europe decimated by a particularly virulent Black Death and the Arab states move in to fill the gap. Evolves to an uneasy global balance between Native American tribes + Muslim world versus China and the East. Probably unfair to ask for the game to capture that level of flexibility, but would be fun to upend expectations.

  23. Joel Harrington

    Wow. There are a lot of you who haven’t come to terms with your culture’s colonial past. This article was well-written, reflective, and right on in a lot of areas. EU4 did gloss over the genocide of the Americas as well as underplay the political, cultural, and organizational capacity of Native Americans. Some of the people leaving comments here clearly cannot handle the reality of our history (btw, white american here). I too wish that a game designed to foster alternative histories provided more tools for colonized people to change their history. The tech penalty is brutal and the author is right – it is impossible to survive as one of the indigenous cultures of the Americas without mods or cheats codes.
    On the flip side though, with UE4 being moddable and with the console commands, you can actually create a scenario where the Iroquois fight back the British and French and spread their Empire from sea to shinning sea. I did it and it was awesome. The worst thing EU4 did was to not bother designed advisor portraits to reflect the non-European cultures. It broke my immersion every time I opened the advisor screen. The recent release of Conquest of Paradise fixed that, as well as many other things to give the colonized world a bit of an edge.

  24. luckystriker

    This is a really old thread, and this is a really long post. But for what it’s worth, here is another perspective on what happened in the late 15th and early 16th century.

    noun: genocide; plural noun: genocides
    1. The deliberate killing of a large group of people, esp. those of a particular ethnic group or nation.

    To claim that the European conquest of the New World was genocide shows a lack of understanding of events in those critical, early years of contact. Native American populations collapsed on contact with Europeans not because of superior tech, but simply to Old World diseases to which they had no resistance. This cataclysmic event was also entirely unforeseen and not understood by the Europeans themselves. Disease transmission also moved much faster than the conquistadors so that as they advanced, resistance weakened. I quote from wikipedia, “The American researcher HF Dobyns claimed that 95% of the total population of the Americas died in the first 130 years [upon contact with Europeans], and that 90% of the population of the Inca Empire died in epidemics. Cook and Borak of the University of California at Berkeley believe that the population in Mexico declined from 25.2 million in 1518 to 700 thousand people in 1623, less than 3% of the original population.”

    If EUIV is truly a “genocide simulator”, events would unfold as follows.
    – Europeans come into contact with Native American culture groups
    – Population Collapse event: All Native American cultural groups lose 1% population per year, with an equivalent reduction in monarch points and tax income, capping out at -95% reduction

    It is undeniable, however, that the European tech advantage was significant (primarily, horses and steel) and achieved some spectacular results. For example, at the “battle” of Cajamarca, generally accepted as the date when then Incan Empire fell, around 150 Spaniards led by Francisco Pizarro captured the Incan emperor and slaughtered thousands of his lightly armed attendants. But notice how few Europeans there were. The Incan Empire could not have possibly fallen to the Spanish if it hadn’t already been significantly weakened by disease.

    As for the actual game itself, the Conquest of Paradise DLC fixes a lot of the gameplay issues from the New World perspective. It is now possible to create a robust nation for oneself, one large enough to withstand the early onslaught of conquistadors. Of course, that nation still has to “westernize” and then follow traditional European methods of nation building. If this improvement fails to soothe sensibilities, I suggest that he or she have a go at something purely fictional instead, like Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri.

    Thank you for reading.

  25. Viorel Valcu

    I’ve read a lot of negative reviews to the article, but I want to give credit to the author and contradict most of the arguments against what was stated.
    First of all indigenous people could have been given a better description. For entities to underdeveloped to be considered state-like formations it would have been normal to at least fill in some words to describe the tribes „known to have lived on this territory”.
    Second of all – the argument about historical accuracy and the „nonsense” of european-like states in America is not fully rational. Surely the Americas where underdeveloped, but Europa Universalis has the element of cultural/technological fastened development due to sharing borders with a more advanced nation and that could have happened to underdeveloped nations/tribes once they would have had an european nation on their borders. I might be a little inaccurate but there are historical proofs of nations in that time period which did not come under european colonial rule (remained „independent”) and managed to eliminate the development gap: China, Japan, Siam etc. In the same time even tribal organizations in North America started to consume European („modern”) goods, and even use modern weapons but due to lack of sufficient political organization – did not make a real challenge for the Europeans/US.
    And finally if the „leaders” (social tendencies) of the indigenous population did not feel the need for permanent technological advancement, since they lived in „harmony with nature”, an Europa Universalis Player which WANTS to advance makes it normal even for Historical accuracy, to create the premises for a nation to advance, like for example when Japan understood the need to retechnologize itself and invited FOREIGN (european) experts, or they contracted foreign companies to acquire technology. So I repeat – the fact that the Indigenous population had other understanding of life, does not mean that when they encountered a new civilization they wouldn’t refuse to change their lifestyle if they would understand the need to Reform – and that would have required only ONE leader with popular support. By the way, if not for Tsar Peter, Russia would have been developed as China, but in this game they ignore the massive effort done, and position it automatically as a „nation accessing the technologies” while the truth is they had a massive opposition for such a change, yet one leader did it.
    So April I support you :)

  26. apogean

    This is why you get good enough that you can unify North America as the Iroquois and sail east to subjugate the heathen Europeans.

    1. Aðalsteinn Arnason

      Exactly! As I said in my post, you are not forced to play as any one nation, or to even colonize at all! I once conquered a large part of Europe as China. This tirade against EU4 is childish and ridiculous! What do people expect now? To ban this game? Do people not know that there were THREE EU games before this? Why is it that only now people are getting pissed off? Society is becoming so weak footed. It’s a game FFS. Should we ban all games and movies that portray war? Some of us use games like this to vent negative emotions. Better in a virtual world than in real life I say.

      1. anon

        Rings a bell with me. In EU4 I’ve trashed Western Europe with both the Turks and Muscovy. I’m currently embarked on trashing Western Europe with the Ming Dynasty in China (done it before, but only in EU3, I hear it’s harder now). And from this blog I’ve become curious about trashing Western Europe with native “new” world tribes (naturally I don’t use the word America because that’s Hispanicist): I’ve heard Cherokee is least difficult for tribal game novices, so I guess that can be my next game. You may have started a trend…

  27. Michael Moran

    I find it amusing that you treat the colonization with such sensitivity but comment on how your filling mortars with peasants bones and don’t even question it. I think you’re european wars are equally as questionable.

    1. Adam Kickmaier

      I’d argue that in the European wars everyone knew the score. It was horrifying, but it as a general trend everyone knew what was going on, they were between groups competing for the same resources and it wasn’t so thoroughly and depressingly one-sided. It was viable to rationalize the atrocities were done because of some ancient slight, or because if we didn’t do it to them they’d do it to us eventually. With colonization the only viable rationalization is that the indigenous population are subhuman, and they either don’t feel it the way we would, or it’s for their own good.

      Of course, there’s also the possibility that a certain amount of levity was employed to show that the author enjoyed the game up until the point of colonization. I suggestion I find probable because I didn’t notice the option to fill mortars with peasant bones.

  28. Michael Moran

    Murder is murder, killing hundreds of thousands of European peasants and not blinking an eye but having a genuine moral objection to killing (you can actually co-operate with the natives too btw) about 1000 natives. Whether it was a fair fight or not doesn’t lessen the atrocity, yes the slaughter of native Americans was a horrifying genocide but so was the thirty years war which Austria takes part in. (50% of the German populace die in that war)

    1. Seymion

      50% percent of the german popu… WHAT??!!
      Are you nuts, do you have any idea how many that actually is? I can go with 50% of able bodied men in the military age but what you’re wating there is kinda like going “whoops only females left and maybe some 4-5000 men”

  29. Aðalsteinn Arnason

    It’s called.. a.. GAME. G. A. M. E. And if you played Assassin’s Creed 3, you play as a Native American killing Whites for the most part. Was that ever criticized? NO! I took no offense at having to play as someone of another race killing people of my own kind. In fact I play as NA tribes on EU 4 quite often. Your high horse has weak legs my friend. You don’t have to colonize if you don’t want to in this game. It does not force you to do anything that your overly sensitive conscience disagrees with. I think it’s pathetic that you take a game so seriously. You are worse than my Christian parents were growing up.

  30. anon

    “You are worse than my Christian parents were growing up”

    Hey there. Cool it. Remember you yourself said “It’s called.. a.. GAME”.

    Peace, man… or is that war and peace, man ;)

  31. Erick Torres

    I agree with the poster about all this, and you even marked some things which I had not given a thought to.

    I enjoy this game a lot, but something which I really dislike is the technologies groups, and that all of them are compared to Western, which is the default cost, and all the rest are penalized.

    To me this is a very ignorant mechanic specially when you talk about the Asian nations. Asian nations were on par to Europe for a long time. If Asians armies could had been next to Europe, they would have been able to wipe out Europe because they were more, their weapons were better, and their strategies were just as good as European strategies. Just look at all the different weapons Koreans invented. Just investigate how quickly the Japanese adapted their own muskets and how well they learned to use them. And the Chinese at one time had the best navy in the whole world, but it was disbanded because one Emperor decided it had no use. Culturally speaking Asia from the 13 to 16th century was superior to Europe.

    Muslims paved the way to the Enlightenment because while in Europe the Catholic church was burning the Classic Roman and Greek books, the Muslims translated them to Arab, Turkish, etc, and then those were translated back to modern Greek and other vulgar languages in order to gain that Classical knowledge.

    Seriously, if I could mod the game, I would remove those tech penalties which make no sense. However, as those who have played the game know: All technology cost a little bit more as time passes. You won’t always pay 600 ruler points, as time passes you will pay a little more. Those of the Western group would see their technology costs rise very little, while other groups would see it rise faster. So in the end those of the Western group would actually start to get an advantage but only near end game. There would be still be a reason to westernize: simply because their military units are better. And that would be more historically accurate since Europe didn’t really start to be more advanced than the Muslims or Asians until the 16th century.

    I have some other ideas to deal with the considered primitive groups (Americans and Sub-Sahara), but I think that would make my post twice as long…

  32. that one guy

    I don’t know what you guys are talking about, I’ve dominated North America pre-conquest of paradise with the iroquois. Also, if you’ll notice, when natives aren’t ‘aggressive’ that literally means they are friendly and are willing to work with you. Truth be told, the game includes the perfect amount of First nations countries as those were the first nations civilizations that were actually organized groups of people that weren’t just tribes of 500 roaming the plains occasionally beating eachother up with sticks for honour and glory (this was told to me by a first nation so dont even start with me). I have no issues with the tech groups as it’s a completely accurate reperesentation of what happened, and I havent once experienced a game that was perfectly historical unless i got involved, the point of the game is to let history roll on with a couple of twists and to let the player break through a tough barrier of history, hell, try taking 3 provinces in central Europe at once and the whole world will want to kill you. The fact of the matter is, the game is being ‘told’ if you will, from a European standpoint at the time. You honestly think the European powers gave a shit about First Nations? No! they were all in it for the money and power, the first nations were a minor inconvenience and the game represents them as such. Sure the actual civilizations have diplomacy and all the other European jazz, you can strike deals with them if you believe they are worth your time, just like how the Europeans did. Ask them for you to fight you’re colonial war, in return you’ll give em guns (protectorate). Truth be told, this game doesnt go that far in the horrors of colonization, it’s a very basic, kill em with our tech or try to be nice about taking some land (see The Numbered Treaties). Also, trade CAN and will be transferred upstream. Why should the game not represent colonization for what it was? In fact I dont think it does justice to how easy it was for Europeans to completely dominate America, I mean c’mon, you can’t ‘send a gift’ of smallpox blankets to kill off whole tribes to vacate their land. But this is because they wanted it to be possible for the first nations to be playable, and they are, case and point, I rule over all of North America and have my own colonies in South America and Africa as the Iroquois, there is maybe only 1 province thats owned by the Europeans. The European powers feel threatened by me, hell, I could take on Spain AND Russia at the same time!

  33. Nate

    What a complete lack of historical knowledge this pompous progressive has of history. There were monarchs in North America. There was “empty land”, a small portion of which was sold to the Dutch and was comprised of marshy woodlands, and became New York City. The natives did destroy their own land, they were not the perfect stewards of the land as progressives try to paint them as, there were large areas of clear cut forests before the Europeans ever arrived. Hell, the natives were bashing the absolute crap out of each other, stealing wives from other tribes, had slavery…
    If you’d have read anything on ancient trading you would know why the lines are where they are and why they don’t go “backwards”, they are based on prevailing winds that had been around for millennia. The land routes were the most used throughout history, you can see the Silk Road, Amber route, and the Spice route mapped out in this, and they had existed far before EU4’s timeline or CK2 for that matter.
    As for the inevitability of European dominance, how about a simple equation: Smallest continent(small states)+technological advances+competition for those scarce resources=a better opportunity for dominance than almost any other at EU4’s time. Look at most maps and you see sprawling empires and great centralization a this time except in Europe.
    PS: there’s no “inevitability” to it, except of course that Europeans would begin exploring the world due to the Ottoman’s blockade and monopolization of trans-Eurasia trade. Just get better and play as China or Japan and dominate while changing the tides of history.

  34. John Shepard

    americans, french, british, japanse city states, greece etc etc, every nation today was built on the ruins of an old one get over your guilt given you didn’t do any of those things. Build a bridge and get over it.

  35. selphyve (@SephVe)

    Great article. Exactly my opinion of the game when playing it. The way that native cultures were represented was laughably racist and euro-centric.

    Look at all the butt hurt white, male neckbeards crying in the comment section. “How dare you ruin my perfect white supremacist fantasy game!”. “But.. but Africa had slaves too..”. Completely missing the point, probably intentionally, like good racists. Its not about having genocide or slavery or ruthless expansionism. Its about White Washing it all.

  36. Foxd1e

    Racist and [b]euro-centric[/b] hmm I wonder why that is, oh yeah because the dev’s are from Sweden. And racism is in the eye of the beholder and based on stereotypes that are offensive. We each have a culture, most only have the good fortune to know our own culture well, and one or two others if we are lucky. The point being the things we are taught and the images we are shown about other cultures could be racist, but that is impossible for us to know unless we question someone of that culture every time we make a remark about that culture. What makes claims of racism even more confusing is other cultures throwing in their 2 cents about what constitutes as racist to the offended. It’s also likely the offender did not mean to be racist, but instead was trying to represent the culture in that era as best they knew. We are too quick to assume we know everyone else’s mind.

  37. Chris Johnson

    Never heard of this website before, and judging by the fact that this godawful whinepiece is on the ‘Best of 2013′ list i would say i wont find anything of any value at all on this entire site.

  38. Squirrelloid

    While the author’s thesis is relevant, her grasp of history is poor.

    But the game does royally fail in the pre-1507ish (approximately) starts. As previous commenters have noted, smallpox wiped out the native peoples before Europeans ever got to them. So stronger more compactly settled Americas? Definitely historical. But you should have a population collapse as soon as an explorer makes contact. Of course, we don’t even know what many of these cultures were – especially in North America. The area that would become the United States was so sparsely settled that the smallpox epidemic cleared large areas of land and (likely) destroyed the Mississippian mound builder civilization. (The Muskogee might be their descendants). There really was plenty of land for the natives to cede to the British settlers, at least at first, and a careful examination of history would show that conflicts with native peoples increased as land demands by the Europeans increased, but early there was frequently cooperation and trade. (This would be a recurring theme in US westward expansion).

    Anyway, you would have to *imagine* the population and cultural affinities of North America before this point, because they didn’t leave written records, and smallpox ensured we never got to see the ‘undisturbed’ state of everything north of the Aztecs. (And really not even anything south of there, but while those populations collapsed it wasn’t bad enough to collapse the states before Europeans caused it instead). So the fact that North America in particular is egregiously poorly represented is because of a lack of data. But we know some of it is definitely wrong. Even after the US won its War of Independence, native groups were warring and land was changing hands. That the game takes the ‘big name’ native groups and puts them in the places white people historically encountered them is unfortunate.

    It is kind of disappointing that the Mezoamerican and South American native peoples which don’t have big name recognition (Inca, Maya, Aztec) are completely absent. The north coast of South America had centralized governments ruled by chieftains who were effectively monarchs, and were well supplied with gold and silver. But because they don’t have the name recognition of, say, the Incas, they don’t rate at all, even though they were more significant political groups than any of the North American tribal federations. Given the game’s assumptions about what qualifies as ‘uncolonized’, the only parts of South America that should be available for non-conquest colonization are the areas of modern Argentina and Chile (which of course had tribal groups, but no real political centralization or organization).

    Which brings us to the second major historical shortcoming of the game. The colonial process of the game is closely modeled on the North American, especially British, experience. That the land was effectively open makes sense in that context, there was space, and the natives weren’t enslaved – there was too much open land for them to just move away and not enough political centralization to conquer a whole people in the same way the rigid hierarchical societies of Central and South America were conquered. (Again, smallpox, but even before that North America had low population densities). This is a really terrible model of Central and South American colonization.

    (I can’t comment intelligently on African colonization, so I won’t, but they probably got that wrong too).

    The Spanish/Portugese conquest and colonization of the Americas involved finding populous hierarchical societies, capturing their ruler, and extorting the society for all its wealth for his return. Then, when they couldn’t meet the ridiculous demands of the conquistadors, the population was forced, wholesale, into slavery (pretty much) to work gold and silver mines and plantations. African slavery in the Americas was both subsequent to native slavery, and an attempt to create a similar economic and political system with imported labor to make up for local shortages. (African slavery in the Americas is primarily a Caribbean and North American phenomena – the places where population densities were too low for hierarchical societies, and/or where smallpox eradicated the natives almost entirely – there are pretty much no surviving descendants of Caribbean natives because of smallpox).

    So while earlier commenters are correct insofar as the roots of African slavery go back to the millennia old slave trade in Africa itself, the demand for African slaves and the economic incentives to ship them half a world away to work plantations has its roots in Spanish/Portugese subjugation of the more populous native peoples in the south.

    As an amusing anecdote on how strong this tendency was among Spanish colonies, the Rio de la Plata estuary (whence modern day Buenos Aires) was initially colonized fairly early because, unlike northern South America, it’s climate was familiar to the colonists. But there was no populous hierarchical native group to dominate and press into slave labor. (The local natives were tribal, had plenty of space to move away from the colonists, and no central political authority or traditions which made it easy to capture the entire society). The colony was abandoned as not viable, because the colonists didn’t want to work the fields themselves. It’s of course an important city today, and was successfully colonized later, but the initial attempt failed because of how the Spanish expected colonization to go.

    Anyway, the point here is that the game doesn’t model this at all. Not only has it removed many of these populous natives from the map entirely, but there is no slave society ruled over by colonial overlords with the accompanying economic and political consequences. Even for those few with enough name recognition to show up as political entities, you take their territory and they become regular citizens of the empire. While African slavery is certainly horrible, and native peoples in North America saw their share of horrors, the true whitewashing in the game is the way it glosses over the Central and South American colonial ‘experience’ and pretends it was as (relatively) benign as the North American experience. (Anything approaching genocide of the natives of North America doesn’t really start until the end of the game’s eras – they were active and relevant political entities until shortly after the American Revolution).


    Regarding slavery specifically, I think where the game mechanics itself most disturbed me were in two places. First, the temptation to develop slave territories. Demand for slaves seems to always outstrip supply, which means that slaves generally bring a good price. It’s really tempting to ignore that the tradeable ‘good’ is “slaves”, slap a trading company down, and develop the production bonus. This is the same way the owners of these companies probably looked at it, except instead of a simulation on a computer, on the other end of their ledgers were real people. That kind of banal evil is really seductive.

    Second, the abolish slavery act comes with a significant penalty to your economy even beyond elimination of those sadly lucrative slave ‘goods’. I wonder how many people have decided not to abolish slavery because they didn’t want to take the hit to their economy.

    These aren’t places where the game gets it wrong, these are places where the game gets it terribly right, and gives the player incentives to make the ‘evil’ decision.

    (I also find the implications of cultural conversion kind of horrifying too. That sounds a lot like ‘kill all their menfolk and take their women as wives for ourselves’).


    Finally, trade routes. The places where the trade routes are placed are obviously are the right places, but the one directional nature of the trade flow is both a bad representation of history (goods have to flow both ways), and a terrible way to allow for the development of alternate histories. They’re even downright wrong for at least a portion of the game time in some places. (Trade flowed around the Indian ocean, it didn’t flow into Zanzibar and then head south around the Cape until the Europeans came in. Zanzibar should flow up into the Gulf of Aden node until at least ~1600, even if we’re trying to model history).

    Even if we accept this ridiculous notion of wealth only flowing one way (which only happens when you have slavery or its near equivalent and a colony designed to expropriate wealth and send it to the homeland – makes no sense for non-colony nations), the direction should be able to change depending on how the game plays out. I played a very successful game as Orissa, forming Hindustan, where I managed to maintain military parity with Europe (even pre-westernization), ejected all attempts at colonial conquest of India and SE Asia, kicked the Europeans out of Indonesia, and conquered a path to Europe through the Ottoman empire. I was the dominant economic power in the world, so it was pretty ridiculous that the lucrative trade nodes for me to milk ended up being Zanzibar and Alexandria. (At least Indonesia flowed into the Bay of Bengal, which was also lucrative, and my home node so I didn’t need to leave a merchant there). Trade should have flowed towards me, not away.

    The game should decide the direction of trade between two nodes by the relative trade power and value. (It already propogates trade power along nodes, so sufficiently strong development could pull across a weak node from another developed one). Adapting AI behavior to handle this and try to pull trade to themselves would also solve a ridiculous aspect of the game – the AI seriously underinvests in infrastructure, and never builds trade good companies. (It’s really frustrating to play in Europe and conquer territory only to have to develop it all yourself, and it contributes to ridiculous steamrolls where the only thing slowing you down is that everyone joined a coalition against you – seriously crimps victory gains when you have to negotiate with everyone at once – because your economy and manpower are orders of magnitude beyond what the AI has). And fixing this would also let an alternate history like my ‘Hindustan invades Europe’ pull global trade towards it.

    (FWIW, I’ve successfully played an Inca game which involved an Incan invasion of India, so native starts are totally doable. Although the Inca have perhaps the most mindnumbingly boring game before Europeans arrive).

  39. Vienna Pierre

    I agree, otherwise, this is nothing new for today’s video games. The ease with which they promote and turn genocide, mass murder, wars…in something good, successful, prosperous,…is shocked.Society obsessed with worshiping all the wrong things.

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