Ever since Firaxis announced that they were going to re-release Colonization under the Civilization IV label, a discussion has been going on 'behind the scenes' here at Hooked Gamers. The topic? Should games shove historical facts under the rug? The discussion was ignited over the lack of slaves in Colonization. A strange omission if you consider that America was built on the backs of slaves imported mainly from Africa. Why do historical games not address this topic, or many other 'touchy' subjects for that matter? It was suggested that -somebody- (others quickly 'volunteered' me) should post something on this topic.
There are two books of particular note concerning the wide gap between the America in its history books, and the -real- history of America. These two books are: "Lies My Teacher Told Me" and "Lies Across America" by Jame W. Loewen (I heartily recommend that anyone that thinks the Truth matters should read these). The upshot of these two books is that the overwhelming majority of school history textbooks and historical markers simply get much of their 'facts' wrong. Even worse, many subjects of actual significance to America's history aren't even addressed. Why is that? Is it from ignorance? Or are these deliberate alterations or omissions? Well, both reasons, actually.
Every nation has its heroes. Founding Fathers are these incredibly wise, larger-than-life figures. At crucial moments in our history, great men have emerged to help keep their great developing nation stay true to its ideals, often at great expense and sacrifice for themselves. With such great leaders, holding such great ideals, how can a nation be anything other than great? Our nation is the greatest nation on Earth, with the greatest of leaders throughout history, so of course our citizens are the greatest people on Earth, standing head and shoulders above all the other citizens of the world. We are the envy of every other nation on the planet. With so much greatness to work with, how could we be anything other than great?
Note that I didn't say USA anywhere in the last paragraph. 'History' for most modern nations is about saying, "Despite the obstacles we've had to deal with over the years, despite some major setbacks along the way, we have managed to meet every challenge and come out stronger and better for it."
During the Cold War, American teachers and political pundits loudly proclaimed that in the USSR, students were taught a sanitized version of Reality, one where everything the Soviet Union did was Good while every other nation arrayed against the Soviet Union was Evil. That is, Soviet 'history' was actually propaganda. But the Truth is that all nations tend to sanitize their own history in their schools' history textbooks. Think about it: we all know of several lowlife governments past and present. Do you think -any- of them described themselves as lowlife scumbags? They may very well describe their national past as having been evil and corrupt. But -right now- we are positively idealists, striving to do the Right Thing for the right reasons and we're doing it in the right manner.
Never forget that the winners write the history books and they -always- do it in a way that makes themselves look good.
Welcome to "1984"
You doubt the veracity of what I speak? Pop quiz then:
1) Why was the American Civil War fought?
2) How many slaves were freed by the Emanicipation Proclamation?
3) How many of the Founding Fathers owned slaves?
If you randomly sampled 100 Americans, about 65 of them would say that the Civil War was fought, "To free the slaves" or something similar. The Truth is that abolishing slavery didn't become a core issue until almost a year and a half into the fighting. Even then, it was only as a political maneuver by Lincoln. The Emancipation Proclamation effectively freed -zero- slaves. If you read the actual text, if essentially is delineating what constitutes property in another country while ignoring slaves held in Union states. Such an argument would -never- fly in regards to other countries such as Great Britain or France. But because the USA defeated the CSA and absorbed it back into Union, that fact is generally overlooked. As for slave-owning Founding Fathers, settle for a -LOT- while recalling the words, "all men are created equal".
People prefer to have their national heroes to be pure. They do not want to be reminded that Columbus introduced slavery to the New World. They do not want to contemplate the rumors about Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe. They do not want to learn that Custer actually had to be treated for syphilis three times. To admit to such uncomfortable facts would be to admit that we hero-worship flawed individuals.
So, along comes Firaxis with its re-release of Colonization (I bet you thought I'd never get back to this, right?). In the original game, there was no inclusion of slavery. Why is this being deliberately left out? Things like this represent historical facts concerning the New World, the colonization of which the game is supposed to be modeling. The reason is because those facts are uncomfortably yucky, and -some- people will very probably complain, "You shouldn't be showing that stuff to impressionable minds!". In its defense, the original game did address the near genocide of the Native Indians, leaving it up to the player to decide to wipe out villages and even whole tribes should they want to, but I wonder if this time around, that tactic will still be spotlighted quite so prominently.
Enter the ESRB
When the original Colonization was released, ESRB ratings were hardly an issue. The ESRB was founded in 1994, less than a year before Colonization was released and it had not established itself in a meaningful way. These days, the ESRB seeks to sanitize your game. While 'seeks' implies that it is an attempt, the reality is that every game that you can buy on the shelves has been rated by the ESRB and this will affect its sales. Obviously game publishers need to earn a living and are thus influenced in what they will show in their games. Sex, drugs and alcohol are all frowned upon by the ever vigilant members of the ESRB rating board and it would not surprise us if Tobacco and Rum, popular trade goods in the original, were taken from the game in favor of a lower ESRB rating.
A proper historical game would offer us the opportunity to actually learn historical facts that even our textbooks eschew. If all forms of media decide to self-censor the yucky stuff out of our official history, it makes the job of The Powers That Be much easier. How many more generations will pass before American textbooks declare that upon the issuance of the Declaration of Independence, all of the Founding Fathers voluntarily freed their slaves, in order to underscore the ideals laid out in that document? After all, most other information sources are already trending in that direction.
Scary, isn't it? To realize that Orwell may very well have been an optimist?