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Elizabeth Sandifer

Elizabeth Sandifer created Eruditorum Press. She’s not really sure why she did that, and she apologizes for the inconvenience. She currently writes Last War in Albion, a history of the magical war between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. She used to write TARDIS Eruditorum, a history of Britain told through the lens of a ropey sci-fi series. She also wrote Neoreaction a Basilisk, writes comics these days, and has ADHD so will probably just randomly write some other shit sooner or later. Support Elizabeth on Patreon.


  1. Jack Graham
    August 29, 2016 @ 9:14 am

    Trump is basically the guy who says “BUILD CITY WALLS!”


  2. Jane
    August 29, 2016 @ 12:10 pm

    I like secret histories. Apocrypha Now!


  3. Eve Schmitt
    August 29, 2016 @ 3:57 pm

    On the one hand: the game has you plunder ancient ruins and kill “barbarians”, contributing further to the theme of colonial expansion.

    on the other hand, recent modpacks have allowed people to play civilizations that were overrun by colonialism — most of the peoples of the western hemisphere, for example. Some of these peoples even show up in the base game: Celts, Aztecs, Mayans, Inca. The game shifts towards liberalism by not challenging the basic mechanics of Empire, while allowing marginalized peoples to get in on the action.

    Unfortunately the game still doesn’t resemble real history because there’s no mechanic for “someone fucked up and the entire geopolitical order is collapsing”. No assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, in other words. Progress in the game only moves forward. The closest the game has ever gotten to creating societal collapse is in Civilization III when excessive pollution causes global warming and desertification.


    • Aylwin
      August 29, 2016 @ 10:25 pm

      Doesn’t categorising those peoples as definitively victims rather than perpetrators require a selective chronological frame of reference, inappropriate to the longer sweep of time covered by the game/s?


    • taiey
      August 31, 2016 @ 2:58 am

      That happens in Civilisation II, too.


  4. Aylwin
    August 29, 2016 @ 10:19 pm

    Other coded assumptions abound: the Chinese and Russians are led by Mao Tse Tung and Josef Stalin, respectively, whereas the Germans get Frederick the Great and the Japanese Tokugawa.

    Not quite following this. I mean, the reason for that contrast was presumably the premise that communism is more acceptable than fascism – making by far the best known and most significant political leader in German history the designated leader of the Germans would have been deemed unacceptably offensive, whereas Stalin and Mao were not seen as being beyond the pale to the same degree. Likewise making communism, but not fascism, one of the governmental systems on offer (and initially giving it some surreally positive qualities – no corruption!). But I’m not sure that’s what you’re driving at.

    Notably, the series took until 2005 to deal with religion at all.

    Well, it took until then to make it a prominent game mechanic, and hence present it as a dynamic force in history (though notably in an indifferently generic form even then – all religions are assigned the same social impact, in stark contrast to the different systems of government). But it had been present from the start in an impeccably Marxist mode, as the opium of the people.


    • Kit Power
      August 30, 2016 @ 8:33 am

      Well, and in the PC version of Civ II, another form of government was Fundamentalism, IIRC. Good for producing wealth and ‘satisfied’ population, lousy for science advancement.


  5. AM
    August 31, 2016 @ 7:37 am

    “Life is described as fundamentally expansionist, with mankind a final teleology of evolution, with intelligence in turn the teleology of mankind. … if you wanted to be cynically ruthless you could fairly argue that Nick Land has made a career of rewriting the intro to Civilization into gothically overripe reactionary horror-philosophy over the past few years.”

    I wouldn’t call that cynically ruthless. This is all the same stuff here, and everything that makes rationalists think that the Drake Equation is a mathematical reality, rather than an ideological statement about the meaning of life, is also part of this Civilization-Nick Land continuum.

    Fukuyama-style neoliberal grand narrative circa 1990 [via Hegel] -> life defined as a constant urge towards endless “progress” and material expansion, as seen here, and everything outside that definition excluded as failure -> knowledge of the near-future closeness of material limits -> everything you’ve described in your NRx book


  6. A C
    September 1, 2016 @ 10:49 am

    If you trace the whole obsession with space colonisation back to its roots you end up mostly running into mysticism.

    Timothy Leary’s whole stick in the 70s was basically ‘kabbalic ascent with rockets’. 2001 a Space Odyssey is literally just ‘Genesis and Revelation with aliens’. Both are based on 1940s-50s SF stories produced in a climate of backstage Theosophy. Arthur C. Clarke basically just took Olaf Stapledon’s philosophical vision quests and put more standard narratives around the ideas.

    The morally bankrupt undercurrent is that the whole point of religious apocalypticism that led to Zoroastrianism and the Abrahamic faiths is that “despite how the world appeals to reward only evil god has a secret plan to reward the righteous”. SF apocalypiticists like Clarke, Leary and the modern transhumanists hijack the metaphors by turning them into plausible scientific reality and throw out the concept of righteousness completely. 2001 basically says “progress started with a murder (but unlike in the Bible no one is punished) and then suddenly military satellites” and appears sort of ambivalent about the morality of it all for a while, then it just turns the AI into a threshold guardian that has to be put down for one’s spiritual development and rewards the end point of all this violent progress with apotheosis.

    Which shouldn’t surprise anyone, science itself having evolved out of the original eschaton immanentizing quest for the philosopher’s stone (which transhumanism doesn’t even bother to play around with, it just applies a minimal amount of updating to it).

    We used to have a dominant history that focused on a protagonist that was a thrown about victim in the imperialistic struggles of the Great Civilisations ™, a collection including works that were ambivalent about the whole concept of state government and actively demonised progress. Its no accident that fascists are always anti-Semitic and most ‘progress championing secular humanists’ dismiss the god of the old testament as a anti-intellectual tyrant who doesn’t exist but if he did exist would be the enemy.


  7. Doug M.
    September 3, 2016 @ 3:22 pm

    1) I don’t think you can really discuss the first two Civ games without at least placing them in the context of the series. The Eurocentrism, for instance, dropped dramatically; by Civ IV the game’s theme song was a West African hymn, most of the Wonders were nonwestern, and the “best” civilizations included Mali, the Mongols, and the Incas (Quechua Rush!). A lot of this was implicit from the beginning, but the game designers probably didn’t feel they could begin with a game that elevated Mali and the Spiral Minaret to the same plane as Britain and the Statue of Liberty. It’s worth noting where they started, sure — but it’s also worth noting where they’ve ended up.

    2) Yes, the phrase “Great Leader” makes us all go ‘ding! Fascism’ but fascist leaders don’t live for thousands of years, you know? It’s a god game. You’re a demiurge. Your people don’t turn out for rallies (well, unless you get a “we love the King” day); they mostly obey you, pace the occasional rebellion, but otherwise they pretty much ignore you.

    3) Dude, how can you discuss Civ and fascism without mentioning the nukes? You don’t really want nukes most of the time — but if a “bad” rival civ gets them, you really have no choice. Limited nuclear war can be won, and that’s a thing. OTOH, if it escalates, the planet dies and that’s also a thing.

    4) Also the environmental thing. In Civ II you’re simultaneously a threat to the environment but also its potential saviour — provided you can unlock and deploy the right technologies in time, of course. (There is no social or behavioral fix IMS. It’s strictly technology and resources.) You need industrialization and similar techs to get anything done, but then you start strangling on your own waste products. Nuclear meltdowns and nuclear war can do lasting global damage. Global warming is already a major danger, which is pretty striking for a game from 1996. Even if you’re in Brutal Asshole World Conqueror mode, you have to pay attention to the environment if you want a high score.

    Even in 1996, there was a lot of somewhat contradictory stuff going on there. And it’s become a lot more complex and richer since.

    (That said, no subsequent version has matched those little video clips with your advisors. Those were hilarious. I managed to get the Schwarzkopf-looking one drunk, once.)

    Doug M.


    • A C
      September 3, 2016 @ 6:43 pm

      There’s more to Euro-Centrism than the available nations.

      The concept of ‘world wonders’ has been linked to tourism from the beginning, so you’re basically lose/lose there. One could always ask whether or not the foreign wonders are the wonders foreign cultures would choose themselves to be represented by or the ones we want to pose in front of.

      Representing China by The Great Wall is incredibly racist, it doesn’t really matter that the Chinese have reclaimed it as a symbol of pride, The Great Wall as a representation of China is still a concept rooted entirely in the European imagination. Its a largely fictional British Imperial projection of China as a closed, backwards, inwards looking nation that needs to be broken open to drag it into the 19th century. Seriously, there was no Great Wall of China, its a complete fantasy version of the far less dramatic actual northern Chinese border defences.

      Again, there’s no solution to this. Representing Arabia with Saladin is looking at the world through the lens of Walter Scott novels sure, but Walter Scott novels have to a degree been appropriated by Arabs. Does it matter than Saladin was forgotten outside of Europe until he started showing up in the most popular literature of the world’s greatest empire? Is it righteous to insist foreign cultures decolonise their culture and return to some made up ‘pre-victimisation state’

      Wonder period choice can also be suspect. You can argue that Babylon has to have the hanging gardens and America has to have the statue of liberty because those civilisations didn’t exist to build things in various eras, but valuing Asia for its past and the west for its present is highly problematic. Why is Sumeria/Assyria/Babylon even in the game when Iraq isn’t? If you say “that’s just history, duh” then you’re just admitting your own Euro-centric blindspots.

      Imagine a mod where the Pyramids aren’t build-able but the Aswan dam is. What if Alcatraz prison was a wonder but the Statue of Liberty wasn’t? What if Russia was represented by well, anything but the Kremlin but how about the Qolşärif Mosque. As an American cultural product Civilisation has a right to represent an American view of what in world history is ‘cool’ but what it chooses shouldn’t be let unexamined except for its ‘diversity’.

      King Solomon’s Mines is a freaking natural wonder in Civ5. A made up place from a racist novel, is that really ‘inclusive location diversity’? Every culture imagines fantasy places in faraway lands, but does The Fountain of Youth have to be in there while the island of the Taoist Immortals is absent?

      Civilisation is a game where the colonised largely cease to exist. It doesn’t matter much if you can have a world where the Astecs conquer and eradicate all traces of western civilisation if they’re just acting as a surrogate for western achievement standards. Its fun to nuke DC into dust from our Iroquois missile silos but its just a revenge fantasy (and for most of us an appropriated one). The game mechanics inherently turn the coloniser into the subject and removes all agency for the victims.

      You could make a strategy game about surviving and adapting as a colonial subject, a game about preserving culture and identity against aggressive assimilation practices. A game the represents the reality of being part of a disenfranchised class without devolving into a fascist killing simulator. But probably not a ‘6000 years of history’ game because stereotyping any group as eternal victims wouldn’t really be fixing anything.


    • Elizabeth Sandifer
      September 3, 2016 @ 9:46 pm

      I think it’s pretty easy to discuss the first two Civ games without putting them in the context of later games: you just put them in the context of their time instead.


  8. mister slim
    September 11, 2016 @ 6:58 pm

    As best as I can tell, the SNES version was ported by a Japanese company, Asmik Ace, which probably explains some of the cosmic imagery and awkward phrasing.


  9. Ava Molvig
    February 23, 2020 @ 4:22 pm

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