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Musings from an Archaeologist on the Civilization Tech Tree – Part III

Features

This is the third and last in a series (first, second) of posts where I look at the technology tree in the game Civilization from my perspective as a professional archaeologist.  If you have not read the other posts please start at the beginning.  In this post I want to talk about how and why most archaeologists conceive of prehistory and technology in a different way now.

As I discussed previously the tech tree embodies two different concepts about human history that have been around for a long time.  The first is that human society goes through regular and predictable stages of development and the second is that this development is best understood as changes in material life like technology, environment, and economy.

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Musings from an Archaeologist on the Civilization Tech Tree – Part II

Features

In the previous post I started discussing the technology tree in the Civilization games from the point of view of an archaeologist.  In this post I want to point out that the Civilization tech tree is basically Marxist.  Yes, you heard me right.  And no, I don’t really consider this a pejorative – and not because I carry a warm and fuzzy for Marx.  It gets lost in the 20th century politics surrounding communism and socialism, but Marx has been very influential to the popular and scholarly understanding of the development of “civilization.” His thoughts are strikingly echoed in the Meier’s tech tree that almost all strategy gamers take for granted.  The why of this makes for a good story, so gather ’round.

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Musings from an Archaeologist on the Civilization Tech Tree – Part I

Features

I am a gamer, but in real life I earn my living as an archaeologist.  In a three part series of posts I am going to put on my professional hat (a fedora?) and consider the tech trees from the Civilization computer games from the point of view of a prehistorian.

It would be easy to interpret the goal of this series of posts as an attempt to criticize the Civilization series, but that is far from my intent.  Civilization is first and foremost a game, not a simulation.  I fully hope and expect that all design decisions, including the structure of the tech tree, are based on what makes for a good game play rather than what makes for historical verisimilitude.  I agree with Sid Meier in his 1991 interview when he says that “gameplay is more important than historical accuracy.” The best games with a historic theme merely use history as an inspiration because full-on attempts at historical simulation really suck (I am looking at you, Avalon Hill boardgames!).  Real life is rarely real fun.  My real intent with these posts is merely to use the Civilization tech tree as a springboard to an interesting discussion.

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How am I SO BAD at a game that I play SO MUCH?

Games and Gaming

Civilization IV is a fantastic game. In fact, any game starting with “Sid Meier’s” is probably going to be awesome. But the Civilization series in particular has always gripped me, and kept me playing for hours on end. There’s something so satisfying about finally taking over the world through an ideal combination of war, politics, culture, science and/or religion.
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