READ MORE

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.

Continue reading

READ MORE

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.

Continue reading

READ MORE

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.

Continue reading

READ MORE

My Vote For the Best EVAR: the early 90s

Features, Games and Gaming

As others have noted, there is a challenge going on right now among MeFightClub members to name the best game.  EVAR.   MeFightClub is a group of grown-ups (in both the sense of age but more importantly in maturity) who play games (and who sometimes say EVAR).  The community was started around Valve’s multi-player shooters so there is a real love for those.  But more generally the community reflects my gaming interests: PC-centered, mature (not in the R-rated sense but in the sense that rejects the 13-yo boy’s aesthetic common to much gaming), and most of all fun.

But this challenge has been… well … challenging to me. Try as I might I just can’t bring myself to name one best game EVAR.  Part of the problem is that I am just not that decisive and just not that attached to a single game.  I am also hung up on the criteria I should use and it is made all the more difficult because one must compare games across three decades when the underlying technology has changed so much.  So should you reward Doom for revolutionizing a new genre of games or do you favor a more modern FPS because it looks and sounds better?  Do you give a nod to a game that was technically innovative and ahead of its time, like Command HQ was for the Real-Time Strategy genre, or favor the game that introduced those ideas to the masses like Dune II, Warcraft, or Age of Empires?  Do you go with a game that made you smile for days after you finished it, like I did with Portal, or award the game that sucked up the most time?  For me that might be Ultima IV, one of the Civilizations, Railroad Tycoon II, or most recently Team Fortress II.  Like I said, I can’t commit to just one game when I can’t even commit to just one criteria.

But in thinking about this problem I keep coming back to one central seed of a thought that has been growing until I realized it is the only answer I can provide.  The most important thing isn’t a single game or a genre or a company or a designer.  To me the most important period was when computer gaming grew up to embrace all of the things I currently love about gaming: PC-centered, mature, and fun.  That era I would argue is the early-1990s.

Continue reading

READ MORE

The Most Important (Gaming Company). Evar. Of All Time.

Features, Games and Gaming
[There’s a competition going on at MeFight Club for a blog post about “The Most Important Game Ever”. You’ve got about a day to get your entry in. The prize is pretty sweet too.]

Wow, all time. That’s something. It’s a bit like trying to pick the single best meal you’ve ever had, or the biggest poop you’ve ever taken, or maybe “Which politician had the single biggest effect on democracy, like, EVER?”

(Sorry, it’s been a long week at school and all I really want to do is bash a few academics in their noggins and tell them, “Life is for partying, not for semantics!” But I digress.)

But the hard part isn’t that bit – it’s the bit which reads, “Most Important”. That suggests a title of such singular importance that, in a list of merely rather important videogames, it would be numero uno. El Capitan. The Big Cheese. God, if you would. The God of all videogames. Or, if you’re not religious, but instead like movies and/or the Mafia, the Godfather of all videogames.
Continue reading