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Revisionist History in Age of Empires 93

Posted by Zonk
from the not-the-way-it-happened dept.
The fact that Microsoft Game Studios picked and chose from the past in order to make Age of Empires fun is understandable. While recognizing that, the Wonderland Blog brings up the (dubiously laudable but) important role Age of Empires has in educating young people. Alice asks if such a game, helpful to the teaching of the young, should futz with the past the way it does. The Guardian Blog follows up on her commentary by discussing the game and the issue in the context of Serious Games. From the article: "With the snowballing of interest in Serious Games and governmental support for the development of games in the classroom, should this be an issue that is seriously debated in development houses?"
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Revisionist History in Age of Empires

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  • by XxtraLarGe (551297) on Thursday April 14, 2005 @01:23PM (#12235603) Journal
    The only time they should take these things into consideration is if the title is being developed as an Educational/"Edutainment" program. Otherwise, gameplay should trump fact. Everybody knows that the Great Pyramid didn't actually give the Egyptians a free granary in each of their cities, right?
    • But we are building on a giant spaceship since the 1960's. Right?
      • I could have sworn that the Persians started their's in 1850, with the Babylonians scrambling to start their's in 1870.

        Of course, we all know that the Germans had airplanes and the railroad before 1000AD, right?

    • If there were some sort of certification that games could receive showing that they had historical accuracy I think that it might be a way to increase sales.
      If I were purchasing a game for my child and could choose between Warcraft or Age of Empires and saw that Age of Empires contained historically accurate content, then I would probably go with AoE. Now, if AoE had horrible game play then I would have to choose Warcraft being that the game's primary purpose is entertainment, but when choosing between two
      • Brothers in Arms- a great first person shooter - is based on historically accurate information. Including arial photographs used to design the roads and villages a player travels on.
        • Actually, there's more benefit than you might think for accurate location modeling. I know people who've improved their golf game on well-known courses by playing through the course on computer golf games. And then, of course there's that famous example of making Doom levels of your high school to prepare for the rampage...

          Ok, so that last one didn't happen. *shrug* But I still wager that a similar technique could be used to familiarize someone with a building. People learn by experience and sometimes the

      • One good example of a game that did bring in Historical Accuracy was Europa Universalis [the-underdogs.org]. You can play as a large number of nations, each pretty realistically modelled. Admittedly, this means that gameplay is not "balanced." Conquering the world with Spain may be a bit easier than doing the same thing with Latvia. Then again, is balance really something needed in a historical game?
    • by fm6 (162816)
      You're right, the obligation of game designers is to good play, not historical accuracy. But game players have an obligation to understand that it's just a game, and they shouldn't rely on it for historical education. Unfortunately, lots of gamers are less critical than that. Such as Orson Scott Card, who claims to have achieved great historical insight from playing Civilization, the game that invented the discovery-cascade model used in Age of Empires and Rise of Nations. Which is one reason I no longer bo
      • The key to Civ3 is picking the Babylonians and going for world domination by building religious buldings and wonders and taking over cities by spreading your culture mixed with smaller local skirmishes to crush dissenters as necessary. But thats just the game though. Nothing like real life at all.
      • And how would you recommend Existentialism being represented in a video game?
      • by Anonymous Coward
        You no longer bother with Orson Scott Card because of his views on... Civilization? It's not like he's a history writer. You must not have read his anti-homosexual essays.
      • by dr.badass (25287)
        Unfortunately, lots of gamers are less critical than that. Such as Orson Scott Card, who claims to have achieved great historical insight from playing Civilization

        There is a difference between insight and knowledge.

        It's entirely possible to learn some general ideas about the growth and development and fall of civilizations by playing a game. You may not get very deep insights, but you're not likely to get those in school, either, and we require kids to play that game.

        I don't know exactly what he's cla
        • The only insight you're going to get from Civilization is, "some inventions depend on other inventions". A useful insight, but not worthy of the emphasis Card places on it.

          Civipedia does a good job of explaining history -- but it's not really part of game. It's basically a separate history text you get with the game. What we're talking about here is how the game itself distorts history in the name of better gameplay. Which, as I said before, is not a bad thing, provided the player is aware of it.

    • I thought the great Pyramid gave you access to all the different government types before they were researched (OK, I'm a civ 1 junkie, so sue me).
      • For Civ, I believe that's correct. In Civ 2, that benefit is received from the Statue of Liberty, which requires Democracy to be discovered before it can be built. Typically, you'll discover Democracy before Communism & Fundamentalism. The nice thing about the Statue of Liberty is you can switch between the governments without the 1 to 3 turn penalty of civil unrest.
        • The nice thing about the Statue of Liberty is you can switch between the governments without the 1 to 3 turn penalty of civil unrest.

          You mean, like switching from Democracy to Fundamentalism?
  • Civilization 2 (Score:2, Interesting)

    by MC68000 (825546)
    While studying for the National Georgraphy Bee, I played a lot of Civ 2. It really teaches you those place names when you have to memorize them in order to figure out quickly what's going on in your empire. I did a lot of serious studying as well, but that game taught me 25 cities in each of Britain, France, Germany, and Russia (I'm from the US).
  • by SiliconJesus (1407) * <siliconjesusNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Thursday April 14, 2005 @01:28PM (#12235660) Homepage Journal
    Its a game people.

    G A M E

    Say it with me now. Its for the purpose of having FUN, not learning. If I wanted to learn I'd crack open a book and read or something. If I want to kill off Native Americans the old fashoned way with a musket, then I play a game.

    Jesus effing christ on a stick. Get your blue state heads out of your collective asses and HAVE FUN instead of insisting that everyone tries to conform to your concept of "HOW THINGS SHOULD BE."
    • No doubt. I mean, the ESRB gets a bad rap... [slashdot.org]

      ...and now we want historical accuracy?

      Two words: rape and pillage.

      Wouldn't that prove educational...

    • Now son, if I've told you once, I've told you a thousand times; playing Ages of Empire is going to distort your understanding of history and the world. Now go play Grand Theft Auto or Extreme Beach Volleyball so I don't have to worry about your perspectives of reality getting distorted.
    • Say it with me now. Its for the purpose of having FUN, not learning.

      Don't you think that at some level it will influence people? Especially if they've only heard enough about the subject to see that it's plausible but not enough to know it's untrue...

      Suppose I make a game (or movie or book) about, say, World War II, which is very historically accurate but depends heavily on Winston Churchill having a fictional Jewish adopted brother (perhaps to explain Winston's great opposition to anti-Semitism). If thi
    • Idunno, when I was a kid I played an assoad of brain-teaser games like Lemmings and The Incredible Machine (not twitch-puzzles like Tetris). I'm certain that those things expand your problem-solving ability better than anything else. There's some real educational value.
    • Sure, no problem. We can count on our educational system to have the funding and time to teach kids what really happened...

      That said as Marshall Macluhan said, the medium is the message. Kids playing a game with somewhat phony history will still learn, but they aren't going to be learning accurate facts. Instead, they may learn to create mental models of alternative historical scenarios and be able to put themselves into those models to develop strategies. This strength of games could be exploited, if
    • Nice tag. It's so much easier when you can describe (read: blame) your politic as a negative reaction to what someone did. Inspiration is overrated. Oh, by the way, the South lost the Civil War.
  • What?! (Score:2, Funny)

    by Short Circuit (52384) *
    You mean to tell me the Byzantines [wikipedia.org] and the Hittites [wikipedia.org] didn't regularly encounter each other in battle?
  • Incidentally... (Score:4, Informative)

    by Otter (3800) on Thursday April 14, 2005 @01:34PM (#12235729) Journal
    Apparently, the Native Americans are not so much a peoples to be exploited and killed off with pox-infected blankets...

    Actually, the smallpox-infected blankets story is now held to be a myth. If it happened at all, it certainly was not a recurring practice.

    That doesn't invalidate the larger criticism*, obviously, but it's striking how often the people who hand out lectures on distinguishing between myth and "fact" almost always have some rather glaring problems with their own "facts".

    • "Apparently, the Native Americans are not so much a peoples to be exploited and killed off with pox-infected blankets as they are partners in your war against the other countries. I'm a little uncomfortable with this revisionism" ...and to continue the above poster's thread, the Native Americans actually were often partners. For example, Hernan Cortez enlisted signficant numbers of native allies in overthrowing the Aztecs, and the French and British both employed Indian allies against each other.

      -Jeff

      P.S
    • Also, a quote from the second link:

      There are plenty of examples of indigenous Americans allying themselves with Europeans, from the Spanish conquest of the Aztec empire through the final closing of the frontier. When accusing folks of revising history, it helps to actually know said history; maybe reviewers should stick to the review and leave out the political commentary.

      And...

      Settlers in North America DID ally with Native Americans, frequently. The British used many native allies in the Seven Years Wa

      • Re:Incidentally... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Momoru (837801) on Thursday April 14, 2005 @02:14PM (#12236304) Homepage Journal
        Also once the Aztecs were conquered in Mexico, they occasionally joined forces with the Spanish and helped fight other native tribes in the present day southwest US. I think it's funny how revisionists have ALREADY rewritten history to make it appear that all Native American tribes were simply sitting around smoking peace pipes before the evil europeans came in and slaughtered them. A large amount of Native tribes fought each other in wars for centuries, and when the first Explorers set foot in present day Florida, Louisiana, New Mexico, and Mexico, they were greeted with hostilities. It just so happened that the Europeans had better weapons and superior numbers in most cases.
  • Hippo-crate (Score:4, Funny)

    by NanoGator (522640) on Thursday April 14, 2005 @01:35PM (#12235733) Homepage Journal
    " important role Age of Empires has in education young people."

    Ah yes, AoE has really embiggened our vocabulary hasn't it?
  • We can all learn a lesson from Slashdot in education young people in how to editing articles. Way to journalism!
  • by SunFan (845761) on Thursday April 14, 2005 @01:43PM (#12235854)

    I'm sure someone will provide an analysis of the game comparing it's story to accepted historical theory. Blogging isn't just for geeks, you know.
  • by KDR_11k (778916)
    I mean, didn't Cortez use some tribe to assist them defeat the Azteks? So since the concept of using natives to further your goals existed in reality, why not have it available in a game without restrictions? The economic system in the AoE titles isn't close to realistic either but I see nobody complain that it teaches children gold grows on the surface or something.
  • by jbs0902 (566885) on Thursday April 14, 2005 @01:50PM (#12235957)
    The reviewer's problem seems that AoE3 doesn't go along with the revisionist history supported by the reviewers.

    From TFA
    'The crux is that the Native Americans in AoE III "are not so much a peoples to be exploited and killed off with pox-infected blankets as they are partners in your war against the other countries," according to Kotaku.'

    So, the reviewer has the racist view that Native Americans are weak social incompetents whose only purpose is to be exploited and killed. To the reviewr's Native Americans are not fully realized human being (capable of both selfishness and charity, both good and evil) but instead the reviers complains that they are not seen only as victims.

    When in reality (not the reviewer's politically correct fantasy) the Indians were a number of unallied and often mutually antagonist tribes/countries that frequently allied with the Europeans. For example, the Anti-Aztec Indians that allied with the Spanish in order to topple their Aztec masters. These Indians did this, not solely for the Spaniards benefit (although the Spanish did benefit) but because these Indians hated their Aztec rulers.

    Another example, would be the French and English Indian allies during the French-Indian War. Once again various Indian tribes and mercenaries sided with either the French or English in the hopes of increasing their (the Indians) wellbeing and domination over an opposing Indian tribe.

    Did the Europeans do bad things to the Indians? Yes, both as individual settlers and as organized acts of imperialism. But they also acted in a way roughly (it is hard to tell without the game being published yet) in accordance with AOE3's portrayal. The Europeans took the Indians on as allies when needed or convenient.

    It is revisionist to re-write the history of the Native Americans to exclude their acts of savagery and genocide, leaving them only as objects of pity, too incompetent to fend for themselves or produce noble achievements. This revisionism which denies the Native Americans their true history and their ability & potential to share in the both the horrors and grandeurs of basic human nature is racist.

    The review's problem seems to be that AOE3 does not exclude the self-interested actions in favour of the reviewer's political point of view. The reviewer's view of history is more revisionist than AOE3s.
    • Did the Europeans do bad things to the Indians? Yes, both as individual settlers and as organized acts of imperialism.

      Let's not forget that the Indians did do some nasty things to settlers. They may have been provoked, even justified, but that doesn't mean it didn't happen.
    • I remember reading something about the Indians that lived in the Grand Canyon during the time the Eurpoeans came over.

      It was something like the Indians "displaced" a other Indian tribe in the 1400s, and then the Europeans "murdered" them in the 1800s or something like that.

      They never defined displaced but I think it was the same thing the europeans did.
  • Idoits (Score:2, Interesting)

    by PapaBoojum (232247)
    "With the snowballing of interest in Serious Games and governmental support for the development of games in the classroom, should this be an issue that is seriously debated in development houses?"

    NO.

    Not with a game that is CLEARLY designed and marketed as ENTERTAINMENT.

    If a child's primary source of learning history and historical content if a freakin' computer game, that child is already hopelessly borked.

    Who ARE these IDIOTS who demand or even suggest that the entertainment industry shoulder the burd
    • Re:Idoits (Score:2, Interesting)

      by nelsonal (549144)
      I'd be surprised if anyone here of a certain age didn't learn more about pirates and 15th century politics from Sid Meier's Pirates than any other source. Certainly we played it to have fun, but after a few games you learned why Drake chose a Pinace over a Galleon when raiding.
      • I'd be surprised if anyone here of a certain age didn't learn more about pirates and 15th century politics from Sid Meier's Pirates than any other source.

        I never played that, but I can say I learned a metric sh*tload of vocabulary terms from playing D&D back in the day.

        I'm not saying games ~can't~ educate, but for the blogger in the original post to imply that game makers have some sort of responsibility to be historically or factually accurate in works designed strictly for entertainment is just st
    • When I was about eleven or twelve, I bought or was given a copy of the original Age of Empires. I remember avidly reading the "Historical Info" section at the beginning of each scenario, and then actually looking up these things.

      I now study History as my major, so while I won't make any stupid direct links between the two, I will say that it helped sustain an interest in history which was started earlier by reading things stories about Greek gods and "Myths and Legends of Ye Olde England"...

      It was a fun

  • by Chris Mattern (191822) on Thursday April 14, 2005 @02:04PM (#12236165)
    I *was* a little disconcerted to learn that William Wallace *won* the battle of Falkirk...

    Chris Mattern
  • I suggest we bring Doom to task for their abuse of the known laws of physics in building a game around an interdimensional portal on Mars. Also, Madden 2004 allowed me to trade Randy Moss to the Cincinatti Bengals and win the Super Bowl, yet we know this didn't happen. This is a friggin' outrage!

    When are we going to wake up and realize that everyone else must do a better job of raising my children?
    • First, let me say that I'm a total advocate of people taking responsibility for their own lives. Be responsible for your own children!!!

      That aside, I must say that this is an issue that really irritates me. Many kids won't stay awake through any of their schoolwork, and learn more from games and movies than they do their formal education. Would it be so difficult to portray some of these things accurately. Now, obviously, some of the gameplay can't be accurate. As is posted elsewhere, Hittites didn'
      • I actually do agree with your sentiment. I hate all the Hollywood massacres of actual events (e.g. Pearl Harbor, Titanic, JFK). However, I tend to draw the line at games, especially those not built on a foundation of reality. If EA shipped Madden with inaccurate rosters, there would be mass protests from fans because they expect the rosters to be accurate (with the exception of late trades and late signees). AoE players should have no expectation of historical accuracy.
      • That aside, I must say that this is an issue that really irritates me. Many kids won't stay awake through any of their schoolwork, and learn more from games and movies than they do their formal education.

        Then thats a failing of the parents and the children themselves. Don't push the responsibility and burden of eductation on the entertainment industry.

        Would it be so difficult to portray some of these things accurately...

        They do portray ~some~ things accurately, or accurately enough to set up a contex
  • "Alice asks if such a game, helpful to the teaching of the young, should futz with the past the way it does."

    How about kids learn history from History Books. It's a game. Let it be a game. If you are so worried about your kids learning incorrect historical facts, maybe should explain that games like that aren't meant to be realistic.
    • Hi!

      I have no intension of reading a history book for this simple reason: they are very, very boring (to me. YMMV.)

      On the other hand, I'll challenge you to a game of AOE any time you like. Even if this infringes on studying for my history exam.

      Now wouldn't it be so much more efficient if we could learn and play at the same time? I don't think TFA was asking for gameplay to be changed, so this would have zero effect on the "fun" aspect of the games. Only the educational aspect.

      Last point: Think back to pri

  • I'm all for learning history from a video game, but really, that's not the point of AOE. I mean, the only realistic part of AOE is that you have to keep giving people orders or they'll laze around doing nothing.
    I would have loved, in high school history class, to have been able to play a realistic campaign game of whatever period of history I was learning. If those games exist now, I would buy them. But just because game has a historical theme doesn't mean that it's going to be accurate.
    • But just because game has a historical theme doesn't mean that it's going to be accurate.

      No, but it should be.

      I'd much rather spend a few hours having fun and learning than spend a few hours having fun and not learning.

  • I just want to know which history is being revised? Was it correct it the first place? Why is it being revised?

    Let's get serious for a second, using a rts game to teach history is silly. That is what the History Channel is for.

    • There is a minor problem there. The History Channel is boring. AOE is not. It's much easier to get kids to play AOE than to watch the History Channel.

      Let's face it! Games are *fun*! Here we have a real chance to teach history in an *interesting* and *accessible* way, and we blow it like Hollywood on a cheap biopic.

      Shame, really.

  • Though it would be quite nice to see an Age of Empires campaign that accurately represented some period in history, no army in history has ever been as successful as the play is required to be in these games.

    I don't think the user would be as appreciative if you were required to lose an average third of the scenarios to keep things historically accurate.

    "Objective: Hold off the Spanish assault for three grudging hours until you run out or resources and are ownzed."
    • Yeah, but some of the user-created scenarios are beautiful works of art.

      Gordon Farrel is probably my favourite designer. Find some of his work here - http://aoe.heavengames.com/dl-php/lister.php?categ ory=spscen&rating=top [heavengames.com].

      His campaigns about the Pelopennesean war and the Persian War were some of the coolest ever, and I think he got hired later by Ensemble.?

    • Actually, I think some scenarios where you can't win would add nice touches to the emotioneering [freemangames.com] aspect of the campaign. My ego does tend to be a little inflated when I know it's my destiny to never lose a single battle...

      (Wasn't there a Starcraft map where you had to hold off the Zerg for 30 minutes before they finally overran your base? Or how about the map with the Xel'Naga temple? Not really the same though, I'm afraid...)

  • When I was a kid I would occaisionally play paper box games based on real wars or conflicts. I remember one based on German tribes versus Romans, based on the historical sacking of Rome. Now, I guess if teachers were using this as an educational game, and the Roman player was outplaying the German player, teacher would say, "ok, you are doing to well, you have to let the German's win."
  • I learned most of what I know about how the American government works from Tom Clancy and Martin Sheen.

    Sad, but true.

    (come on, cut me some slack. I never claimed that I knew much :)
    • I was so impressed with Splinter Cell's quotes on the Fifth Freedom I decided to have one of them as my MSN Messenger name. All week, I was IM'd by university majors several years older than me commenting on how (philosophically|politically) impressive my nick was!

      (They were decidedly less impressed when I said it was from a game. So I gave up saying it was. Sad, but true!)
  • In the documentation. You can read up on each of the civilizations featured in the game on one of the pre-game screens. There's about a page or two on each of the civilizations that is very accurate and portrays them each in a favorable light.

    The accuracy of the gameplay itself is primafacia non-accurate as buildings do not manufacture soldiers IRL.

  • Maybe Microsoft and AoE3 are better, juicier journalistic targets, but Rome: Total War [totalwar.com] attempts to make a larger overture toward historical correctness.

    It did fall a bit short, though. Most notable was the inclusion of three separate Roman factions which fight alongside each other until a civil war erupts among them. While giving the Romans three factions, versus every other nation's one, allows the Empire to spread swiftly across the map, the historical accuracy of having three factions came under harsh
    • Struggling to understand the minority influence of a small group of people -- Rome -- it wasn't until I played Medieval: Total War that I understood how it was that the group became so powerful or such attrocities were allowed to be comitted.

      Then it hit me: Religeon was simply being used as a tool to gain power. In almost the exact same way I moved inquisitors around Europe to bolster belief in preparation for a crusade, so did they. Best thing I ever learnt from a game, I think.

  • ...in the form of my Aztec strategic bombers pummeling your cities in Rise of Nations.

  • Lies? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Stargoat (658863) <stargoat@gmail.com> on Thursday April 14, 2005 @06:26PM (#12239250) Journal
    This is revisionist history. Revisionist history has been necessary in some cases, but let's not pretend like smallpox in blankets was everywhere, or even anything but a single isolated incident.

    Instead, think about how the British allied with the Sikhs against the French. Or the French with the Hurons against the British Colonists (French and Indian War). Or Nelson attacking the French with help from local native Central Americans. Or Cortes taking advantage of the cruelty of the Aztecs to create a series of alliances with the local natives. Or the British allying with the Egyptians and using Indian troops against Muslim holymen in the Sudan. Or T.E. Lawrence with the Bedouin fighting the Turks.

    No, that has been the pattern of history. Despite what modern day opponents of Colonial History may say, the West has historically used ambitious natives in their money making schemes. Africans enslaved Africans, not Europeans. Chinese sold Opium to Chinese, not the British. Indians fought against the Afghans under British leadership.

    Quite frankly, this sort of history as being presented in the article is erroneous to the point of being deliberate. Is there an agenda here, or is this just some deluded fool?

    • Africans enslaved Africans, not Europeans. Chinese sold Opium to Chinese, not the British. Indians fought against the Afghans under British leadership.

      I understand your point, but thats the same as saying Americans sell crack to Americans, not the Columbian drug lords. Don't simplify the issue to lay blame elsewhere or you're just as guilty as they are.
      • First, I've not sold any drugs to anyone. I'm not guilty of anything except perhaps over-simplification. (Though not nearly as much as the article description is.)

        Yes, surely the East India Company and the British government that supported it was guilty. But also as surely, if the Chinese did not sell opium to the Chinese, it would not have been sold. It was not the bad British that did most of the dirty work. The pushers, and the pimps, and thugs, those were all Chinese. (But not the thuggees. Tho

        • Huh? I always thought the British sold opium to the Chinese because they had nothing of else of value (of value to the Chinese) to sell to them. China installed the death penalty for the selling of opium and the British just imported it anyway. The Chinese went to war with the British twice just to stop them from illegally smuggling it into their country. Do you really think those Chinese organise crime syndicates would have existed without British support? What did you want the Chinese to do? Take over W
    • The problem is that society doesn't look at the perpetraters of the crime, they look at the enablers.

      Example:

      PETA throws red paint on those who wear fur. The fur wearers are just BUYING the animal pelts, it's the fur ranches that kill the animals.

      Rather than pin the blame on who it belongs to, history pins the blame on the consumers or the providers whent he consumer is the victim.
  • To gamewriters: historically accurate campaign games, with educational sound-bites everytime the player (Julius Ceasar, or some other pivotal historical figure) deviates from what was actually (verifiably, commonly accepted as accurate) done.
    A BIG set of what-ifs would hone the players problem-solving abilities played against a probability engine...
    'scuse me, I've got a copyright to prep.
  • Most of Hollywood's "historical" movies are anywhere from mildly misleading to completely wrong as well. Yet, the views of even educated people seem to be strongly influenced by it. And it's really no different in books either.

    There isn't much one can do about it: it's hard to have an unbiased view of history, and anything even close to the truth often makes for a bad story, or worse, makes people feel bad about themselves.

"Love may fail, but courtesy will previal." -- A Kurt Vonnegut fan

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