Newsgaming.

The response to the newsgaming site’s first piece is as interesting as the site itself. I think that Greg Costikyan’s response deserves an answer, and a strong one. I’m disappointed in Greg’s reaction. Not so much on the question of the selectivity (and consequent bias) of the simulation: it’s true, the simulation is polemically selective by omitting the actions of the terrorists. Rather, what disappoints me is the he’s missing a number of points, the selectiveness of all simulation – and the political ideology implicit in those omissions – being only one of them. That’s the point: all simulations are selective, but the political nature of the selectiveness is invisible to those who produce and consume the bulk of them. Just as a Sept. 11 simulation from the perspective of a New Yorker would begin with nameless terrorists steering airplanes into buildings filled with innocent civilians, a simulation from the perspective of someone in the Middle East may well begin with rockets falling on their homes. (As far as the melodramatic tone that Greg takes when speaking of “targetted America,” it should be mentioned that the collatoral damage figures alone for the Iraq attack, both in relative and absolute terms, exceed the casualties of September 11.) And “sims” such as Counter-Strike – and virtually all representations of terrorism in gaming – are so invested in a dehistoricized, context-free portrayal of terrorists as some kind of elemental evil, that they lose the ability to really speak at all to the political situations in which they are supposedly set. Take a game such as Civilization III, the sort of game Greg would hold up as an example for great pedagogical game design (and in its way, deservedly so.) The simulation brazenly unites religious, language, ethnic, racial, economic and national identities in a way that strongly serves specific national interests, generating fictions of national unity that have serious consequences in history. His vaunted Europa Universalis omits a great deal more from renaissasnce and enlightenment-era European history (not, as Greg says, medieval history) than he realizes: even one of Braudel’s books will give you a more rounded history of the era, not the semester in a history class. The fluidity of populations, the cultures that faced the onslaught of European expansion, the nuances of alliance, all get lost in the sophisticated but ultimately constraining logics of turn-based strategy with uncomplicated lines of interest and completely detached executive authority. The most serious “simulation” error in both Civilization and Europa Universalis, that makes them function as a kind of propaganda of their own, is the way they re-purpose the knowledge of history as an operational problem. White Man’s Burden, indeed. Greg went completely beyond the pale with his glaring ignorance of the realities of Uruguayan history. I’m sure that Gonzalo would be able to elaborate at length about this better than I, but to describe Uruguay as “-a small, inoffensive, neutral nation in South America remote from any possibility of assault by the murderous enemies of liberal democracy (well, other than the possibility of a home-grown dictator or two)” is an indication that Greg’s knowledge of Latin American history is limited to his games of Tropico. In fact, as far as Uruguayans (and many other Latin Americans) are concerned, the murderous enemies of liberal democracy have been backed and financed and armed by the United States, who supported a military dictatorship for 12 years there, from 1973 to 1985, in which thousands of citizens were killed, tortured, jailed and disappeared.

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