Saturday, August 14, 2010

Beating back the heathens in My Empire

So I've discussed multiculturalism in games before.  Well, specifically, Dragon Age.  This time I'm going to take a look at my much-loved Facebook city-sim My Empire.

You may recall I recently discussed the inclusion of violence in their game, which, up until now, had been about peacefully building a city and making sure everyone was happy.  I was concerned they would introduce PvP, but, thank goodness, it's just PvE.  Still, when you win, the barbarians 'run away', in keeping with the child-like nature of the game :

Similarly, your soldiers 'run away' when defeated :

Now, I don't know about you, but I'm pretty sure the Huns and the Romans never met.  I know this is fantasy, but it bothers me.  I'm white, middle-class, relatively white-collar - surely I've got nothing to complain about, right?  Well, no, everyone has things they want to complain about in their lives, but in this case I'm complaining about the misrepresentation of ethnic 'minorities'.

Remember that test where African American children were offered a white doll and a dark-skinned doll and asked which one was 'nice' and which one was 'bad'?  Then they asked them to point to the doll that looked like them, and some of them began to cry?  It's an extreme example, but My Empire is no different.  Sure, the internet is mostly the domain of white people, but... Romans?  Versus swarthy barbarians?  Let's look at the physical features that differentiate them : 

1) The nose - the Roman nose is aquiline, as always, while the barbarian's nose is flattened, round and large
2) The eyes - Romans apparently have pretty brown eyes, while barbarians have beady, stalker eyes - add to this the fact that the Roman is staring off into the distance in a statuesque manner and the barbarian is looking at the player, and you have quite a lot of disparity.
3) The skin colour - Romans have pink skin, the barbarians have darker, more 'olive' skin
4) Dress - Shiny gold versus fur and metal.  No contest there.
5) The cities - Romans build palaces and churches (seriously - check it out) : 

While the barbarians can't build something that doesn't need to be held up by other planks of wood : 

6) Last, but not least - the Roman carries no weapons.  The barbarian carries a (sheathed) sword, has a bone through his ear, has a rather disfiguring scar, and is surrounded by a background of spikes.  Let's not even get into the fact that the Roman is fit, while the barbarian is pretty darn pudgy, or the fact that the Roman is clean-shaven while the barbarian has an unkempt beard.  Heck, both of their hats are decorated with horsehair!  It just looks different, because the Roman is neater.

This bothers me.  Romans weren't Christian, not until after the first century AD, and probably not when they were at the peak of their power.  To be honest, I don't know enough about the rise of Christianity in early Rome to make a definitive call, but when it's a fantasy game, leave religion out of it.  Secondly, Italians/white people versus Mongolians/Russians - isn't it the Cold War all over again?  I mean, that's when you get this kind of crazy stuff happening, when people believe you're headed toward mutual destruction.  Or, in a worst-case scenario, you get Venezuela insisting a game by Pandemic is a plot by America to prepare their citizens for an upcoming invasion.  People take this stuff seriously.

But it all comes back to one simple idea - people with technology are better.  In the case of warfare, that's true.  Muskets versus swords is a battle I wouldn't even bother betting on.  But 'less technologically advanced' doesn't mean 'uncultured'.  It certainly doesn't mean 'bad'.  And once again, we have the possibility that a culture will wind up viewing itself a demonised.  Nothing is made of the cultural heritage that was lost when the Romans took over.  Why?  Quite simply, because there's nothing left to wonder about.  People don't think about the preservation of the society they're conquering, and why should they?  Everything changes.  But dressing me up as a handsome, righteous Roman soldier who's forcing barbarian scum from their own lands makes me distinctly uncomfortable.  I'm not interested in the land ownership debate that's forever ongoing in Australia, and I sure as heck don't want to see it creeping into my fluffy little Facebook games, either, especially when I'm the bad guy, and it's taken me this long to realise it.

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