The strategy game genre has long featured elements that mirror or model colonization, including many of its inhuman components. The Civilization franchise, for example, explores the process of colonization as players settle foreign lands, occupying territory forcibly from “barbarous” natives. Up until Civilization V, the series also included slavery. Perhaps Firaxis removed human bondage from the series to avoid discussing such a sensitive issue distastefully. Sid Meier’s Colonization does the same, which Trevor Owens of Play The Past rightly criticizes: “If someone wants to play a game where they replay the colonization of the Americas shouldn’t they have to think about the history of slavery as well?” (“Sid Meier’s Colonization: Is It Offensive Enough?”, Play The Past, 23 November 2010). Should we shy away from potentially intriguing and evocative historical systems?
Owens makes a compelling argument that Colonization should actually be more offensive. While I agree, this article is not about Colonization. Yet it is about slavery and what a particular game, a board game in fact, can teach us about the risks and rewards of modeling historical events in games.