upcoming release of Gathering Storm, the second expansion for Civ 6, will include eight new civilizations to the game. While one or two of these new playable options have already been announced, several have still yet to be revealed. Given the timing, it’s a good time to look at the mistakes of the last expansion and learn some important lessons on how to integrate different and lesser known cultures into the game without falling into the same traps.
Rise and Fall launched at the beginning of the year and included A First Nation, the Cree. It was led by Poundmaker; a first for the series and was another example of video games taking an interest in these often overlooked cultures. The hundreds of First Nation Canadian and Native American cultures have been misrepresented in the media since there discovery. While games and other media have started to take a more genuine interest in the groups, centuries of oppression, suppression, and exclusion have left the mainstream understanding of these cultures severely lacking. With Civ 6‘s complex alliance, trading and city development systems, it could have been a brilliant opportunity to celebrate and educate players about the Cree.
Unfortunately, the Cree were not happy with how they were represented in the game. With over 200,000 living Cree people, they are one of the largest First Nation groups in the Americas, and their culture does not easily translate into a Civ game. Speaking to CBC News as the expansion was released, Milton Tootoosis, a headman for the Cree, pointed out several problems they had with their depiction in the Civ 6.
The First First Nation In Civ 6
“It perpetuates this myth that First Nations had similar values that the colonial culture has, and that is one of conquering other peoples and accessing their land,” he said. “That is totally not in concert with our traditional ways and world view.”
While a fundamental part of the game is expanding your empire and dominating the other civilizations in one way or another, the Cree culture is by its nature anti-expansionist. It’s not hard to understand why Tootoosis and others were unhappy with the portrayal. This is especially true when coupled with the way in which Poundmaker people were treated by the genuinely expansionist Canadian authorities while trying to broker peaceful co-existent between them and the Cree.
Tootoosis also stated that 2K and Firaxis never contacted anyone in the Cree nation to consult on the civilizations introduction into the game, which could explain the dissonance between the actual First Nation and their digital counterpart. Its also an easy problem to solve for the upcoming Gathering Storm civilizations.
Several smaller and minority cultures, such as the Native American and First Nation people suffer from countless stereotypes, assumptions, and offensive connotations. These should be treated with the utmost care, and by far the easiest way to do that is to consult with the people Firaxis is hoping to represent. While I’m sure that no one at Firaxis meant to cause offence to the Cree, portraying their culture as expansionist, aggressive, and essentially the same of the colonial powers accidentally reinforces some of the worst opinions about the collective culture.
Obviously, a lot of other cultures might not be happy with the way they are portrayed in Civilization, from the Scot’s aggression and golf courses to the Gandhi’s nuke-happy personality. But these are cultures that receive and generate a lot of consistent coverage in the mainstream media. While most cultures have wildly unrealistic stereotypes based around them, they also have to chance to present themselves on the world stage, through the arts, tourism, and even education.
A minority, oppressed culture doesn’t have the same opportunities to dispel these notions and present their our cultures to the world on their terms. These cultures are often left at the mercy of outsiders choosing when and how they will present them. And like in the case with the Cree in Civ 6, this can be done without any consultation between the community and the media characterizing them to the world.
Games like Never Alone were made in conjunction with the people the game represented to make sure that the portrayal would be a fair and acceptable to them. Firaxis surely thought it was doing a good thing about including a culture that a huge proportion of their player base might never have heard of, but when this is the only embodiment of the Cree they have ever seen, it will affect the way in which they are perceived.
Perhaps it would have been better if Firaxis hadn’t selected the Cree as a new civilization to introduce in Rise and Fall. If the Cree believe that the fundamental mechanics of the game are at odds with their culture, it might have been best for Firaxis to look elsewhere. Although it is great to educate people about cultures they might never have heard of otherwise, it is only good to do so if this culture is characterized fairly. Hopefully, the team will be remember the Cree moving forward, and allow this mistake to inform how best to communicate and integrate new civilizations into Civilization from now on.