|Date||TBC November 2021|
A broad array of video games rely on empire-building mechanics, prompting their players to seek victory through conflict, dominance and resource exploitation. Narratives of discovery and appropriation are widespread, alongside celebratory representations of colonialism and imperial power. These modes of play and forms of representation are particularly commonplace in historical video games, which often embed Western assumptions about and perspectives on the past. This also affects research in Historical Game Studies, as some of the games which have received the most attention – for example, the Civilization series – are also amongst the most problematic. Importantly, a growing body of scholarship situates these games in frameworks of postcolonial critique (e.g. Ford, 2016; Lammes and de Smale, 2018; Mukherjee, 2017), as part of a more general efflorescence of postcolonial perspectives in game studies.
Is it truly possible, however, to disentangle video games from their imperial infrastructure? They have of course been called ‘exemplary media of empire’ (Dyer-Witheford and de Peuter, 2009: xxix). Games like 80 Days may offer particular access to the view of the subaltern, but what is the potential for historical video games to contribute to a genuinely subaltern historiography while enmeshed within a discourse of global capital, and industrial histories which entwine capital and power? What space do game-makers have to challenge these norms and offer access to a playable past which is not simply neo-colonial or characterised by erasure? And how can and do postcolonial critiques inform broader cultural work around games?