Friday, May 22, 2009

Empire: Total Bastard

By C.T. Hutt

I’ve been a fan of The Creative Assembly’s Total War Series since Shogun: Total War made the scene back in 2000. I’ve followed the game through its many incarnations, watching the graphics and gameplay improve with time. Empire: Total War is the latest incarnation of this series and outplays it predecessors in every stripe. Empire is a country simulator which takes place in the real-world 1700s complete with historical characters, realistic tactics, and political implications for every action. Unlike most of the games I faun over, Empire has no story to speak of; if you want to know what happened during this period in human history I suggest R.S. Chaurasia's History of Europe Volume 2.

My educational background is in international affairs, so toying with this kind of game makes me as happy as a headcrab hiding in a top hat. The little touches of realism the designers dropped in make it a special treat for history buffs and tactic gamers alike. I’ve already enjoyed many hours of satisfying entertainment out of this title and would recommend it as a must for any turn-based strategy fan out there. Having played the game through, I find myself struck with a sort of post-imperial depression. Looking back at the charred ruins of my opponents’ once great cities I’ve come to ponder the philosophical and moral implications of this game and have found myself on the dark side of fake history.

Empire is such a realistic simulation that when playing it I’ve become concerned about the morality the game encourages in its players. The most effective empires in the game are the ones with the largest military, the greatest dominion over trade, and the will to suppress all forms of dissent through violence. In the campaign map the quickest way of achieving one’s objectives is to befriend the countries nearest to you then flood their lands with troops when they drop their guard. In the battle maps the surest road to victory is to toss wave after wave of peasants and lowly conscripts straight into enemy lines then pepper the entire battlefield with artillery fire. When moving into an opponent’s territory the first logical move is to destroy all cultural buildings and replace them with your own. The only thing worth less to you then the lives of your troops is the general happiness of your wretched citizenry. It is a sound policy to tax them as much as possible at all times and if any of the high and mighty types in your nation’s universities start yammering about reform or representative democracy or some other such nonsense, nothing clears them out like a good old-fashioned book burning. In your face Oxford! Ultimate supremacy in Empire: Total War belongs to the nation most willing to employ a Machiavellian foreign policy.

I’ve read article after article about the dangers of portraying violence and sexuality in video games, but I haven’t heard so much as a peep out of the same angry church moms about portraying the benefits of dictatorship and social oppression. I wonder why.

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