Collections: Teaching Paradox, Europa Universalis IV, Part I: State of Play

This is the first post in a series (I, II, III, IV) that will be examining the historical assumptions of Paradox Interactive’s grand strategy computer game set in the early modern period, Europa Universalis IV. And this series will in turn be part of a larger series looking at several of Paradox’s games and how they treat their historical subjects (I know, a series of series may be the most ACOUP thing ever). In any event, it seems appropriate to start with Paradox’s oldest and still flagship title, Europa Universalis and in particular with the fourth game in the series (the latest one).

I swear I hear the loading music just looking at this. Especially the big crescendo about 50 seconds in which invariably makes me reach for my speakers to turn the volume down at least a notch.

I particularly wanted to discuss Paradox’s games, as compared to other historically rooted games, because I think Paradox’s oeuvre is a particularly rich vein to mine. I have already heard from multiple college-level instructors that they have students coming into their classes specifically to learn the history behind these games, which in turn means that these games are serving to shape those student’s understanding of history before they even enter the classroom. Moreover, and we’ll get deeper into this as we go along, the very presentation of Paradox’s games, which use their efforts at historical accuracy as a key selling point, encourages players to think about them as exercises in history rather than just games.

But more than that, more than most historically set games, Paradox games are interesting because they are built with what I think is a detectable theory of history. Unlike other games which blunder through historical eras thoughtlessly, Paradox games, intentionally or not (in the event, I think it is clear from speaking with a couple of their developers, there is quite a lot that is intentional) have something to say about history. As we’ll see, some of that I’ll agree with and some of it I will disagree with, but the great value of Paradox’s games is that there is an ample theory of history to agree or disagree with.

Finally, I think the latest generation of Paradox games (Europa Universalis IV, Hearts of Iron IV, Crusader Kings III and Imperator) are particularly interesting compared to many of the older titles because of a change in design philosophy at Paradox over the years. The earlier Paradox games were often very much ‘on rails’ with certain historical events slated to happen more-or-less on time regardless of other factors or conditions, but more recent games have tended instead to remove the ‘rails’ and instead make those events subject to historical forces modeled dynamically in the games (and you can see titles like HoI3, EU3 and Victoria II as intermediate stages in this development; I should note we will be discussing Vicky2 in this series because some of its historical assumptions are fascinating and not at all because I want to bully Paradox into green-lighting Victoria III, but Vicky2 more properly belongs to the previous generation of Paradox games rather than the current one).

So we are going to approach this question from two related frames, first, what should the student of history be thinking about when playing Paradox’s games; what unspoken assumptions should they be aware of, or even forewarned about? And what of those assumptions are grounded in real arguments among historians (or, put another way, where does Paradox have its feet firmly in the scholarship in crafting its games)? And second, what ought teachers of history know about these games and take into account if they find themselves teaching students for whom Paradox is the historical ‘mother tongue’ and actual history only a second language?

Now obviously that is going to mean that we are going to be critical about these games, pointing out flaws and weaknesses (along with strengths) of their historical assumptions. I want to note at the outset then that I have played every main Paradox title (except March of the Eagles) since Hearts of Iron II (which released in 2005). So this critique comes from a place of appreciation for the series. Unlike some other games where it was the flaws that drew me to write a critique, the main reason I think critiquing Paradox’s oeuvre is their strengths as historical games whose assumptions are rooted in actual historical interpretations, even for their shortcomings. It is precisely because Paradox’s games are serious that I am going to subject them to serious historical criticism, which may at times be a touch harsh.

But first, as always, if you like what you are reading here, please share it; if you really like it, you can support me on Patreon. And if you want updates whenever a new post appears, you can click below for email updates or follow me on twitter (@BretDevereaux) for updates as to new posts as well as my occasional ancient history, foreign policy or military history musings.

(As a very niche note, Paradox’s business model involves moving out often significant expansions to their games on a regular schedule (anywhere from 1 to 4 a year, typically, with more recent titles settling into a consistent one-expansion-per-year rhythm), which means that their games tend to be moving targets in terms of criticism. I’ve played EU4 since release and so I am going to at some points offer comments as to the direction of the franchise in addition to its current state, particularly in cases where it seems that the developers are consciously trying to move the games towards addressing some of the critiques here. I should also note that I have not yet played the latest expansion to EU4, “Leviathan,” which appears to have been quite poorly received by fans in any event.)

Simulation of Power

First, we need to lay out quickly what the core of Europa Universalis IV (henceforth, EU4) is, particularly for readers who might be less familiar with it. EU4 is a grand strategy computer game made by Swedish developers Paradox Interactive in which the player plays as an early modern state – not a ruler, but the state itself – guiding its strategic and operational (but not tactical) decision making from 1444 to 1821. As the name suggests, this is the fourth game on this theme by Paradox. The game is primarily played on risk-style map (but with far more, smaller provinces – a little over 3,000 in total which are simulated in substantially greater depth), where players can move around their armies and fleets and make province-level administrative decisions. Players choose one historical state to play as (out of several hundred – there is a real effort to get practically every state of any size or significance to be on the map and playable); all of the other states operate under the same rules but are managed by the AI (or by other players in multiplayer, but most players stick with single-player). The starting maps are based on historical borders at given points in time (and generally fairly accurate; far more so than is normal in the genre).

The main playing screen of EU4 (with a small insert showing the great powers open at left). This is also a good map to really underscore the counter-historical potential of the simulation. Here, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, rather than falling apart, has emerged as a major great power dominating the southern Baltic.

It is worth noting here that, unlike many historical strategy games, there are no ‘minor’ factions in EU4 which are only played by the AI (though there are non-state peoples who are not played at all). While it is clearly the expectation that players will want to helm historically important, large states, one absolutely can opt to play as smaller, weaker states or states that were quickly absorbed historically. Any state on the map is playable. That is going to matter a fair bit that the game encourages players to see themselves not merely as the big, successful imperial states, but also as smaller, weaker states fearful of imperial neighbors (something we’ll return to next week).

Players don’t just make military decisions, but are also responsible for diplomacy (which, unlike in many other games, is not vestigial here – good alliances and friendly relationships are crucial to survival and the diplomacy system is fairly developed), public works construction and budgeting decisions. This is a game where choosing not to fight is often the correct choice (though war can be forced on the player by the AI). The player is also given significant control over the cultural aspects of their state, selecting ‘ideas’ for their state to adopt, which specialize it in various ways and give relevant bonuses; since not all ideas can be selected, the player is essentially choosing to focus on some aspects over others as a matter of policy and/or culture (we’ll come back to that). We’ll return to this next week, but the game has no explicit ‘win’ conditions, though many of its mechanics tend to push the player towards expanding state power, especially by expanding territory (that is conquest), so the most common way to play is to attempt the widest possible imperial expansion (though some players do intentionally focus on avoiding imperial expansion).

So, in essence, the player guides state actions through roughly 400 years of the early modern period.

Via the EU4 Wiki, a complete map of all of the playable countries in EU4, along with ‘uncolonized lands’ (in light grey). You can find a full, zoomable version here. The effort here to include and simulate the majority of the states of the period is really remarkable. Japan alone, for instance, contains more than thirty playable states at the 1444 start.

Centering the State

Now I want to stress something about that description because it is really crucial for understanding EU4 and how it views history. This is a game about states. If you play as, say, France, you play as the state of France. You do not play as the kings of France, or any particular king of France – kings in this game come and go, often with little notice by the player except in how the minor differences in their abilities impact state strategy which transcends their reigns. Even complete changes in dynasties often pass without remark; I have had successions through distaff lines change my ruling house in games as Prussia or Burgundy and not noticed until decades later. Heck, even changes in government form are not meaningful discontinuities; transitions from kingdom to republic can be managed and while they can be disruptive they do not end the game. Playing as the Kingdom of France, the extinction of the French royal line and the transition into the French Republic isn’t a failure condition; indeed, it may be an intentional strategy for a player; in either case the state of France persists. Likewise, when playing France, you are not playing as the French – indeed, France starts with many provinces with French culture outside of its borders and control. This is a game about states, not nation-states; unlike in, say, Civilization you are not playing as a people, but as a political entity. So you do not play as a ruler, nor a family of rulers, nor as a government, nor as a people, you play as a state.

Consequently, EU4 views the world almost exclusively through the prism of state action. Only states are real actors in EU4 (rather than simple mechanisms those states must manage), to the exclusion of all other forms of social organization. This comes out clearest in the way that the game treats non-state organizations: it either re-conceptualizes them as states, or reduces them to largely predictable, mechanistic systems to be managed by states.

Take, for instance, non-state polities (that is, people politically organized into things – like tribes – which are not states; for those who want a refresh on the distinction between states and non-state polities, check out this post, which covers states and state formation). EU4 takes some peoples who were not organized as states, like the Apache or the Pawnee or some of the peoples of the Eurasian Steppe and recasts them as states, albeit giving them government types (like ‘tribal council’) which point to the fact that they aren’t. Nevertheless, they behave like states because they play almost entirely like the other states in the game: they control clearly defined territories with a monopoly on the use of force in those territories and they act in complete unison under central direction and strategy, all of which is the definition of a state. Consequently, the complexity of non-state polities like these is just ironed away to make them all behave just like states, mostly to act as colonial foils and victims for the major state powers.

Here we are playing as the Comanche who, even in 1444, are presented as a united political entity with a single strategic direction and a single army (which is to say, as a state). By contrast, the territory around us, despite being inhabited by people who, historically would have had nearly all of the same political and social institutions the Comanche did, is simply ‘uncolonized land.’ We’ll get into it later, but that term is deeply unfortunate.
That said, it is a huge step forward compared to many games set in this period that Native American peoples are actually playable, although they are at a huge disadvantage which we’ll discuss in part 3.

Which is still better than the peoples the game does not convert into ersatz states. Populated areas of the world which aren’t covered by states are presented as ‘uncolonized’ provinces (literally, the in-game designation of these places is “uncolonized land” which remains a rather poor choice of phrasing), colored grey on the map (that is, they lack a ‘national’ color). The people in these places – and the game is careful to let you know there are people here; each ‘uncolonized’ province has a ‘population’ statistic which contributes to the development (see below) of the province once colonized – are entirely passive, unlike the states. They do not expand, make aggressive war, engage in diplomacy or anything like that. They exist to be settled upon or colonized and have no real chance of stopping that process once a state has turned their eyes upon them. These non-state peoples, rather than being converted into states, are treated as little more than soft gray clay, ready to be molded by the states around them.

Sub-state organizations get similar treatment, reduced to mechanics that are managed by the state. The roiling complexity of the Protestant Reformation, for instance, is reduced to a percentage chance that Catholic provinces spawn ‘centers of reformation’ which in turn begin converting adjacent provinces at a constant rate. In short, while the game features social change, religious change, revolution and upheaval, these sub-state (or international) movements are treated from the perspective of the state and its concerns.

Which brings us to the first big historical assumption that Europa Universalis IV essentially ‘smuggles’ into the game as an unstated consequence of the game mechanics: in EU4 history is the story of states. Now this isn’t an invalid way of teaching history, to be clear! I have history courses in my back pocket that I teach which are absolutely political histories focused on the structures and fortunes of states! Indeed, history as the history of states is arguably the oldest form of history (depending on what we think of Herodotus’ history-as-ethnography approach). But it is hardly the only form of history and I don’t think I would ever teach a pure political history course which never delved into realities below the level of state policy; that sort of relentlessly singular focus is sometimes appropriate in scholarship but hasn’t been current in teaching for many decades now (and for good reason).

Now to be clear, EU4 is not a history course and I don’t think the frame they’ve adopted is necessarily bad. This is a game about states. That’s a fair game to make the same way there are games about sports which don’t demand you manage the concessions stand or parking-availability and games about running companies which don’t demand you manage very much those companies relationship to states. And again, the history of states is a valid historical lens to adopt; states, by virtue of being big, powerful institutions, can have big, powerful historical impacts. But this specific frame is something that a player really needs to be aware of when using EU4 to think about history, particularly because (and we’ll come back to this concept later) the tremendous persuasive power of a simulation.

But before we get to that, I want to expand on some of the ways that EU4‘s focus on states distorts its image of history. We’ve essentially now discussed how that vision of history tends to hide the agency of things which are not states (institutions, peoples, polities, movements, etc), but it also tends to wildly overstate the power of states. And it begins with the state’s power to see.

Blinded Like a State

One facet of this expression of state power (and player convenience) is the absolutely vast amount of information the player has. While the actions and situation of foreign states may be, to a degree, hidden (although the player still has far better information on relative military and economic strength, to the point of knowing, down to the last man, how many men in service and liable for conscription every single state has at any given time), the player has effectively perfect information about their own state.

Look at all that province information (on the bottom left). Also, this screen is a great example of just how much EU4 is willing to simulate very small states. While I am playing as the midsized Duchy of Burgundy, you can see the little Dutch states and the even smaller states of the Holy Roman Empire as well.

Every state, no matter how limited its administrative capacity, can with a click look at a province and see its development (which replaced population in previous games), tax, production, trade value, local culture, local religion, notable public buildings, available manpower, precise supply limit, trade power, the major local product, how much is produced and where those goods flow. The state has precise knowledge at all times of how much manpower they have available state-wide, how many sailors, exactly how much money and so on.

These were things that pre-modern states generally did not know! Indeed, modern states can often only estimate these sorts of things in very broad strokes!

James C. Scott, in Seeing Like a State (1998) – itself long overdue for a fireside recommendation – takes up this issue of legibility directly. Scott notes that human societies are not generally, by their nature, ‘legible’ or ‘visible’ to states. Humans are hard to keep track of; they move, marry, have children and die. Consequently, Scott documents the lengths some states (the book is organized as a series of case studies) have gone to in order to render those people legible. Scott notes that such efforts by states are often very disruptive, sometimes even violent, for the actual people being ‘made legible’ to the state, as counting and organizing them often means intruding on their lives, reorganizing communities and disrupting traditional patterns of life. Moreover, even once this process was done, what the state had gained was often the illusion of knowledge, possessing lots of uniform statistics which did not show important local knowledge about conditions on the ground (leading to things like, for instance, the failure of efforts at massive, state-run farms; farming is a very localized thing and the absence of local knowledge of seasons and soil conditions often produced catastrophe).

One example Scott uses early in his book is illustrative to how these processes went. In late 1700s Prussia, the state owned significant amounts of forestland, the logging of which generated revenue to the state. In an effort to maximize this revenue in the long term, the Prussians embarked on a program of carefully measuring their forests, classifying trees and recording them. That effort created a demand for forests that were easier to record (and thus easier to calculate revenue maximizing utilization), so the forests were transformed into artificial grids of trees, using just a handful of tree species in neat rows which grew to more or less uniform heights. The unreadable variety of actual forests had been rendered into a readable, regularized artificial forest which could be understood as easily from the forester’s ledger as from the forest floor itself. But that very process of regularizing the forests had unintended consequences. It disrupted the small ecological processes which enabled the forest to renew itself after cutting, such that, a century in on the project, the Prussian forests began to experience Waldsterben (forest death). Trees died, production shrunk and efforts were then put underway to create virtual, artificial ecologies to replace the more robust ecologies that systematization had destroyed, often with only limited success.

But early modern states weren’t merely systematizing forests to render them legible, they were systematizing everything to render it legible to the state – not merely trees but also farms and also farmers, also burgs and burghers. Rather than disrupting natural ecologies, they disrupted natural communities, often to the frustration of the people who inhabited those very communities. All of this was simply an effort to see the countryside the state in theory controlled but in practice had only ever controlled very incompletely and to render that countryside understandable to state bureaucrats and advisors in far away capitals and administrative centers.

(Note that all states engage in these processes to a degree and you find efforts to create legible societies even in ancient states. What changes in the early modern period is that the level of state capacity, at least in Europe (because other areas of the world had high state capacity in much earlier periods) rises tremendously, making radical efforts at social state-legibility possible.)

In addition to clicking on individual provinces, the player has access to the ledger, a vast compendium of statistics on all of your provinces and indeed also rival countries. The game updates your ledger on every tick (that is, each in-game day), so this information is up-to-date within 24 hours, which is an absurd level of precision even for modern states!

States in EU4 seem to have none of these limitations, at least at first glance, as they have perfect information about the production and revenue capabilities of all of their provinces. It could be argued that the process by which the player develops provinces in their state reflects this process of legibility, such that when the player clicks the button to spend resources developing the tax base, or production or manpower of a province what they are actually doing are things like registering households for taxation and conscription or seizing and privatizing common land (a process known as enclosure) to render it liable for taxation and so on. But the game doesn’t say this and the little sounds the game plays when you do this (jingling coins, sawing boards and hammers pounding anvils) implies that we are to understand what you are doing is more akin to constructing infrastructure. But these are early modern states, not modern states – they aren’t (for the most part, this sort of thing is complex) widening the tax base through industrialization or infrastructure, but through exactly the disruptive processes of increasing state ‘legibility’ that Scott outlines. Yes, this is a period (in Europe) of rising urbanization and population growth, but not generally as the result of state action.

Moreover – and this will be a frequent refrain for this series – the player is given no sense of what impacts these decisions have on regular people. Because the game is focused on states the only impacts we see are impacts on states. Increasing ‘manpower’ costs a resource (‘military power’ generated by the ruler and advisors and reflecting the state’s administrative capacity for this sort of thing) and provides an unalloyed good to the state (increased military manpower). What we do not see are the royal inspectors going house to house signing up (and in some cases, violently impressing) newly legible peasants for military service from which they will likely never return. We do not see peasant resistance to being made newly legible for new (or old) taxes which might push them into misery (this interaction, where increasingly effective taxation of the lower classes lead to economic misery was a key contributor to the discontent that produced the French Revolution). We hear a happy sound, and our state now has more power and it seems like everything is good because everything is good for the state. The consequences of state action on real people are never brought meaningfully before the player’s eyes in direct response to that player action (hitting the development button does not, for instance, stoke unrest or have a chance of trigger negative local events).

There is no sense that sometimes increased state power is actually bad for the people that the state nominally protects or works for, even though as Scott points out with case study after case study, historically rising state administrative capacity could be very bad (though it could also be quite good) for the subjects of those states. Instead, these interactions are viewed entirely through the state’s eyes, where increased legibility leads to increased state power, which is good. There are no costs or tradeoffs.

Another ledger screen where I can see the exact military composition of my rivals and neighbors down to the precise – to the last man – number of men eligible for conscription in each country. That is information that effectively no state in this period would have about themselves, much less about their rivals.
(To be clear, I understand the gameplay reasons why this information is made available, I just want to note how ahistorical it would be to actually be this well informed. Many pre-modern and early modern and even modern states went to war with barely any idea – or wildly inaccurate ideas – about the manpower reserves of their soon-to-be enemies.)

Ministry of Culture

One of the consequences of these limitations in state power and legibility historically (and a conclusion it is hard not to draw from a reading of history) is just how limited the power of states is to change underlying cultures intentionally. Alexander’s efforts to institute Achaemenid court ritual and to have his Macedonian officers mingle and intermarry with Persian nobles didn’t stick. Augustus, for all his efforts, didn’t manage to get the Roman elite to reproduce themselves or stay married. Sustained efforts by the Soviet Union over seventy years to drive the Orthodox Church (and other religions as well) out of Soviet society largely failed, despite the vast power of the Soviet state. Examples of these sorts of failed top-down cultural initiatives are practically endless; it is very hard for states to intentionally effect mass cultural change by main force as an intentional policy. There are some exceptions, of course; states are, for instance, generally effective at getting people to learn new languages (but much less effective at getting them to abandon old ones). But overall, state efforts to mold culture tend to be long and difficult and still yield disappointing results.

By contrast, because of the strong focus in EU4 on history as a story of state action, the state is made the main director of most cultural change and moreover given tremendous agency over such change to the point of often obliterating the agency of other groups. This is perhaps most obvious in the tremendous control the player is given to make decisions that we might understand as changes in the culture of their state. This is perhaps clearest in two areas: ‘ideas’ and province culture.

‘Ideas’ in EU4 define the different capabilities and specialties of states. As the game progresses, the player is given a number of slots (eight, eventually) and they can chose an ‘idea group’ for each (out of 18). Each idea group is essentially a cluster of bonuses representing the increased effectiveness of the state in some specific kind of activity. For instance, the ‘Trade’ idea group makes the state better at profiting from trade, while the ‘Offensive’ idea group makes the armies of the state better at offensive warfare and so on. Because there are more idea groups than there are slots for idea groups, the player is essentially being asked to specialize their state, to decide what things it is good at, at the cost of being less good at other things.

It says something about the focus of the game that fully one third of the ideas are focused on military affairs, while entire sections of the game like trade and religion get just a single idea group. As we’ll see next week, for a game about early modern states, that focus isn’t unreasonable, but it is worth noting.
Here you can see the entire set of ideas (some countries may have slightly different idea group sets, but only slightly). The row of 7 icons below each idea group name represent different bonuses unlocked within that idea group; the light-bulb at the end is the bonus given for unlocking the entire group. The tooltip notes that idea groups can be combined to unlock powerful policies.

(Each state also has a ‘national idea’ group, a set of bonuses unique to them, which generally go towards whatever that state was well known for. So for instance Dutch ideas carry heavy trade bonuses, French ideas have bonuses to manpower following on the historical levée en masse, the Manchu have large bonuses to aggressive warfare and so on. A major part of strategy in the game is coming up with an overall strategic which harmonizes a state’s national idea group with the later idea groups taken)

Some of these ideas are things like having a national bank or a formalized officer corps which do fit within the space of state action and speak to the configuration of the state. But most of the ideas in question are much more broadly cultural, including things like ‘Nationalistic Enthusiasm,’ ‘Humanist Tolerance,’ ‘Print Culture,’ and ‘Shrewd Commerce Practice.’ And the very fact that these things are ideas rather than institutions – you are not adopting a specific structure of government, but rather the idea of that structure of government is percolating through your society (there is a separate mechanic for enacting ‘policies,’ which are enabled by having several compatible ideas) – speaks to the degree to which what the player is actually doing is shaping the culture of their state.

And certainly it is possible to look back and see that different states were differently able at certain tasks. It is dangerous to oversimplify here and end up reducing complex states and societies into stereotypes caricatures of themselves, but the idea of a game simulating states that, being excellent at one thing are less excellent than their contemporaries at other things makes sense. What is really ahistorical here is the degree of state control. It is safe to say that the Dutch Republic (remember, states, not peoples, so the Dutch Republic, not the Dutch), for instance, rather more competitive in trade than many other states. In the game, this is modeled by the confluence of Dutch ‘national ideas’ (which are themselves a choice; it is possible under the right conditions to ‘tag-switch’ and form different national configurations with different national ideas; the player must choose to form the Dutch Republic to get access to their ideas, as they don’t exist normally at game start) and taking the ‘Trade’ idea group (which anyone playing the Dutch Republic would have to be a very great fool not to take).

But historically, the prominence of the Dutch Republic in trade wasn’t just the consequence of state action (although certainly continued trade prominence was a major strategic goal of the state). It was a product of the terrain of the Netherlands (sitting at the mouth of a big navigable river that reached inland and provided a coastline with lots of good harbors), a product of the fact that the Low Countries had been an important region for trade (particularly in fabrics) for centuries, which in turn had shaped longstanding cultural assumptions and social structures in the communities of the Low Countries. And of course the historical timing and placement which put the Dutch Republic in the position of being a well-armed imperial state rather than one of the many more poorly armed or otherwise less fortunate states the Dutch would colonize or trade-with-and/or-exploit.

Now we’ve talked about elsewhere on the blog how preexisting social structures can influence things like military structure, but also economic patterns. While these deep structures in society do change, they change only slowly and at a pace generally too slow for states to plan around them. In short, the factors that made the Dutch prominent in global trade mostly weren’t strategic decisions made with centuries-long planning horizons, they were accidents of culture, geography and the moment. There is some of this in EU4 (though – and we’ll get to this in two weeks – it is handled rather more poorly than I’d like), but for the most part the game, in the interest of maximizing player agency (which is, after all, the fun of it), ignores these factors.

A game as the Netherlands in which trade is booming – you can see the state treasury in the top right, just to the left of the national banner where it reads ’62k,’ a nearly (but only nearly) unspendable amount of money.

(I should note, the specific school of historical thought that EU4 is not really engaging with here is called the Annales school. The Annales school of thought focused on the long run of history (la longue durée) which they argue is only briefly upset by sensational events but deeply shaped by things (‘structures’) like geography, climate and cultural assumptions (what they call mentalités). In this reading, kings and empires rise and fall – often quite quickly – but the slow work of these structures is more influential in the long run. EU4, understandably, does not want to trap players in circumstances deeply beyond their control where socially embedded institutions and assumptions (much less climate and geography) put the player ‘on rails’ and so the game minimizes the degree to which these concerns shape history. I should also note that, while Annales thinking is a very valuable tool in the historian’s tool box, it is by no means the only one. Sometimes kings and empires do last and do have permanent impacts on the underlying structures!)

Unimaginative Communities

EU4 likewise privleges state action as the primary motivator of culture change in another way: the culture of provinces. Each province has a primary culture, which in turn a member of a culture group (generally modeled on linguistic families). Each state has one ‘primary’ culture and some ‘accepted’ cultures, provinces of which provide full resources; provinces with other cultures suffer penalties to unrest, tax income, etc. There are a lot of assumptions packed into this system and we will be coming back to it later.

When a state absorbs provinces that are of neither an accepted culture or the primary culture, it has essentially three choices: first, it can simply tolerate the reduced revenue and resources and higher unrest from the province (not generally a good choice). Second, the player can spend resources (‘diplomatic power’ representing the cultural cache of the state) to add the culture in question to the ‘accepted cultures’ list for the state, presumably representing a decision to reach an official accommodation with the culture in question. But there are a sharply limited number of slots for accepted cultures, so developing a truly pluralistic society is generally impractical. The final option is to convert the province culture by expending diplomatic power, which changes the province’s culture to the primary culture. I want to focus on that third option.

There are two significant problems here. The first is that while the culture conversion button is presented as rather a good thing (it runs on diplomatic power, for instance, rather than military power, another comparable resource), the implications of what the rapid conversion (typically anywhere from 3-10 years) of a province’s culture means are left unaddressed. The game makes a happy little horn-call when you press the button and the conversion starts, with a little administrator figure appearing on the map with a progress bar.

EU4’s change culture button; when pressed it starts the conversion process with an upbeat musical note, leaving a small administrator on the map to mark progress.

The issue is, we know what trying to ‘convert culture’ on a province on that kind of time frame looks like, because the People’s Republic of China is literally doing that in Xinjiang right now and it looks like genocide and ethnic cleansing. But the player is never confronted with the implications of their choices; there is no reduction in the province’s development on account of the mass death or deportation and unrest doesn’t even go up during the process. The implication is that the forced cultural conversion of an entire province within a single generation by state action involves no coercion, no violence, no force, no death. Which is absurd and the game should be more honest about what that button ought to entail (and also it should probably require ‘military power’ not ‘diplomatic power’).

The second is that this process vastly overstates the ability of states, by direct action, to change underlying culture. Yes, what we might call cultural assimilation (though that term often doesn’t grasp the complex ways that cultural identities layer on each other so that a person might be, for instance, Roman and Egyptian and Alexandrian and Greek-speaking and Christian, to take an ancient example) does happen and it often happens in and around state borders. It is a long observed point that it is often states which create nations and only more rarely the other way around (although it does happen!).

But that kind of cultural expansion, when it isn’t accomplished through genocidal ethnic cleansing and replacement (and often even when those things are done which, and I want to be clear here, ethnic cleansing is bad and should not happen), is extremely slow. The process by which, say, the Latin language slowly spread out through the western parts of the Roman Empire took centuries to complete. These changes happen over generations, not years.

Now I understand what the game is trying to simulate. It is trying to simulate the emergence of modern nation-states, a real phenomenon that did occur in this period. It is easy for us to forget that the big national identities of western and central Europe (‘Spanish’ and ‘French’ and ‘German’ and so on) have not existed forever. Medieval France, for instance, had many ethnic groups – Franks, Occitans, Aquitanians, Bretons, Burgundians, and on and on – who spoke somewhat different languages and had meaningful cultural differences (and to be clear, these regional cultures mostly still exist, but now layered over with a common French identity because – once more with feeling – cultural identities are complex and layer over each other, not simple and exclusive). It was an important but slow process whereby those regional identities converged somewhat creating the big French national ‘super-identity.’ The same process happened in most of Europe’s large states in this period or following it.

(And I should note this process is not exclusive to Europe or to the early modern period. ‘Egyptian’ identity seems to have been a creation of the long periods of unified Egyptian rule c. 3200-500 BC; likewise Han Chinese identity, or the formation of an Iroquois (or Haudenosaunee) identity out of originally five and later six distinct groups, to name just a few of a multitude of examples. Practically every cultural grouping larger than a few towns or villages is the product of these sorts of processes. That said, for reasons we are about to discuss, these forces get much stronger in the early modern and modern periods, worldwide)

Cultural conversion in progress (the appearance of the administrator official who marks the progress changes based on your state’s culture).

But they have the agency here all wrong. Here I think it is helpful to lean on B. Anderson, Imagined Communities (1983, also a classic which doubtless will make a fireside appearance at some point). Anderson argues that the real agent of this process in the early modern period is the combination of mass literacy (generally in the vernacular, that is local spoken, language rather than a fancy lingua Franca like Latin) with the printing press and the mass commercial literature it produced (expressed by Anderson more or less as the printing press plus capitalism) combined finally with the movement away from personal rule through hereditary monarchy and divine right that occurred with the Enlightenment.

And what I want to note here is that the only real state agency in any of that is that some states encouraged mass literacy in the vernacular through public education, using state resources to teach new generations a standardized version of the national language (which is why countries like France have government agencies which determine correct spelling and punctuation, rather than how countries in the Anglophone world leave that issue to endless, ineffectual bickering between writing style guides; this is not to say that Anglophone countries have never attempted to force people to learn English as a means of cultural erasure though). But the rest of it – the printing press and the mass commercial literature and even most of the drive for mass literacy – happen below the level of state activity and outside of the control of the state. This is perhaps most visible in Germany before the formation of the German state. Despite the lack of a united German state, the emergence of a common vernacular literature in German encouraged many German-speakers to see themselves (this is the ‘imagined’ in Imagined Communities – they are creating the community as an act of collective imagination; nations are, in this sense, socially constructed) as part of a greater German whole. Indeed, in the German case, it was the feeling of nationalism which led to the national state, rather than the other way around (to greatly simplify a very complex series of events). State power in these processes is often minimal, as attested to by the frequent failures of state efforts to culturally consolidate nations either at home or abroad.

Now I think that the folks behind EU4 are actually aware of Imagined Communities, because they have embraced part of his thesis: the ‘Enlightenment’ institution (more on those later), which appears around 1700 and requires the ‘Printing Press’ institution substantially reduces culture conversion costs and it isn’t hard to see how that fits with Anderson’s Enlightenment+Literacy+Printing_Press argument. And in earlier games (Europa Universalis III, in particular), the cultural assimilation process was bottom-up, uncontrolled by the player; provinces had a weighted chance to trigger a conversion event over time, leading to something closer to what we might expect: a slow, but steady drift towards a common ‘national’ culture so long as the same state controlled the space which, due to the weighting, accelerated with the Enlightenment (though I will say that probably this process ought to be more strongly connected to the printing press than the Enlightenment). In terms of modeling the limits of state power, EU4 is thus a step backwards from EU3 which was more prepared to admit that these sorts of processes existed largely outside of the realm of state action.

Nevertheless, if we are being fair, I understand from a game design point of view the desire to take a seemingly random and uncontrollable process and give the player a sense of agency and control. Games where you can control things are more fun, after all. Myself, what I might do differently here is instead of a ‘convert culture’ button which does the job in a few years or a couple of decades, I might have given the player an ‘encourage mass literacy’ policy which has the same effect, but over a much longer span of time and at a lower cost, but only works if unrest is kept very low (and then move the bonus to this from Enlightenment to the Printing Press institution, or give them both a bonus).

Invisible People

All of these problems together seem to have to have the same potentially bad tendency: they tend to obscure the consequences the player’s decisions have on real people, instead focusing on the impact that player decisions have on the power of the state. We’ll see that same tendency next week when we start to look at the political model that EU4 is built on, but it is worth stressing it here.

While EU4 does not have win conditions per se, it does have a ‘score’ which rates the player based almost entirely on the power of their state (split into administrative, military and diplomatic categories). There is no score for the quality of life in the state (interestingly, this is in contrast to te next game, chronologically, Victoria II, which does consider quality of life, in its own way; we will actually see that VickyII, while it has its own problems, resolves some of EU4‘s stickier issues due to its different focus), no prize for a player whose careful management encourages simple human thriving rather than vast empire building.

Moreover, not only does EU4 not confront the player with the human cost of theri decisions, but it goes further and often implies that no such human cost exists. The relentless march of state institutions, of state ‘legibility’ and state power, alongside the steady erasure (because while real cultural identities layer, in the game they do not) of local cultures in favor of overarching national identities are never even really implied to create real human suffering. They result in more power and glory to the state and so ad maiorem patriae gloriam they are uncomplicated good things. In a handful of cases, the march of state power can produce random events which begin to suggest the unmooring of traditional societies, but the game invests these with no amount of perceivable consequence; the events are just that, random events, not direct results if your policies.

The result is a game that plays as a love letter to state power. More state power is always better. And while that does fit with a particular vision of how states work (which we’ll talk about next week), the opportunity to stress the real and sometimes enormous human cost that attitude can cause is mostly lost here.

And so my advice to teachers who find their students coming from EU4 to the classroom is to foreground the human consequences of those state-centered policies. What does it mean for people that the state is encouraging cultural convergence, or rendering the countryside more ‘legible’ in order to extract more manpower for one more apparently endless war (mostly misery, in the event; in the latter case this was exactly one of the pressures that led to the French Revolution).

And for students who are using EU4 as a background, my advice would be to interrogate more deeply some of the processes that are being simulated here. These processes – the steady increase of state power and capacity and the emergence of national imagined identities – were very real historical processes that really did happen and really do shape our modern world in profound ways. I applaud the folks at Paradox for making such an effort to try to model those processes, even if in some cases they fall short. But I would suggest for the student looking into this to ask some hard questions about the costs and tradeoffs of those processes. The modern world is, I think, mostly a good thing, but it came with some catastrophic birthing pains. I’ve already suggested two good starting places, but to reiterate them, you might begin by reading J.C. Scott, Seeing Like a State (1998) and B. Anderson, Imagined Communities (1983).

Next week, we take a turn and look at war, diplomacy, war, politics and war. Because the world of Europa Universalis IV is a very violent place and that’s actually a point where I think Paradox has the history right in very interesting ways!

151 thoughts on “Collections: Teaching Paradox, Europa Universalis IV, Part I: State of Play

  1. “Moreover, not only does EU4 not confront the player with the human cost of theri decisions”
    their decisions

    1. And shortly thereafter – “the events are just that, random events, not direct results *if* your policies.”

  2. I find it interesting that two Paradox titles deal with issues of cost of state centralization and power better are Crusader Kings (because of their inherently personal focus) and Stellaris – a science fiction game.

    I think it is a conscious decision on Paradox part – they avoid depicting grand scale atrocities in their historical titles creating a very sanitizing view of history.

    1. I wonder if there’s a bit of… well, basically, there is a perception that the Paradox fanbase includes some pretty fashy people (which 1) is probably true 2) is 100% not true only for that fanbase, obviously – I just saw two outright neo-Nazi emblems in MGSV in a row), and having those atrocities as options might lead to the extremely bad optics of people streaming themselves doing the atrocities on purpose. If you let players do a thing, some players will do that thing very happily and with an intent to express abuse.

      1. My impression has always been that while the Paradox fanbase definitely has it’s share of fascists, they tend to be more uh… *boutique* than your standard nazis. (partially because Paradox does at least a tolerable job of banning people who get too nazi) and partially because of the kind of weird nerdery that demands a certain level of obscurity even in fascist ideologues.

        1. I’m sure Paradox has its share of fascists, just like it has its share of monarchists, stalinists, etc. Historical strategy games tend to attract a disproportionate number of people from non-mainstream political ideologies, especially if they get to play as those ideologies.

    2. Part of it, especially with the Hearts of Iron series (which simulates WW2), is that they don’t want to show those atrocities since it encourages people with poor intentions. There’s a tradeoff between giving a holocaust simulator to neo-Nazis and giving better knowledge to people with good intentions. There’s a similar problem with the crusades in Crusader Kings and slavery in the USA in Victoria.

      1. The crusades in Crusader Kings seem like a pretty bad example here. Don’t know how it is in CK3, but in CK2 the game typically rubs your face in religious atrocities when given the opportunity. Just as an example, you can get an event where you come across a group of civilians who don’t follow your religion. One of the options for said event is to murder all of them because even noncombatant unbelievers deserve death.

        Indeed, Crusader Kings typically take a very cynical view of religion. Many of the events come off as mocking anyone who takes religion seriously and assumes any character who is religious is a thuggish brute. Unless you’re a Norse polytheist, of course. Killing people for Odin makes you a cool badass.

    3. This has been discussed quite a bit in the Hearts of Iron community. Paradox has consciously decided not to represent the atrocities of the fascist regimes, but has made reference to some of the Allied atrocities (in particular the Great Purge and the Bengal Famine), which promotes a sort of false moral equivalence between the two sides and inadvertently promotes myths like the Clean Wehrmacht myth. It would seem that their laudable goal of not creating a “war crimes simulator” has some unfortunate side effects.

      1. The reasoning (right or wrong) Behind some of this is western allied attrocities are often historically minimized or erased, while axis attrocities are well discussed and taught.

        Of course then there’s the soviets who get to be portrayed as literally worse than the nazis in a period where the nazis go in and kill tens of millions of their citizens. This is quite uncomfortable

        1. “Kill tens of millions of their citizens”

          That could be said of the soviets who probably killed more of their own people under stalin than hitler could’ve even dreamed, I mean look at the Kulaks.

          1. It’s tough to do a precise accounting of who is responsible for more deaths, but the point remains that if in your WWII-era game, you’re going to cover mass death in the USSR caused by callous use of famines as weapons, or purges that sweep hundreds of thousands off into the gulags in a matter of a year…

            And then you don’t cover Auschwitz or the immense civilian slaughter that encompassed tens of millions as it was, and would have expanded if the Nazis had somehow managed to win on the Eastern Front…

            Well, the result is a game that implies a very lopsided perspective on the atrocities of the era.

          2. There is a mod for hoi4, called new world order.
            While it is alternate history, it is so well fleshed out it plays better than the original games in many ways.

            It also clearly illustrates the point why most people don’t even want the atrocities portrayed in games, even if they don’t know it yet.
            Fire up the mod and play as the SS-Staat Burgundy under the illustrious former reichfuhrer Himmler.
            In a few events you’ll understand why paradox didn’t implement Auschwitz in the base game. I spent 3 years in Iraq and I couldn’t stomach the popup event decisions in the mod for that “country”.

            I give the mod 10/10 stars for making me so uneasy I never loaded the game again and went back to vanilla HOI4. In some ways it’s the highest praise for whoever wrote the events for the ss state, just made me question if the author shouldn’t be institutionalised. 😉

    4. Stellaris does depict atrocities, but it’s not very good at depicting the how or why these atrocities come about. You enslave or purge people because you’re an Authoritarian Xenophobe and your people think that xenos are inferior, not because there’s some sort of benefit to your culture or economy. If you’re not RPing as an evil bastard, then the process of turning recently conquered aliens into productive citizens of your empire is just a matter of landing troops on their planet and then waiting for the “recently conquered” happiness penalty to go away.

      And the economy in Stellaris is as centralized and micromanaged as can be – you have complete control over what buildings get built and what jobs your people work. While your empire is vaguely implied to have some sort of internal private economy, every resource that matters to you as a player is only generated at your command. Your empire is basically a giant production line for alloys and tech, with things like consumer goods and amenities only mattering to the extent that you need some of that to support the pops working in the alloy foundries.

      (Heck, until 3.0, forcible resettlement was basically mandatory for late-game empires. Since pops didn’t migrate on their own, you would have to periodically round up a bunch of unemployed people and ship them off to a mining world on the other side of the galaxy, an action that in reality probably involves a good bit of violence. But from your perspective, it’s just a small payment of energy to fix your employment and housing problems. What’s not to like?)

      “Pops” do a good job of making the galaxy feel less lifeless and making you pay some attention to the ethics and opinions of your citizens, but I definitely wouldn’t say that Stellaris deals with the hidden costs of state power in any meaningful way.

      1. There was a certain amount of violence done to my wrist in managing my least favorite mechanic of resettling pops from all my over crowded habitats.

        I never contextualized it as forced resettlement more than paradox simply failing in their simulation to properly simulate migration mechanics

        1. True, post-2.2 the resettlement mechanic is basically a patch for the new economy being broken, but it’s been around since the earliest versions of the game, and generally represents some form of “the government telling you what job to work and where.” There’s a reason the civic that improves resettlement costs is called “Corvee Labor”

      2. Yes, I would completely agree with this assessment. A big part of the problem is that mechanics like Happiness and Factions are entirely toothless.

        Ideally, peacefully integrating conquered Pops into a Xenophobic empire would be a trade-off of gaining their production while infuriating your empire’s Xenophobe faction, while on the other hand integrating them as slaves or simply purging would lead to mass revolts and local resistance to your control. There should also be a lot more significance to pops of contrasting Ethics coexisting on the same planet or Xenophobe pops existing on planets with other species, like violent unrest, but maybe not until the late-game performance issues related to pop calculations are brought fully under control.

        1. I would add, though, that I’m not hopeful about seeing any of this stuff implemented in Stellaris. Judging by the response to the 3.0 pop growth changes, it’s clear that a very vocal part of the community just wants an uncomplicated map painter.

  3. I always felt a bit of ambiguity about who exactly are we role-playing in EU4, precisely because of the reasons described in this post. Who exactly is it that is choosing national ideas? In some cases it seems that we are the ruling class, but in other cases we manage them from outside – e.g. we can manage nobility as estate, we manage monarchs, we manage advisors and we can even manage the results from democratic elections! In the end, I concluded that we are not deciding what is happening, we are actually historians describing what has already happened. We we not choosing idea groups, we are describing that these ideas came to prominence in these years. We are not choosing to change culture, we are describing a culture shift that has historically happened.

    1. That’s an interesting perspective a game could take! It’d be neat for a game to do that intentionally.

  4. I think the most right thing in the approach in this article is the lack of demands to change the game. The game is fine – it’s just a game. It’s the players who need to keep thinking once they are done playing.

    1. Well, there are specific things that give very big ahistorical bonuses to European nations.

      1. Trade flows towards Europe. It doesn’t flow there organically, no, it just flows to Europe.
      2. Institutions spawn in Europe. Renaissance and Printing Press are designed to spawn only there, while Colonialism and Global Trade are biased to spawn in there. This gives other continents a huge tech penalty.

      1. But printing resulting in a popular press did occur in Europe. China of course had printing but I don’t believe a popular press evolved from it there. Possibly due to the difference in writing systems?
        Colonialism on the other hand was definitely not limited to Europe, though they carried it farther afield than anybody else.

        1. There were Chinese novels well before the Gutenberg team’s press, and they were printed. Since vernacular novels like “Water Margin” were routinely printed in wood block editions rather than moveable type editions, it seems unlikely that the script itself would hinder a popular press.

          1. But they never made the step to moveable print? Or did they? In Europe the printing press led to pamphlets, news sheets and other popular media. I don’t think that happened in China.

          1. The major difference isn’t just printing (ukiyo-e and woodblock printing were indeed a Japanese thing for some time before gutenberg) but more the use of movable type to do widespread printing. And even then not just the invention of said, but the widespread adoption of the technology.

      2. I’m not sure why these bonuses are “ahistorical.” The period from (say) 1440 to 1821 is when most of the important institutions of the modern world, i.e., industrial capitalism, liberal democracy, etc., developed, and they did develop in Europe. Could they have developed somewhere else? Not among the Apaches, obviously, but in China, India, or the Mideast? That is a very vexed question in history, so there is no obvious right way to handle it in a computer simulation game.

      3. We’re going to get to these in Part III. I think some of them are problems, but they’re also not entirely divorced from fairly current historical arguments. We’ll get into it and maybe even how the weights and systems might be made a bit better.

      4. I do note that while Global trade specificalfly spawns in Europe, the way it spreads means that it will get to the ROTW very quickly. Irs a “carch up institution” in rhar sense.

      5. 1. Is definitely a problem, though one that was created to solve another problem. Because the value of money in trade in EU4 increases as it travels over distance, if trade was allowed to flow dynamically you could make trade move in circles in order to crate infinite money. And if trade didn’t gain value as it moved, one would have no reason to try and move trade towards one’s homeland instead of collecting trade value wherever its generated.

        2. Not really. Indeed, one of the great complaints right now among EU4 players is how homogenized technology becomes by the end of the game. In almost every game, everyone is about on the same level technologically by the end of the game due to how fast institutions spread. People don’t necessarily want Europe pulling ahead every game, but they also don’t want everyone to be on the same level every game. When institutions were first introduced, people were hoping it would still result in tech disparity like the previous system but be more dynamic, so you might have games where East Asia or North Africa pulled ahead late game instead of Europe. That’s not really what ended up happening though.

      6. That does sound odd since in the 16th and 17th century, Atlantic Europe’s role in the global trade system was carrying New World silver to China (and yeah, they brought back a few nice things from the China Sea and the Indian Ocean, but all the silver was flowing to China). The whole reason for the Age of Exploration was to get access to cool things which the rest of Eurasia could already get cheaper.

        1. Not quite – India was the source of the textiles that paid for the slaves that made the sugar that flowed to Europe. China exported luxuries (silk. porcelain, tea) which were paid for in silver – part New World, part from the India trades. Europe’s advantage was in long-distance armed trade (in other words, extortion), and they used it to monopolise a lot of intra-Asian trade (hence the importance of control of depots like Malacca, Calicut, Hormuz, Daman).

  5. In-game, increased manpower of France is a tradition, and levee en masse is an idea in the quantity idea group, the revolutionary government forms also give manpower. So I think the increased manpower is meant to represent something else, something historical in how the French were about to recruit more men. I know very little of French history so I don’t know what it could be. Maybe the fact that they could recover from some costly losses in the hundred years war?

    There are a few mechanics about culture that are not mentioned but I think are interesting. Once you reach empire rank (which requires you to either form a historic empire like Russia or Ethiopia, or requires you to hit a certain amount of development) you get cultural unity. Which means you automatically accept all cultures in your culture group. To me that seems to imply that at that point a state wants to project themselves as a great power that sees himself as protector of a people. Like the Tsar being the ruler of all Slavs. Another thing that is interesting is that the game has a feature called “cultural suffrage”. This gives republics less of a penalty for holding unaccepted culture provinces. So the game does reward the concept of representation making people feel heard. The game also has forced deportations (although they changed it). You can deport an unaccepted culture of religious province to the new world. This will reduce the development of the province you deported them from (and changes the culture of the target province in the new world) and (used to) change the culture and religion to your state culture and religion. As a country like spain, conquering north africa and then “solving” the clash of culture and religion with mass deportation was viable. While the game does not tell you you’re a monster, I think the detached accountant presentation does manage to put you ill at ease in its own way. Same way the descriptions of quantity ideas like “the sick and infirm” do not exactly make you feel like a hero.

    That does seem a bit of a theme in the game. There is bravado in the messages which you can interpret as being satirical. Sending a peace offer in favor of yourself is presented as a fair and just offer, if you send a diplomatic insult you get a mock “I guess they took our words as an insult, how strange”, and if your fort gets sieged (and you turned on the notification for that) it will mention something along the lines of “our fort is under siege, but they shall break on it like waves on the cliffs”. So the game both glorifies conquest and the power of state, but also seems to toy with the idea that you’re a vainglorious tyrant.

    1. There is also the notification of coring provinces “We shall defend it to the last drop of peasant blood”, and in general a series of tongue in cheek comments that are meant to position the player as comically callous against the commoners of the country.

    2. That does seem a bit of a theme in the game. There is bravado in the messages which you can interpret as being satirical. Sending a peace offer in favor of yourself is presented as a fair and just offer, if you send a diplomatic insult you get a mock “I guess they took our words as an insult, how strange”, and if your fort gets sieged (and you turned on the notification for that) it will mention something along the lines of “our fort is under siege, but they shall break on it like waves on the cliffs”. So the game both glorifies conquest and the power of state, but also seems to toy with the idea that you’re a vainglorious tyrant.

      It definitely does that, but I think part of it is just that the game has no real ability to evaluate what is actually a reasonable peace offer. If you’ve occupied half of Russia but the AI refuses to hand over a couple provinces in the Baltics, then it would feel strange to say “It seems our eyes were bigger than our stomach.” If you’ve occupied a few provinces of Russia and try to force them to dissolve into twelve separate nations and become your vassals, then it sounds much more reasonable to say “They rejected our generous peace offer!” Obviously, the peace offer wasn’t reasonable, but people are much more willing to absurdly overestimate themselves than they are to absurdly underestimate themselves.

    3. Though honestly I’m not so sure that the idea that republics are more accepting of minority cultures bares out historically.

      1. I feel like it can sort of go both ways, but only goes well under certain circumstances.

        A dominant culture in a locale but which is a minority across the entire state generally does better in a republic… assuming that dominant culture is dominant enough within the franchise to deliver representation. Quebec and Scotland come to mind as places that have stubbornly hang on to their minority culture and have had some success at integrating into a parliamentary structure. There’s also whatever you want to say about Belgium, where they’ve basically drawn a line and said, “North of here we speak Flemish; south of here we speak French… except for Brussels.”

        On the other hand, while Quebec is not a modern phenomenon, as they got cultural exemptions for both language and religion as soon as the British conquered New France, Scotland has rebelled more times than I know, including in 1821, the last year of the time frame for Europa Universalis. (I was trying to figure out why 1821; I think it’s fairly arbitrary, being five years after the restoration of the French monarchy… but also it’s when George IV ascended to the British throne.)

        1. A dominant culture in a locale but which is a minority across the entire state generally does better in a republic… assuming that dominant culture is dominant enough within the franchise to deliver representation. Quebec and Scotland come to mind as places that have stubbornly hang on to their minority culture and have had some success at integrating into a parliamentary structure. There’s also whatever you want to say about Belgium, where they’ve basically drawn a line and said, “North of here we speak Flemish; south of here we speak French… except for Brussels.”

          Those are all monarchies, though.

          Scotland has rebelled more times than I know, including in 1821, the last year of the time frame for Europa Universalis.

          Huh? The last time Scotland was involved in a rebellion was the ’54 Jacobite uprising (and this was more a dynastic conflict than a nationalistic one).

      2. Yeah, this kind of seems ass-backwards : AFAIK generally Empires don’t care about ethnic assimilation, in fact letting the various ethnies to rule themselves as long as they pay tribute, specifically as can be seen in Muslim Empires… meanwhile Republican-style Nation-States were very big on ethnic assimilation, often forbidding the use of regional languages ?
        (Then, though this is outside the considered time period, there’s the late modern period 3rd “Reich”, which is yet another thing, with a “racial”, rather than ethnic, conception of Nations, and the genocidal consequences of it… the closest other parallel that we have for *that* would be the USA of the period of the “Conquest of the West” and the subsequent Native American genocide… what would one better call this kind of polity if “Empire” is not appropriate ?)

  6. > but the idea of a game simulating states that, being excellent at one thing are less excellent than their contemporaries at other things makes sense

    I think it’s missing a comma between ‘one thing’ and ‘are’. It’d make the sentence slightly more legible

    > What we do not see are the royal inspectors going house to house signing up (and in some cases, violently impressing) newly legible peasants for military service from which they will likely never return. We do not see peasant resistance to being made newly legible for new (or old) taxes which might push them into misery (this interaction, where increasingly effective taxation of the lower classes lead to economic misery was a key contributor to the discontent that produced the French Revolution)

    And to continue from the French Revolution, the conscription required to wage the wars caused by the revolution in turn caused the War in the Vendée

  7. How does the ‘all entities are states’ model handle the Holy Roman Empire? I gather that modern historians of the Holy Roman Empire find the idea that the Holy Roman Empire was a failed attempt to be the German state unhelpful. (I assume from the description that the game just doesn’t bother with personal unions.)

    1. The HRE mechanism is basically a whole game within the game. There are 70 playable states in Central Europe, many of them having just one province, that start out as HRE members. This includes the 7 historical electors as states, and one state being elected as emperor for the lifespan of it’s ruler.

      It’s a unique diplomatic network, that’s members are allowed to wage war against each other, but the emperor state is allowed to enforce peace among them if it’s strong enough, but also to defend them from external threats.

      If you play as the emperor state, your goal is to keep getting re-elected each time your ruler dies by seeking the elector states’ diplomatic favor, to keep the peace with as many small states independent as possible, to maintain a common state religion in the face of emerging reformation, and there is a special interface where you get a ticking score for how well all of these conditions are being met, that allows you to pass a series of reforms giving you bonuses, establish you as hereditary monarch, ban wars within member states, and eventually unify the emipre into one giant state led by you.

      (The recent expansion “Emperor” significantly reworked that, also adding an alternate path of reform options for decentralization, that gives you bonuses while still treating the member states as a herd of cats)

      Also, there ARE personal unions too, Bret somewhat downplayed the role of what dinasty your monarch belongs to. One of the diplomatic actions between monarchies is a “royal marriage”, sometimes if a royal marriage partner state of your dies without an heir their next one will come from your dynasty, and if a dynastic royal marriage heir dies, your state might inherit their throne (essentially similar to a vassal, with an option to entirely merge them into your state several decades later)

    2. The game actually has personal unions, with one state being the major partner, and the other as a junior vassal, i.e. not directly controlled by the player. There’s also the HRE, though it is a complex institution layered over a huge number of German states (and some Italians too).

    3. The ‘state’ entities of the Holy Roman Empire are the various princedoms, free cities, etc. within it. The Empire has a whole host of special rules governing Imperial Elections. The state whose ruler is also the Emperor has a defensive alliance of sorts with all ‘state entities’ within the Empire against any external attacker. There is also an ‘alt history’ path whereby the state whose ruler is the Emperor can, depending on how effectively they maintain their relationship with the various states within the Empire, limit the reformation, preserve the independence of the princedoms and the integrity of the Imperial borders, etc., pass reforms to centralize power.

    4. States can be members of the HRE gaining certain bonuses and restrictions. There are the historical electors who choose the next Emperor (who must be a monarch of a state). Any state-like activity of the HRE is undertaken by the Emperor’s state. It is possible to reform the HRE into “proper” state which annexes all the member states into one tag.

      Personal Unions do happen by a variety of means. It’s an unequal relationship where part of the union is determined to be the junior partner. Except in special cases, after 50 years, the junior partner may be integrated into the senior partner using diplomatic power or randomly inherited upon the death of a ruler. When that happens, the junior partner ceases to exist and becomes just another part of the senior partner’s state.

    5. The Holy Roman Empire is a sui generis super-state institution in the game, which is hard to describe without going into rather more of the game mechanics than I’d like, but it operates to limit (but not prevent) wars between the states in the union, to protect members against aggression from outside, and to make the state of the emperor more powerful. In the hands of a capable (line of) emperors, it can be progressively strengthened and unified into a single state, but that is too challenging for the AI and only happens with a player running the empire.

      [There are a bunch of features in the game that are not really part of the historical simulation; if you’re good enough at the game then you can achieve unrealistic things, including world conquest, but there are a ton of bonuses that arrive only for super-powered states, which can only be achieved by a player]

      Personal unions are there, and if you’re not keeping careful track of your dynasty, then you are missing a ton of opportunities to form them and then integrate the personal union subject-state into your greater state – Bret admitting that he lost track of his dynasty is a sign that he isn’t “playing the PU game”. Played capably, you can expect to pick up 2-5 personal unions in the 300 or so years before the endgame (which is a completely ahistorical thing; you never have to go endgame, but if you get good enough then about 1700 you become powerful enough to defeat every other state in the world simultaneously, and you then are limited in expansion only by the accumulation of enough admin points to absorb all the territory you conquer)

    6. The HRE is a special case – the constituent states are states, but there’s an HRE overtop of them that elects an emperor, has some powers within the HRE’s area, and can (if the emperor is very successful) eventually be reunited into a true state like it was under the Carolingians.

      https://eu4.paradoxwikis.com/Holy_Roman_Empire

  8. Hmm, this gets me imagining a “grand strategy” style game where the player represents a religion in competition with other religions, and states are just vague entities that might suppress or promote your faith. Meanwhile, you would be resolving doctrinal disputes, dealing with heretics and unbelievers, or maybe occasionally embracing a new prophet or movement…

    Or perhaps something like this exists already, and I just haven’t heard about it?

    1. I’ve certainly never heard of any such game. Which is a damn shame, because it sounds like it could be a neat idea, albeit one that would almost certainly offend too many people to ever be commercially viable.

    2. The closest I can think of is the boardgame Here I Stand, where two of the six players are the Protestant religion and the Papacy (the other four are Henry VIII’s England, France, Charles V’s Hapsburg Empire and the Ottomans)

  9. I did not read the book you cited (Scott, 1988), but I would argue that reducing the whole “Waldsterben” debate to a Prussian need of standardisation and better book keeping is somewhat too narrow. Firstly, “Waldsterben” as used in Germany was never well defined – but, as most people understood it in the 1980s, when it was taken up in the mass media, was a regional dieback of forest species at that time – starting with fir (Abies alba) and later Norway spruce (Picea abies) and extended to other species, caused by pollution, especially the SO2 (and/or) NOx immissions into forest soils which were thought to cause soil acidification and thereby a decreasing vitality of forest ecosystems. There is a whole PhD thesis about how the “Waldsterben” debate changed over time and was perceived differently in the forest sciences and the general public (https://www.econstor.eu/bitstream/10419/58310/1/689199651.pdf), unfortunately in German, but with a summary in English.
    Secondly, this was never a special Prussian invention – it started with the concept of sustainability (Nachhaltigkeit) in the first half of the 18th century by a guy named Hans Carl von Carlowitz in Saxony (https://www.research-collection.ethz.ch/bitstream/handle/20.500.11850/154087/1/eth-7348-01.pdf) link not very scientific, but still a good overview in my opinion, and over time influenced forestry management in wide parts of Europe and beyond. Those ideas fit well into the traditions of the Enlightenment and Age of Reason at the time.
    People often think that the forest they see in contemporary Germany are similar to the ones in the past, but that is not true at all. Over time, many forests in the past became severely degraded – as so well shown on this blog, e.g. the post on iron (smelting, mining, charcoal), usually by overuse. Communal forest could be even worse – there, you also had to fight the tragedy of the commons, as well as unsustainable practices like using forests for cattle, sheep / goats or pigs to browse (and thereby destroying most or all young seedlings needed for regrowth). If you know what to look for, you can still find some signs of those “savanna-like” degraded forests from pannage or wood pasture use. Sometimes you see very old and strong trees, often oak with very widely spread branches that start comparatively low on its trunk in a dense forest – when those trees started to grow, they were never growing in a closed-canopy-forest, but as individual trees in some kind of clearing / pasture. The above mentioned standardisation and scientification of forest practices must be seen in this context.
    Strong focus was placed on yield and ease of management – therefore, comparatively fast growing spruce was planted instead of bech or oak, even on not very well suited sites. With climate change, these plantations suffer greatly and in the last decades, a lot of effort was taken to change them towards more suitable mixed-deciduous forest types. Also, replanting deforested or severely degraded places with young seedlings will almost automatically lead to forest patches with similar aged trees.which has its own problems concerning resilience, as described in the post.
    Today, 48% of forests in Germany are owned privately. Only 4% are owned nationally while 29% are owned by the German states (Bundesländer) and 19% are owned by townships and so on (https://www.bundeswaldinventur.de/en/third-national-forest-inventory/germany-the-land-of-forests-forest-area-unchanged/the-forests-mainly-privately-owned/). While quite a number of the larger tracts, both publicly and privately owned, have been transformed with the use of site-appropriate species, smaller holdings, often on former marginal agricultural sites, are still heavily dominated by spruce forests. Often, you see a central area of state-owned mixed beech forest in lighter green in the middle of a forest tract and on the outskirts, small-scaled privately owned, unsustainable dense spruce plantations in darker green.

    1. I’ve played both(and EU2 as well), and personally, I would. EU3 was a fine game, but EU4 had most of the same good features, and it’s much cleaner in a whole host of ways. It’s also much better supported.

      If you really want to dial up the realism though (at the cost of complexity), look up the “MEIOU and Taxes” mod for EU4. It’s fan-made, but it gives vastly more connection to the population (by de-abstracting development into actual infrastructure and populations, primarily), and a lot more mechanics involving religious minorities, seeing the impact of looting on provinces and populations, plagues, and so forth.

      https://eu4.paradoxwikis.com/MEIOU_and_Taxes (though you’ll need to register/log into the official Paradox forums to see most of the details, or the download links.)

      1. Oh, yes, MEIOU and Taxes is fantastic, and it completely revamps the original game. It’s really awesome, even if a bit difficult to follow in all its details.

    2. There are a few ways in which EUIII is better than EUIV (its culture conversion mechanics were a lot better, its religious conversion mechanics were similar but I preferred them since I like chance over guarantee for such things, and I preferred the way it did core provinces to the way EUIV does them) but overall EUIV is a better game with deeper mechanics.

  10. I’m looking forward to this series very much. Though I haven’t played it as much recently, I’ve got something like 1,400 hours in EU IV.

    And thus I feel compelled to pedantically point out that non-state people in “uncolonized land” can fight back, and potentially even destroy a nascent colony from a colonial power. Of course, this instance of proactive indigenous power is quickly negated by being 1) somewhat random, based on a “native uprising chance” modifier, 2) easily gamed (by ideas or policies that reduce this modifier, down to 0% or below in some cases), and 3) incredibly easy to withstand—for most colonial powers a single regiment of 1,000 men (the smallest military unit in the game) can easily defeat native uprisings 7 or 8 times bigger, perhaps more with better technology. Thus, losing a colony to native uprising is a very rare occurrence, usually only made by inexperienced or distracted players. With a little experience, native peoples in colonized lands are either harshly put down (there’s an option to proactively wipe out the inhabitants by forcing an uprising which permanently lowers the population if the battle is won) or to pursue a policy of…not sure if appeasement is the right word, but one which prevents unrest at the cost of slower colony growth, though it will still finish eventually.

    All of which is to say I broadly agree with your description of how EU IV handles non-state peoples—I definitely don’t think it’s beyond criticism, and I can’t wait for the rest of this series.

    1. Well, they can destroy a player colony. I believe native uprisings are disabled for AI colonies because the AI isn’t smart enough to deal with them.

      1. Oh yes, I think you’re right. I’d forgotten about that. A pity, it would interesting every so often to hear about a(n AI controlled) colony getting wiped out by some justifiably pissed-off native people.

  11. It might be fun with a computer game that *did* simulate everything under the hood, and then presented the player with scarce and uncertain information, having to rely on advisors who might not be trustworthy and who push their own agenda, and so on.

    1. If you want that sort of thing, I would recommend King of Dragon Pass or Six Ages. Now they are in a fantasy setting, but it has a fairly grounded set of stuff for that, at least as far as your clan’s politics are concerned. But yes, almost everything you learn about the game as a new player is filtered through the “circle” essentially a 7 person ruling body, and their skills, religious outlooks, biases, and personalities can and do color what they recommend, sometimes to the point where they passionately argue completely suicidal courses of action.

      They’re amazing games and I would love to see the pedant take a look at them.

      1. Man, I love KODP. That’s a game that brings back memories….
        I do agree that it masterfully uses uncertainty. You know about how many people and animals are in your clan (Rarely much more than a thousand humans, explaining how you have such information), how many ‘goods’ are in your clan’s treasury, and a rough idea of how much food you have-with no idea (Unless you’re very good at the game and have learned the patterns) how these numbers will change in exact values. That is, you know food will deplete until the harvest season, but all you have to rely upon for the exact length you can stretch your rations is the questionable word of your advisors.

        1. Another nice feature is the whole favor system where you exchange vaguely defined favors with other clans, and throw feasts or give gifts to build up “social capital” which OGH discussed back in the farming series.

    2. Not so much about uncertain information, but speaking of advisors pushing their own agenda, there’s the new post-apocalyptic 4X wargame “Shadow Empire” where you have to, among many things, also “cultivate” your cadre of leaders, each of which has a number of likes and/or dislikes for your regime’s somewhat incompatible 3 triads of “Profiles” % :
      Democracy/Autocracy/Meritocracy ; Enforcement/Commerce/Government ; Fist/Mind/Heart.

      The interactions are simplified by a panopticon-style system where each leader only interacts with you and not with each other (which would quickly get out of hand for a game where you’ll end up getting more than a dozen leaders and where it’s not the sole focus), except to form like-minded factions, which then compete in elections.

      Reaching a certain % for a Profile unlocks bonuses, but for each triad, the more you try to push into one direction, the harder the two other sides will “pull you back”.

      Each turn you have to take several multiple choice decisions which, among other effects, will increase or decrease some of your profiles, and therefore affect the “happiness” of some of your leaders.

      Oh, and there’s also a “political points” system, where most of your actions like raising a formation or using a randomly generated “card” to recruit a new leader or tweaking various sliders require spending them.
      (They’re generated by one of your leaders spending “bureaucracy points” for the “political task” as a director of the Supreme Command Council.)

      Also, honorary mention for Sword of the Stars 2 (published, though not developed by Paradox), which managed to integrate a full-blown political compass into the game, where your actions would move your empire inside it, resulting in various bonuses and penalties.
      https://www.politicalcompass.org/

      1. Sword of the Stars II had so many interesting things (although often frustrating for the player) going on, and it’s a tragedy that the dev team had multiple personal emergencies and failed to really finish the game. I’m not sure how deep the implementations really were, but the designers definitely had some things to say about their theory of history.

  12. they act in complete unison under central direction and strategy,

    This is very important. A big problem with the tribes was that one part could go on raiding you after you signed a treaty, which lead you to regard them as untrustworthy and insist on reservations.

    1. Yes. The big problem with Indian treaties is both sides were making promises they didn’t have the power to keep. Native American nations weren’t unified enough to enforce compliance on their warriors and the US government didn’t have the control of the frontier folks necessary to keep settlers from expanding into Indian territory.

      1. Also the US government absolutely regularly disregarded treaties and acted in bad faith

        1. Like I said, they made promises they couldn’t keep. And tribes didn’t always keep their side either. Two incompatible cultures with major differences in world view were unable to achieve a modus vivendi. I wonder if it was even possible.

          1. Sure it was possible… but… it requires people on-board with the plan and no disruptive newcomers. The Quakers in Pennsylvania lived in relative peace with the local natives, as did the Jesuits in South America. When new, non-Quaker Scotch-Irish showed up, they tore up the peace (see the Paxton Boys), or Portuguese slavers in Brazil raiding and kidnapping Jesuit missions, or jealous Spanish settlers who wanted Jesuit charges impressed into encomienda servitude. But while these eventually went bad, don’t ignore the decades of history where things were quiet.

            For a Crusader Kings analogy, it’s like when the Crusaders who had been there for 10 years and established alliances and footholds suddenly found “reinforcements” from Europe attacking their local allies. They didn’t actually want that “help”!

          2. Snowfire, something similar happened in Moorish Spain where the modus vivendi between the moors and spanish kept getting disrupted by inversions of more fanatical Moslems from North Africa.

          3. What do you mean? What treaties were regulating a common life between the Iberian Christian Kingdoms and the Moors? It’s a consistent conquest move North-to-South. Not sure it’s a very apt comparison.

          4. BeedrillHive, Moorish Spain was very like the Crusader kingdoms. Ibn Khaldun, who Our Pedantic Host has written about, was very familiar with the Moslem North African/Spanish kingdoms when he wrote his theory of history book.
            After the first wave of invasion established the “Moors” in Spain, in the 11th century a North African religious movement, the Almoravids, rose up against the decadent backsliding elites and sent armies into Spain to overthrow them. A century or so later the Almoravids were in turn overthrown by the Almohads who were, you guessed it, a religious movement that rose up against the decadent backsliding Almoravid elites. Along the way various Moorish rulers who didn’t want to be overthrown made alliances with their Christian Spanish neighbours against the latest wave.

        2. Sort of. You do have Andrew Jackson and the Indian Removal Act, and the Black Hills gold strike, but more often what you end up with is the whole “state capacity” issue–the United States government did not have the capacity to prevent settlers from breaking the treaties and to provide adequate oversight of the Indian agents.

      2. Another way to put this might be that a common practice for US treaty negotiators was to deliberately misconstrue indigenous societies as if they were centralized states with official representatives who were authorized to speak for the whole society, even if the US negotiators knew full well that whoever they were dealing with in any given meeting didn’t necessarily have any right to speak for the people they were supposedly representing, let alone negotiate away vast swathes of those people’s land. You see lots of stories about e.g. indigenous negotiators getting up and walking out from a treaty negotiation where the US demands are perceived as unacceptable or insulting, only for the US to keep negotiating with whatever few natives haven’t yet left the room as if they still spoke for everyone, and as if their decisions and concessions were still fully binding over the peoples whose representatives had left.

        James C. Scott talks about these sorts of practices in his later books “The Art of Not Being Governed” and “Against the Grain” as the very origin of the concept of “tribe” itself: tribes aren’t organically existing prestate entities that states merely come to discover, they’re labels invented by the state itself to apply to nonstate populations at the periphery of the state’s legibility, created in order to enable the state to then deal with the labeled populations as if they were unified statelike entities, unilaterally appointing officials like tribunes to govern or represent them, and extracting resources in the form of tribute as a crude form of early-stage taxation.

  13. Ah, yes Rule of Civil Service the Game.

    Kings come and go, Doges come and go, even the sort of government you’re in changes, but everyone needs their Civil servants to run the place. And you’re only replaced when another Civil Servic- *cough* Er, State shows up and takes over.

    Time to watch Yes, Minister again, I think.

    (Is a joke, for clarity)

      1. In early versions some flavor did indeed suggest that you should consider yourself an eminence grise, behind the throne. There was even a “mission” mechanic that gave you victory points if you fulfilled one of the king’s desires.

    1. While its not quite the most extensive (both CK and Vicky is better at this) the EU games were actually notable for how LIMITED you were in a lot of ways compared to earlier strategy games (eg. Civ, or the Total War series) EU is a bit of a relic in that since newer games have iterated on the ways that it actually limits the player it now kinda looks quaint and old-fashioned, but at the time I played it (EU2) it was revolutionary in how much it restricted you compared to how I was used to playing strategy games.

      1. EU2 had a stability mechanic. You want to keep stability high (more tax revenue, dramatically lower risk of random provincial uprisings that are a pain to suppress even if not actually that hard to put down). But a variety of things lower stability.

        Trying to force changes in national policy (by moving sliders for things like “Serfdom vs. Free Citizens”) reduces stability. Events that change national policy in ways you like often reduce stability. Importantly, declaring war tends to reduce stability (though not always).

        And the cost of restoring your nation’s stability increases markedly as your empire gets larger and especially as it incorporates outside cultures and heterodox religions. The latter can be addressed (at great expense) by paying missionaries to convert everyone to the state religion; the former is nearly un-fixable except by random events.

        While this didn’t stop you from painting the map in the color of your choice if you were good enough at the game, it did mean that you had to make some pretty significant compromises and expend considerable energy to keep your empire from falling apart under its own weight. and the more you tried to play as an all-conquering juggernaut, the worse it would get.

  14. I have one quibble with the post, namely that cultural conversion in necessarily a total genocide of the native culture.
    Personally I believe it both more likely in terms of timescale and setting that it amounts to a replacement of the ruling/upper classes of the state, similar to the replacement of the Anglo-Saxon elite with their Norman conquerors.
    The key piece of evidence of this being the case is that it is always easier to restore the original culture of any given converted province than change it to any other, no matter the “development” it has acquired. This is true even if the culture was wiped off of the map by conversions.
    While obviously not a morally sound act, it makes more sense that it costs diplomatic points than military, and is completed within the timescale the game represents. You are perhaps setting up schools/ fostering systems within the province that educate the children of the elite to be more “civilised” as no doubt you would explain to their parents. A few harsh confiscations of lands, biased court cases, and encouraged inter-marrying with non-native nobility and you may well see some change within a generation.
    Of course this still has flaws in the ways you stated; it’s a binary system, is far too quick and easy, causes no unrest, and does not model the human effects, particularly on the low classes who suddenly are speaking an “inferior” tongue to their rulers.

  15. Something I would find absolutely fascinating, if you have the bandwidth, would be an examination of how one of the major mod projects, MEIOU and Taxes, extends on and responds to these aspects of the game.

    It is, I think, a lot more conscious of the limits of state control, particular over distance and over its internal factions- there’s a much greater focus on building up the sinews of state power. And, if anything, it has an even more intense aesthetic of historicity.

  16. One thing that should be mentioned is that Europa Universalis in the dim mists of time started as a board game, and ther ear still some decisions there that represents this, now, the game has changed A LOT since then, but it there are still some artifacts there, like a lot of things are basically set up because back in the the day you still needed to be able to keep track of it with a human mind. They have obviously developed past this, but its there.

    Colonization is one of those things, IIRC in the board game you basically placed a colonist token in a colonial region and rolled the dice a few times until the colony was “finished” and started earning you money. (or accidentally failed and lost you your investment) which, to be fair, isnt neccessarily the worst implementation of colonization from the POV of an early-modern state.

    The notion of “Who exactly do you play?” in EU4 is interesting: Playing as the State is the closest thing, but of course, the State itself is an abstraction (and as mentioned, you can tag-switch and thus actually play separate different states…) and you can make decisions no one in the actual state could make. The usual conceit is that you play as some kind of “guiding spirit” of the state, not neccessarily the actual state institutions.

    I would also quibble a bit with early-modern states not doing infrastructure and industrialization, this is the era of canal-building and mercantilism and state-sponsored manufacturies after all, how effective these were is up for debate of course, but at least some states were definitely trying to do these kinds of things.

    One thing I think someone pointed out is that Paradox sometimes does the cheeky thing where they rather than trying to represent how things were try to represent how people thought things worked, in order to guide you into doing certain things. The trade flow is one such example, but there are others. (though I expect that to be one of the things that gets redone in EU5)

    EU4 is the oldest series, and in some sense the least developed, and apart from HOI4 it has the least sophisticated internal politics model. (there is a somewhat justified complaint that many of EU4s mechanics are all about stacking enough of the right green numbers on things) the strength is largely in the diplomatic area, the classic political-historical “War and peace treaties” kind of history, but it is often lacking in other areas even in things that you would think would define this. (though I do note that its relative: Compared to the contemporary Civilization Games EU2 had a massively more important internal politics since rebels could actually wreck your game in a way that never happened in Civ)

    CK and Vicky both focus more on internal politics (through their various lenses) and thus ends up creating more interesting stuff in that sense.

    1. Oh, and for “Culture Change” my (swedish) bias is to consider the swedification of the Skåne province, which, while it involved deportations, forced billeting of soldiers, and various other nasty tricks of the state, largely involved a kind of replacement of the ruling and intermediate classes (replacing danish priests with swedish ones, having most of the danish magnates relocate to Denmark or be replaced, etc.) rather than wholesale genocide or expulsion. And as far as these things go it was rather quick, though a bit slower than EU4 depicts, the layering of swedishness over the native scanian culture was admittedly helped by a bunch of factors (similar cultures, the corresponding danish identity always having been rather weak and tenous and an upper-class thing, etc.) but I think something like that is what Paradox was thinking of.

      1. Interestingly in the previous entry in the series, Europa Universalis 3, culture conversion was not a matter of spending diplomatic power and simply waiting for the culture to convert. You had to send a colonist to the province you wanted to culture convert, it was somewhat random how long the province would take to convert, and during that time unrest in the province would increase heavily and you’d actually generate a bit of infamy (predecessor to aggressive expansion) for as long as the process took.

        1. And in EU2 province culture was basically set at game start and, apart from a few hard coded changes, didn’t change at all. (Same thing with cores, incidentally) which had it’s own set of issues.

      2. Converter guy here! As mentioned in a another reply, and a longer comment, that’s the perspective that EU4 to Vic2 (and EU3 to Vic2 before it) takes. When you convert a province, the tool considers that as half the upper class changing culture or religion, with the remaining population of the province converting over time.

  17. I would also like to apologize if my spelling is off, I was bitten by a rabbit so typing is hard.

  18. I appreciate that Paradox tries to give a nuanced portrayal of a wide variety of peoples and belief systems in EU4, even if their final result in those efforts can sometimes leave something to be desired. However, I and a lot of other people are still annoyed by the glaring exception which is Paradox’s portrayal of Catholicism. Despite multiple reworks, Paradox continues to portray late medieval and early modern Catholicism the way you’d expect it to be portrayed in 19th century British Protestant historiography. The fact that its the only religion in the game that gives you a penalty for following it should tell you what to expect.

    1. In Eu3, only Protestants had no penalties to tech development.

      Catholics were 90% as good, eastern Orthodox were 80%, Muslims were 70%, Hindus, Taoists, Buddhists, (essentially all of non Muslim Asia) were at 50%, sub Saharan Africans at 20% and native Americans at 10%.

      I played one game for 50 years and quit. I wanted European dominance to be a factor of emergent properties of the system, “haha, people are dumb in direct proportion to how dark their skin is and how pagan they are.”

      1. Eu3 had some tech modifiers tied to religion, but the tech groups werent actually tied to religion per se, but rather to tags (though they were, for old EU2 reasons, still called by their respective religious names)

        So the “Orthodox” tech group didnt just include orthodox countries, same thing with the “Buddhist” tech group.

      2. No, religion didn’t affect technology development rate in EU3, technology group did. Poland would research things slower than Spain despite both being Catholic because Spain was in the Western tech group and Poland in the Eastern tech group.

      3. That…is an extraordinarily uncharitable reading of the tech group issue. Sorry, it just doesn’t hold water. The unfortunate fact is that development in the Americas and most of sub-Saharan Africa was fairly stagnant over the period that EU3 covers until the Euros arrive, and Paradox needed some way to simulate that. Note, by the way, that the same could be said for the tribes of Gaul and Germany until they came into contact with the civilizations of the Mediterranean.

        1. What exactly do you mean stagnant development? What is your measure for this? Over what time period exactly?

          1. I specified the time period as “over the period that EU3 covers,” which would be approximately 1399 to 1821.
            And by “stagnant development” I mean just that. North of the Rio Grande, political and social development never gets past the “tribal confederation” level, while technologically remaining about where it was in the 1100s. South of the Rio Grande, you have rather more developed societies–city-states and empires–but, nothing that, say, the ancient Mayans or Chimu would have found at all incomprehensible, and the technology doesn’t really change much at all before the Europeans show up and disrupt everything.
            Sub-saharan Africa is much the same, although for slightly different reasons. There just isn’t a lot of moving forward over the time period, and while you can blame that on the effects of the Atlantic and Indian Ocean slave trades, the fact remains that during the period covered by EU3 the societal and indigenous technological development of sub-Saharan Africa lags considerably behind Europe’s.

          2. The Mound Builders reached chiefdoms. Until the Spaniards arrived. And more importantly, their disease. Population collapse to a density that could not sustain a chiefdom.

          3. Technical development, or lack thereof, is nicely demonstrated by who conquered and colonised who in the 1444 to 1821 period that the game covers.
            “Guns, Germs, and Steel” by Jared Diamond is IMHO a good overview of why. The people in Sub-Saharan Africa and the Americas are not inferior or unintelligent, but they’re not able to resist a high tech invasion.

    2. I’m not sure what you mean about penalty? I tend to think being Catholic is the best option in the game, at least in the grand campaign. The papacy mechanics start churning out things like free stability boost, powerful casus belli options centuries before protestants get them, mercantilism boosts and so on. I believe cardinals also still give you lower tech costs. This would put it at least at par for me, plus reduced diplomatic disruptions.

      1. Being Catholics means you get a permanent -1 to Tolerance of Heretics, the only religion in the game that has a penalty as part of its basic effects? And you just pointed out part of the problem. Basically every bonus from Catholicism in EU4 centers around being able to monopolize the papacy. If you aren’t in a good position to gain papal influence, the religion offers nothing.

        And that’s not even touching on how the religion is portrayed by the game, which as stated before heavily resembles 19th century British protestant historiography on early modern Catholicism. Most cultures and religions in the game are portrayed much more positively.

        1. Genuine question: does having low tolerance of heretics actually hurt Catholic gameplay, or does it merely incentivize different play strategies?

          Also, could you go into more detail on what you mean by “how the religion is portrayed by the game?”

  19. (apologies if this is a double-post, its unclear if my previous attempt at commenting got eaten by wordpress login or if its just awaiting moderation)

    I’m the lead of the Paradox Game Converters projects (the ones that ease running a megacampaign). It’s really nice to see a historian weigh in. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about some of these mechanics in order to translate them between games, but with a STEM background I’m very aware of my lack of knowledge and experience.

    In regard to culture conversion, I tend to agree more with some of the other posters. While the game indicates otherwise in some ways, it only makes sense as persuading (half of) the elites in a province adopting cultural markers. That’s how EU4 to Vic2 models it, and I’ll admit to delight every time someone complains. You converted the culture at the last minute in EU4 and now you’re surprised to find a bunch of peasants speaking the wrong language and unhappy to be ruled by a state that’s foreign to them? Those are those consequences of you actions (to the state at least), and happy welcome to the age of nationalism!

    I do agree with you more and what the game must be trying to represent via development. It’s forms of development useful to the state, and mostly extractive. EU3 to Vic2, and until recently EU4 to Vic2, had no mechanism for you to increase your population at the point of conversion. You could tweak the class composition a little, and we did some clever work to demonstrate changing culture and religion, but that was all. Now if you outpace what EU4 thinks is development growth over time you can get a few percent more people (or a few percent fewer if you fall behind), but its not much of a bonus.

  20. Another thing to point out is that Paradox games always has a kind of tension between “history as it happened” and “alternate history” stuff, on several levels. On the one hand you want the player to be able to change history in various ways, but on the other hand in order to be a recognizably “historical” game the game world need to at least somewhat cohere to history as-it-happened (hence the various nudges and cheats) secondly is the problem of “to what extent is what happened in history actually the most likely outcome?” If we would redo 1066 a thousand times, how many of them would end up with William on the throne? Its really hard to know.

    Likewise with trying to simulate these relatively “big ticket” questions, like why (or even if) europeans ended up dominating the world for a couple of centuries. And the thing is, evne historians just dont know, not really. We have all sorts of things we can point to and say “This might have been a contributing factor” but we cant point to something and say “This, here is the process.”

    This means that trying to actually model the reasons for why things turned out like they did is all but impossible even before we get into the questions of tuning the model right! So these two things things interact and leads to the various cheats and built-in-modifiers, both representing accumulated things that are outside of the game mechanics ability to model and just bieng the developers putting the thumbs on the scales to try to make things turn out at least vaguely “history-shaped”.

    (there is also the point that part of the selling point for Paradox games, as opposed to eg. Civ, is precisely the asymetric start positions)

  21. Love that you’re doing this series, I’ve spent entirely too many hours playing these games. Particularly excited for both this and any detail into Crusader Kings III (though it might be too early in it’s lifecycle for that?).

    I also really hope you do a deep dive into Kingdom Come: Deliverance as well one day too, I know you’ve made some off-hand comments about it before!

    1. If things like EU and Civilization are fascist, than fascist is such a broad concept that we shouldn’t care whether something is fascist or not.

      Of course, I think fascism is bad, but I also have a far narrower definition of fascism.

    2. I think you’re missing something here.

      Totalitarianism (including fascism) does indeed involve the state walking up to individuals and demanding an escalating level of control over their beliefs, the details of their lives, and so on. They seek to crush all forms of resistance to the state, including passive ones.

      Grand strategy games that have you “play as the state” (not just the Paradox games but also the Civilization games and so on) don’t do that. They’re just… low-resolution simulations. You simply don’t see the folkways of the population or whether they regularly say “God bless the king” versus “God damn the king.” At most you have a number that vaguely represents how ‘happy’ the people are and that you can poke upwards or downwards by spending money on luxuries or adopting policy changes or whatever.

      There’s a difference between asserting the state’s right to take over the citizenry’s lives because the citizenry is inherently subordinate to the state (fascism), and just setting up a simulator that only pays attention to state-level issues while largely ignoring the citizenry’s lives (typical Paradox games).

  22. Have to say EU4 is one of my favorite games and this

    “But that kind of cultural expansion, when it isn’t accomplished through genocidal ethnic cleansing and replacement”

    Leads to an interesting conversation with son. We share opposite corners of the basement for our computer setups (we stay up too late and get too loud). Upshot was i started a day tweaking son for getting sucked into playing a military shooter game with friends when school was just hardly running during the initial lock down at the end of the last school year. Violent game and stuff just sarcasm and teasing.So then later I was all cheerful and talking about ending the EU4 game I was playing with the Dutch Republic being the first great power, this that and other thing and most of the (random) new world was all happy dutch proto Canada. At which point my son walked over and was well pan across those happy colonies. So culture Dutch, religion reformed, everything a nice tan color… So Mr violent game snark where did all the locals go. And how? I might be shooting a few soldiers, but I believe thay have word for your action in game let’s see its…

    I do think they have evolved the province model a bit to reward you fro have un looted provinces that get active prosperity bonuses which would seem to reflect the people a bit. Also if you wealthy fighting your wars with mercenaries does avoid somewhat the war weariness constant drafts imparts.

  23. Unless Paradox Games are marketing this (‘Europa Universalis IV’) as a ‘simulator’, I’m unclear if there’s any problem here – unless it’s that they maybe should have a responsibility to indicate that it’s a fantasy game, intended to provide challenges and problems-to-solve for players, and very loosely ‘inspired by’ aspects of the real world?

    1. Paradox does defiantly model it as a historical game, both implicitly by making all of its key actors actual historical nations/states/groupings, as well as explicitly in the advertising. That leads people to thinking that they understand history because they’ve played EU4. While it’s a better teacher of history than something like Civilization or Age of Empires OGH is pointing out ways that EU4 fails at providing a good representation of how state actors impacted the world. Specifically, in how the things that increased state power also lead to real harm for the people they ruled.

      This distinction is important to keep in mind. Especially considering how games like Vicky 2 would use their mechanics to make players feel the cost of things like cultural conversion and colonialism!

  24. I would say that the portrayal that paradox makes is about states AND great men as elements of change. The different types of mana which are used for most transformative elements of the game (tech, ideas, coring, culture conversion etc) comes in part from the abilities of your ruler. This was more apparent in previous versions, but the difference between a 0/0/0/ ruler and a 6/6/6 one can be massive. Also despite having advisors, there is no way to develop a institutional framwork to replace the ruler. Thus the portrayal we get is that to get great change in a society, you need great men (or woman) at top of it.

    1. Is that so much of a problem? At least from my experience in graduate school, Great Man History gets a bad rap. Do economic factors, social structure, cultural expressions, etc. matter? Of course! They’re what sets the limits of people’s world views as well as the practical limits of their resources. But the person in charge also matters. Just as an example, have Empress Elizabeth live longer or have Emperor Peter III be less of a Prussia fanboy and the history of Europe is going to be massively changed.

      1. That’s how I like to play with Alternate history, suppose Mary Queen of Scots had been captured by the English at six and raised in London as a protestant queen of England? What if she and Elizabeth had really been friends and sister monarchs with a common interest in defending the British Reformation?
        What if the reforms of the Brothers Gracchus had succeeded? Would Rome have stayed a Republic? How would that have affected the evolution of Europe?
        And so forth.

  25. Really enjoyed the post and looking forward to the follow ups.
    I wonder how you see some of this “EU4’s theory of history” vs “concessions to gameplay and business plan”. On arguing over culture conversion being “too fast” how much of that is simply a concession to gameplay? That a faster process could make it a useless game mechanic. Or, how much are these choices due to their business plan which seems to favor the majority of the players who treat the game as a map-coloring game?
    EU4 does a pretty significant effort to cover the whole world, but the representation of the Americas and Africa seems surprisingly shallow.
    The asymmetry in how even regions of Europe are treated in the game is also pretty glaring at times. How the Iberian Inquisitions and Jewish expulsions are barely treated still confuses me to this day.

    1. I think there is definitely a bit of both, that is, I think Paradox (for EU4) explicitly leans into a particular kind of theory of history (while being aware of it) in order to create a certain game. (and in CK2 or Vicky they lean into slightly different theories of history) and I think they use the theoretical background to frame a kind of “Stock image” of history. (so, the “Story” of the middle ages uses a more personal theory of history centering individual relationships while the “Story” of the early-modern period centers state-formation and thus that’s the mechanics that get foregrounded)

      This also, IMHO, is why Imperator and EU: Rome kinda never came together, it ended up being a “Bit of EU4 and a bit of CK” but not really leaning into either.

      1. I actually think Imperator – especially with its overhaul – does have a theory of history, but it is a lot more interested in social history (thus the care to model pops). We’ll get to it!

        1. I think the overhaul might be trying to impose one over the bones of something that didnt have it?

          Becuase there is also the family system (which is pared down CK2) and the vaguely unitary state thing (though they made governors more important as things went on)

  26. Bret, you said:

    > We do not see peasant resistance to being made newly legible for new (or old) taxes which might push them into misery (this interaction, where increasingly effective taxation of the lower classes lead to economic misery was a key contributor to the discontent that produced the French Revolution).

    Isn’t that what the “Decrease Local Autonomy” button does? It forcibly and suddenly increases the legibility of the province, and as a consequence, the people there hate your governance for a generation or so.

    I’m with you on the not seeing the human cost of these things, in Paradox games or most other games, but there is at least one mechanic for the thing you describe.

    1. Partially, but local autonomy covers a lot of things, including the rights of nobles, rights of provincial assemblies, etc. Like a lot of things in EU4, local autonomy is so abstracted that its hard to tell what exactly the mechanic is supposed to cover.

      1. Yes, but legibility also covers a lot of things.

        Including the extent to which layers of nobility and grandees can obfuscate questions like “so how much tax revenue are we actually getting from these peasants anyway” by pocketing a large share of the tax revenue themselves. And how the rights of provincial assemblies limit the central government’s ability to engage in detail-level control by having royal inspectors poking around in a random village.

        “Legibility” as per Scott is a fairly high-level, abstract concept even if it has a simple, practical definition.

        1. My issue with accepting autonomy as a neat stand-in for legibility is that autonomy starts at zero in most core provinces. If this was a legibility stand-in, we ought to see it start very high in the early game and watch states only slowly claw it down as the game progresses. The mechanic that actually works like that is development, slowly increasing as the game marches on through events, though occasionally also falling backward.

  27. I wish I knew some Paradox developers, so I could recommend you to them! You’d make a great Tenure-Track Consulting Fellow there. That’s totally a position that should exist, at least.

  28. It is interesting that Victoria 2, the game set in the era in which colonial powers did what most closely resembles map painting for the sake of map painting, is actually the game which least incentivizes expansion for expansion’s sake and give you the most reasons to pause and actually consider carefully whether pursuing expansion into a given area is actually worth it or if the resources could be better spent elsewhere.

  29. I noticed how the personal focus of Crusader Kings changes perception. People did react (whether with glee or with shock doesn’t matter) to that fact that *you* are deciding to slaughter the people of the captured city, *you* are kicking the (suspected) contagious courtiers out of your castle when the plague comes calling, *you* are taking others’ sons hostage. I don’t even mention the Satanist events which are purposefully over the top. Still, if you are thinking about the human suffering most of those are not even close to the decisions explicitly available in VicII (I mean explicitly, not something you can infer like examples in this essay), and yet people did react more to the CK2. Bad thing happening to the player are also similar, and even more noticeable because you can see them both within a CKII. Enemy burning a few cities to the ground – eh, I have more, let’s end this war and live in peace; but if the enemy would kill the player character’s child, lover, or (god forbid) dog – players will hunt the people responsible till the ends of the earth.

    And the change in how the culture changes also happens in CK3, sadly. In CK2 culture change was more random, slower, and also to a degree bottom-up; you usually see at as “local people adopting the customs of their higher-ups”, but there were other options. Even optimized strategies you’d employ to turn your great empire to a single culture (say, Horse), relied not on sending your Councillor or other agent but on creating conditions for things to happen more naturally – option to send Councillor was there but it was so slow that you’d never convert even the whole of France with it; you needed to encourage natural change. Also the “mean time to happen” mechanics guiding these interactions meant you’ll never know when exactly this would happen – maybe tomorrow, maybe never. Sadly in CK3 natural conversion never happens and Councillor mission takes less than 10 years per province. I think that there is a general shift to better gaming experience over better (or at least more interesting) simulation in the newer games by Paradox.

  30. “The consequences of state action on real people are never brought meaningfully before the player’s eyes in direct response to that player action (hitting the development button does not, for instance, stoke unrest or have a chance of trigger negative local events).”

    I think encouraging the game to discuss / surface the real downsides of such centralization and organization policies is legit, as is resistance to such measures (Graham Robb’s “The Discovery of France” talks about rural towns who intentionally let roads fall to ruin because they didn’t want to be found by tax collectors). But I question the suggestion to tie it to political unrest, which I feel is too distant, especially in the era EU covers. People will always be unhappy about something. However, people are also very bad at discerning who’s to blame, or at resisting “bad” changes or encouraging objectively good ones (even by standards & knowledge of the era). In other words, if you-the-state decide you want to appease the populace and keep unrest as low as possible, I’m not sure “don’t centralize power and expand the administrative state” would even help manage unrest in this era. I think raw luck and “cultural” concerns are probably more important, as would foreign state interference of course.

    I’ll give an example from Spain: the Revolt of the Comuneros (1520-21) can be phrased in terms that sound very proto-democratic – the central Castilians didn’t want to pay increased taxes for needless imperial wars in Italy, Germany, or the conquest of proto-Mexico. And they wanted local control rather than distant bureaucrats in charge. But they also were mad that non-Castilian speaking foreigners had positions of power, and had crazy conspiracy theories about how crypto-Jews were bribing the government for favorable treatment rather than the oppression they “deserved”. When the revolt was quashed, Charles didn’t stop centralizing, but he did stop giving easy excuses to treat him as some teenage Flemish foreigner. So the key problem wasn’t really the centralization, but everything else. In the same way, hundreds of years later in the 1800s, the Carlists had an incoherent ideology that was difficult to pin down, because their real appeal was “are you unhappy with the system & modern life? Well, our royal candidate will fix everything to the way You The Listener want”, meaning that both royal absolutists and extreme fueros “give localities like the Basques their rights and leave them alone” hopped on board. This suggests that centralization, while clearly on the mindset of Carlists, wasn’t an easy thing to craft a policy that would actually appease them with, because their real appeal was just general “unhappy? Join us!”

    1. Yeah, if he gets much into Victoria II, i hope he talks about it, but Vicky II really tries to shove weird, idiosyncratic political movements into camps based on an…interesting take on 19th century political alignment.

      (Somehow, “Anarcho-Liberal” is a 19th century political tendency.)

  31. EU4 is substantially more “on rails”, not less, than EU3. Two reasons:

    1. In EU4, major events changing how the game works are scheduled to happen at roughly-fixed years. There are three transitions between “ages”, affecting things like what sort of religious wars happen; these transitions consistently happen within a few years of 1510, 1610, and 1710 (in fact, the timing of the first transition is somewhat manipulable, but the second and third basically aren’t, so the game actually gets more fixed to real-historical progress over time.). Similarly, seven “institutions” are discovered in the world at fixed-to-within-about-2-years dates no matter what crazy changes you’ve wrought on the world. (E.g. “global trade” is discovered in 1600, which is the same whether the world is mostly-historical or whether by then you’ve conquered the world by then and shut down all trade between different regions by assigning “merchants” to sit in every region blocking the flow of trade from leaving.) EU3 only has a few similarly-railroaded changes, like that the Protestant Reformation starts within a decade or three of 1500 unless, e.g., no Catholic state has a theologian of note then.

    2. If you ship-of-Theseus the state you control in EU3, you end up essentially equivalent to your new state; in EU4; you remain fundamentally your original state, so what your state is is a fundamental part of EU4 but not EU3. That is, suppose you start either game as, say, Byzantium, conquer a bit of Holland (easier said than done, but possible), get your homeland conquered, and get your Orthodox Greek ruling class overthrown and replaced by a Reformed Dutch one. If you do so in EU4, the game will always treat you as fundamentally Byzantine, and give you bonuses and nudges to do Byzantine things: you’ll be better at hiring mercenaries (a “Byzantine national idea”) but not get Dutch bonuses to the range at which you can trade; if your now-supposedly-Dutch state conquers territory in Asia Minor the people will accept your rule more quickly (due to “missions”), but you’ll never have an originally-Dutch state’s increase to how many of your people want to move to South Africa; if you turn over control of your country to the AI it’ll be inclined to conquer land all the way back in the Balkans/Asia Minor, because the state called Byzantium is fundamentally railroaded toward wanting to conquer land there. (In EU4, there are some pairs of countries you can switch between, replacing your whole ship in one go, but only certain pairs of countries, and at most ~3 times.) If you do the same replacement of people, territory, government, religion, and culture of your country in EU3, the game mechanically accepts that you’ve made your state fairly equivalent to a state that started out in Holland, and the remaining differences can all be leveled over time—or increased again, for that matter. (The mechanic for the remaining differences: there are eight “sliders” tracking, e.g., your trade policy between free trade and mercantilism that you can slowly nudge over time. It’d take the originally-Byzantine state several decades to make itself as free-trade-happy as the Dutch, but you can converge over time to be anything the original Dutch could’ve become.)

    Incidentally, on the subject of EU3, it has a much more reasonable treatment of cultural change in the dimensions you mention than EU4 does: there, culture of the people in a province only changes via random spread through trade or from neighboring provinces, with very low probability (with a few exceptions to model, e.g., European colonization of the New World). The player’s actions can only, e.g., make this 25% more likely to happen each year by enforcing a “church attendance duty” on the population, not spend “mana” to change the culture of a province within ~5 years like in EU4. (There’s a similar style of not-all-powerful states whose populations the player only influences in limited ways in other Paradox games older than the more gamified EU4: e.g. in Victoria 2, the game tracks populations of people of various classes/religions/cultures trying to fulfill their needs for goods like clothing and gradually moving between careers in ways the player can only limitedly influence by, e.g., increasing the salaries of teachers so more people will become teachers to raise the literacy rate to raise the chances that people will choose other literacy-requiring professions.)

  32. “There is no sense that sometimes increased state power is actually bad for the people that the state nominally protects or works for”

    i don’t normally do the finding typos thing because i think it’s silly but the “sometimes” in the sentence above should be “most of the time”

  33. It’s a shame that things like overpopulation (leading to undernourishment and famines when harvest fails) and elite overproduction (leading to inter-elite conflict under religious or ideological or any other pretext) aren’t modelled at all in these games.

    1. Most historians I’ve talked to find the ‘elite overproduction’ thesis advanced in particular by Peter Turchin pretty unconvincing, to be honest. Lots of evidentiary problems, shaping data to fit models instead of the other way around.

      Population has other varied impacts. Certainly a population closing in on the carrying capacity was a factor in the French Revolution, but then so were structures of taxation which exempted the majority of land, as well as endless wars consuming resources. After all, other states undergoing the same demographic transition were able to avoid demographic catastrophe in the same period. And of course EU4 itself specifically covers the period where population at least permanently slips the bonds of Malthusian logic.

      1. Wait, you’re telling me that how state policy affects resource distribution can affect things that are affected by how many resources are available?!?

        Seems obvious to me, but I guess that’s dependent on how someone frames it.

  34. Yet another vouch for MEIOU and Taxes mod, a fantastic mod that addresses many of your remarks regarding the over control by the State by EUIV and turns up the simulation side of the game. Makes everything super organic and their team are very passionated about history.

  35. “Sustained efforts by the Soviet Union over seventy years to drive the Orthodox Church (and other religions as well) out of Soviet society largely failed, despite the vast power of the Soviet state. Examples of these sorts of failed top-down cultural initiatives are practically endless; it is very hard for states to intentionally effect mass cultural change by main force as an intentional policy”

    “These efforts haven’t been as effective as the Soviet State might have liked, as the ROC was not 100% eradicated” – sure.

    But the merest glancing comparison of the power the church wielded in public and private affairs in 1916, and the power it wielded in 2016 (over 30 years since the Soviets last gave a thought to the church, and nearly 20 years since the new Russian empire undertook the restoration of the church and its re-integration into the state) would show you that “largely failed” is a ludicrous exaggeration, seriously underestimating both the power of the Soviet State and just how rotten and overgrown the church was as an institution at the start of the 20th century.

    1. This is true… but… the power of, for example, the Catholic Church in Italy is also greatly diminished from what it was in 1900 vs. 2021. So how much was changing times, and how much was the work of the Soviet government? Hard to say. Also, consider the experience behind the Iron Curtain of Czechoslovakia and Poland, which bordered each other – the communist years essentially wiped out religion in the Czech Republic, they’re among the most irreligious populations even today. The communist years seemed to only rile up the Catholics in Poland and give the Church more strength and legitimacy, and Poland is super-Catholic and religious today. Modern Slovakia is somewhere in the middle. I’m sure students of religion have written Ph.D theses on the reasons why this happened, but from a broader simulationist perspective, “raw luck” clearly is a pretty high factor in how effective government attempts to change or curtail religious practice are. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, and it’s definitely hard to disentangle from other factors.

  36. I should note we will be discussing Vicky2 in this series because some of its historical assumptions are fascinating and not at all because I want to bully Paradox into green-lighting Victoria III, but Vicky2 more properly belongs to the previous generation of Paradox games rather than the current one.

    Victoria 2 is the bachelor uncle of its generation.
    (Also, I notice that CK2 isn’t listed in that generation. Rule of Three, or do you not think it fits with the others?)

    Consequently, the complexity of non-state polities like these is just ironed away to make them all behave just like states, mostly to act as colonial foils and victims for the major state powers.

    Technically, some of them have mechanics for moving between provinces…but only one-province minors in Siberia and the Americas, and I don’t recall anything representing the reasons one might move (aside from looking for better land or maybe running from enemies). These tribal OPMs have well-defined territories, but they feel less tied to them than most states do.

    One of the consequences of these limitations in state power and legibility historically (and a conclusion it is hard not to draw from a reading of history) is just how limited the power of states is to change underlying cultures intentionally.

    …short of killing/driving out the locals and replacing them with the “right” people, but since you usually change religion and culture separately, it’s pretty obvious this isn’t what’s happening.
    Speaking of, I think half the problem comes from treating cultures and religions as monoliths. Not all English people were (or are) English in the same way, nor were all Catholics identically Catholic. (The other half probably comes from wanting to make conversion something the player can meaningfully affect without needing to explicitly order crimes against humanity. Probably best not to make those an important game mechanic if you’re not playing a Sauron simulator.)

  37. I thought this was going to be a series with a wildly different tone, because I read that early paragaph as “Paradox games are interesting because they are built with what I think is a detestable theory of history”…

  38. >And what I want to note here is that the only real state agency in any of that is that some states encouraged mass literacy in the vernacular through public education, using state resources to teach new generations a standardized version of the national language (which is why countries like France have government agencies which determine correct spelling and punctuation, rather than how countries in the Anglophone world leave that issue to endless, ineffectual bickering between writing style guides

    L’Académie Française, the RAE, and presumably their equivalents elsewhere have very little effect on how their respective languages are actually used, for what it’s worth

Leave a Reply to Kaiphranos Cancel reply