Collections: Teaching Paradox, Europa Universalis IV, Part III: Europa Provincalis

This is the third part of our series (I, II, III, IV) examining the historical assumptions of Paradox Interactive’s grand strategy computer game set in the early modern period, Europa Universalis IV (which is in turn the start of a yet larger series looking at several of Paradox’s games and how they treat their historical subjects. Last time, we looked at how the diplomatic and military model that Europa Universalis (EU4) uses provides a vivid demonstration of the pressures of interstate anarchy as understood through neorealist international relations theory. In particular, EU4 presents a system where the pressure to survive in an anarchic, ‘dog-eat-dog’ world leads states to prioritize increasing security, which in turn forces them to expand in order to have the resources to defend themselves, creating an international system where failing to victimize one’s neighbors lead to becoming a victim and so aggressive war is normalized as states expand and consolidate in order to survive. We are going to be bringing that thread forward this week and next week as well, because that lens is going to shape the way that EU4 presents its understanding of other historical forces and pressures (though this week we are going to see a few missed opportunities to take that model even further).

This week we are going to take a deliberate look outside of Europe to see how well EU4 functions as a truly global grand-strategy game. The tension between a game that is in some ways about Europe (I mean, it is called Europa Universalis), but is played on a global stage has been core to the franchise for a long time. As we will see, Europa Universalis has global ambitions, with at best uneven execution (which nevertheless still sets it well above most of its peers; it at least wants to tell a global story, even if it doesn’t always succeed).

EU4 loading screen featuring Akbar I, Padshah of the Mughal Empire (r. 1556-1605). I find it a bit odd that a lot of modern depictions of Akbar give him somewhat long hair and a beard, when all of the historical images of him I can find give him sideburns, no beard, short hair and a mustache. Is this a case of depicting a historical figure in modern fashions? I don’t know enough on the topic to make a determination.
While not all of the ruler portraits EU4 uses for loading screens are from Europe, a little more than half of them are.

In discussing these issues, I am going to end up being rather more critical of EU4; if part II was mostly positive and part I was fairly evenly mixed, this part is going to be rather harsher. That does not mean that EU4 is a bad game or evil; I am not here to bury it. Every approach to history has limitations because the past is too complex for anyone to hold in their heads; even scholarly works must, by dint of choosing their scope (because one book cannot cover everything) prioritize some things and de-emphasize others. So let me be clear here: while I think EU4 has some flaws (and I’d love to see them addressed in the next game, or in expansions and patches to the current one – just, you know, Paradox, maybe give the next expansion a bit more time in the oven to cook all of the way?), overall, for the genre, EU4 bats well above par in providing a historical game which tries to be careful about difficult issues and to remain well connected to the history.

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.

(I should note that I understand that the most recent expansion tends to cause some odd game behaviors in the Americas related to bugs in an effort to simulate more mobile peoples. I still don’t have that expansion yet and my current game is in India, so I have been spared those problems. My sense of the Americas as they appear in EU4, for both this essay and the next, is based on the pre-Leviathan version of the game.)

Also, fair warning, we are going to be discussing slavery here, a topic which is unpleasant but very important.

Soft Focus

EU4 is in some obvious ways, fundamentally a game torn between two geographic focuses: on the one hand, it is Europa Universalis, but on the other hand, the map covers the entire world and states on every inhabited continent (take that, Antarctica!) are playable.

The continued focus on Europe in particular is evident in quite a few places in the game. The country-select screen (which begins every new game) defaults to viewing Europe, as does the screen when a new game is loaded (until the player’s country is loaded, then the view snaps to that state). At the country-select screen, the developers suggest a set of ‘interesting’ countries (with a few marked out as particularly ‘beginner friendly’); the exact line-up has changed but as I write this all of the options have territory in Europe (the recommended country list as I see it is: Ottomans, Castile, Portugal, France, England, Austria, Brandenburg, Sweden, Muscovy, Burgundy and Poland). And it is not hard to notice that special mechanics and events are thicker on the ground in Europe because the European states got significantly more time during the game’s development and so are more fleshed out. This even comes out in the loading screens, which feature at least as many, if not more, rulers from Europe as from the entire rest of the world combined.

All of that said, it is very clear that the direction of EU4’s development is away from such a disproportionately heavy focus on Europe. Compared to EU3, successful and fun games outside of Europe are much more possible (you may note, for instance, many of the pictures here have been from my recent game in India playing as Vijayanagar); many of the disadvantages placed on non-European states which were hard-coded in EU3 are subject to circumstance and decisions in EU4, meaning that non-European states do not lose by default (at least, Old World non-European states; games as New World non-European powers are still very difficult).

Even more than that, since EU4‘s release, almost every single expansion has added more content outside of Europe; this can include breaking up provinces to allow for more strategic options, adding new states to better present the granularity of political fragmentation in certain non-European regions, giving those new states unique idea trees (at release, many states had the ‘generic’ set of national ideas, especially outside of Europe; now almost none do) and unique events and mission chains. It is still the case that there is more content in Europe and more focus on Europe than any other part of the world, but the gap is nowhere near as large as it once was and it closes with each expansion. And that also speaks to a set of priorities because most players still play in Europe; Paradox appears quite consciously to be dedicating development time to the rest of the world not because players play those states, but because they don’t. That speaks to the degree to which Paradox clearly sees the Europe-over-Global focus of the game as something to be changed, as an area of improvement in the game.

Continuing with our Vijayanagar Playthrough, vassal Jaisalmer has been integrated and Malwa has been conquered, allowing Vijayanagar to use the ‘form Bharat’ decision to declare itself a united India. Despite the absolutely vast conquests leading to this point, the resulting state mostly a peer with Ming to the East and the Mughals to the West; while Bharat is a bit stronger than both, even at this point it is not free from fear as coalitions against it headed by the Mughals are real threats.

That said it is worth noting just how exceptional EU4‘s ‘play as anyone‘ approach is and how much it does to make EU4 a global game. In a real sense, the only reason one can have an essay mostly whinging about how EU4 gets elements of non-European early modern history a bit askew is that you can actually play the game as a non-European state. One might compare Empire: Total War as one of EU4‘s nearest equivalents (there are grand strategy games that are much closer in style to EU4, but Empire is far closer in terms of popularity); in E:TW‘s main global campaign there is only one fully non-European playable state (the Maratha Confederacy; the Ottomans are also playable but I stick with my argument that we should understand the Ottomans as existing partially within the European state system) and to say that the Marathas feel a bit under-cooked compared to the European factions is a substantial understatement. This is in a game where the map includes the Near East, Egypt, India, the Caribbean, North and Central America, but all of the peoples of those places are non-playable cannon fodder for the ‘main’ factions (there is literally a mechanical differentiation between ‘major’ and ‘minor’ factions and there are no new world major factions at all).

But in EU4 the ability to play outside of Europe is not some vestigial part of game design; at this point a player who chose only to play outside of the traditional Western European powers would still have plenty of game to play in EU4. There are very interesting games to be played as the Delhi Sultinate, Ayutthaya, Ming, a Japanese daimyo, the Manchu, Bengal, Vijayanagar, the Mamluks, Mali, Ethiopia, Kilwa and so on. All of those states have their own idea tree (Kilwa shares its idea tree with some of its regional neighbors), their own unique events. Many of them have their own complete custom bespoke mechanics, like Ming’s Mandate system, Japan’s shogunate, the Manchu banners system, the custom mechanics for Hindu states to chose patron deities and have unique internal politics (‘estates’) and so on. And of course there are also a lot of ‘challenge’ games as various non-European powers often in very challenging initial positions.

And I am going to say this here though I will come back to it next week: I extend tremendous charity for any game willing to put the player in the shoes of the victims of imperial expansion as well as the expanding imperialists, even if the systems don’t always work out. Playing a state along the routes of European expansion, or too close to larger expanding non-European powers (frequently Ottomans, Timurids, Mali, Ming) or as a small state in regions which are likely to rapidly consolidate (West Africa, India, Indonesia, South East Asia, Central America, the Andes) gives the player an experience almost no other strategy game does: it asks the player to think about strategies for the powerless – how do you just survive in a context where your military strength is negligible and your neighbors eye your provinces with jealousy and greed? How do you cope with a much larger power suddenly moving into your region (resist? accommodate?)? Historically speaking, being on the ‘business end’ of imperial expansion was a far more common experience than being an imperialist, but it is so rare for a game to attempt to simulate that.

Trading Spaces

But that isn’t to say there aren’t issues in the ability of the core mechanics to present a historical simulation outside of Europe and the first to deal with is trade. First, a brief description of how trade works. Every province in the game produces one export product (grain, silk, sugar, etc.); those products are converted into ‘trade value’ and pool in the local regional trade node (there are 80 of those nodes). Merchants, trade ships and local territorial control all give states a slice of the trade node (‘trade power’), which they may use to either ‘collect’ (turning the trade value into tax value) or ‘transfer’ (steering a slice of the trade value in the node to another node). Collection is most efficient in a state’s home trade node, so the main trade strategy for trade-focused states is to set up a long chain of trade nodes where they have very high ‘trade power,’ directing trade in each node towards their capital so that the trade value in their home node is very high allowing them to collect a lot from it (and also you want to dominate your home node so that no one else gets a slice of all of that trade value pooling in it). Trade isn’t quite zero-sum – each node that trade is pushed along multiplies its value by 5-10% – but it mostly a competitive rather than cooperative mechanic; states having trade moved out of their home nodes so that it can be fed back that long chain of controlled trade nodes just lose out on a lot of income.

The map of the structure of EU4’s trade nodes, with arrows pointing in the direction of trade. Since trade direction cannot be reversed, this means trade always flows from the Americas and East Asia towards Europe, if it flows at all.

(As an aside, this is not a great model for actual trade. The mechanics seem to imply something closer to extraction with the main goal being to ship resources home (fitting with the mercantilist philosophy of the time, but remember that mercantilism was a deeply flawed economic theory; that needs must stressing: mercantilism was wrong), but provide no opportunities for mutual benefit. Prior to British sales of opium beginning in 1781, for instance, westward trade in Chinese goods not only made European merchants wealthy, they were also a major source of bullion for the Ming and Qing dynasties. While the effects of the ‘Triangle Trade’ on West Africa were devastating in the long run and in total human suffering (if it needs to be said, the slave trade was bad), trading local captives for European firearms made some West African states substantially more powerful. Likewise, trading for European weapons with local goods (especially furs) was a vital part of ‘keeping up’ in the Native North American ‘red queen’s race’ which could be no less ruthless or competitive than the European version (though in the long run, doing so made it impossible to create a united front against European powers, with devastating results for Native Americans. For more on these impacts in West Africa and North America, read Lee, Waging War (2016), ch. 8.)

The problem with the design is that the trade nodes can only steer in a limited set of directions. While trade can be redirected from one channel to the next (or blocked), it can only ever flow ‘downstream’ towards the end nodes. Consequently, the best place to have a trading power is always going to be on or very near one of those end-nodes because that makes it possible to have the longest trade chains. All three of these important ‘end nodes’ are in Europe (they are the Venice, Genoa and English Channel nodes). Consequently, trade is set up in the game to flow from the Americas, Africa and Asia to Europe; it cannot flow the other way. That doesn’t make it impossible to be a trade-centric state outside of Europe, but the opportunities for it are few and some starting areas really are trade-dead ends; if your home node is a start node (with no upstream connections; the start-nodes are Lhasa, the Amazon, Katsina, California, the Hudson Bay, the Great Lakes, Cuiaba, Siam, the Rio Grande and Patagonia) building a useful trade network is essentially impossible.

My understanding is that the Paradox folks are aware of the issues with the trade system, but that the underlying systems make it impossible to allow players and states to freely redirect trade (I think this has to do with the system being unable to handle closed loops and the need to calculate each node sequentially). My sense from developer comments is that this is one of those mechanics that it too fundamental to the game to be changed now but would likely look very different if the game were built from scratch today. In any event, beyond motivating European powers to engage in imperial expansion and colonialism for the purpose of reinforcing trade and extraction networks, EU4‘s trade system isn’t a very good simulation and doesn’t really have much teaching potential to offer as a result.

A modestly effective trade set up for Bharat (formed from Vijayanagar). The Coromandel node (especially when paired with the Malacca node) is an effective bottleneck which can allow a strong state in India to lock down the trade system in East Asia, blocking European powers out. Note that the percentage values is the percentage Bharat controls of the trade in each node. Achieving high trade power like that (as, for instance, in the Malacca node) requires combining merchants, ships and territorial control (which is to say, this trade configuration is only possible if you do some imperialism in Indonesia).

The major problem that it really presents is that it hard-codes a massive deterministic geographic advantage for Europe which just didn’t exist. The directions and flows that trade took were highly ‘contingent’ (that is, subject to change based on events and conditions); it could have looked very different and we know this because it did look very different. For players looking to get an idea of what different global trade configurations might have looked like (and teachers looking to teach on the topic), check out J.L. Abu-Lughod, Before European Hegemony: The World System A.D. 1250-1350 (1989) which lays out what global trade looked like in that period. A view of what was just before EU4‘s period serves on its own as a sort of fascinating counter-factual that drives home the essential contingency of the patterns that did end up prevailing in the early modern period.

That said, the impact of the trade system on which states become strong over the course of a game is also fairly muted, in part because while a human player can use this system to become extremely powerful, the AI is less adept at manipulating the trade system and so AI states rarely capitalize on it to the full possible extent. Consequently, even though Eastern European states are also disadvantaged in the trade system compared to their neighbors, the emergence of very strong Ottoman, Austrian, Polish or Russian empires (with revenues based on tax and production, rather than trade) are quite normal. Not to jump the gun on next week’s topic, which will focus on what I call the ‘Why Europe?’ question, but trade crucially does not offer the advantages it is sometimes theorized to have done by historians. In particular, while a huge trade empire can pull in tremendous state revenue, the methods to turn that into development and technological advantages are very limited, because those factors are governed mostly by state capacity resources (called ‘monarch points’ – more on those next time) and not by money and converting money to monarch points can only be done indirectly and to a limited degree.

By contrast, all of the trade from these controlled territories (every shade of green) can flow to the English Channel end-node to be almost entirely monopolized by the Netherlands. That global trade network, at this stage of the game, produces effectively infinite money (enabling the absurd conquests shown).
Note that this is a game played with the ‘random New World’ configuration, which is why the Americas are so odd. This is an option meant to provide a degree of unpredictability for players intending to ‘discover’ the Americas.

All and all, that tends to mean that the trade system is a fairly poor simulator of both global trade in this period or the impacts that trade had.

But there is one aspect of global trade that needs must be addressed here separately and in rather more depth.


Let me say at the outset that I understand Paradox’s dilemma here (we’ll come back to this dilemma especially when we talk about Hearts of Iron). On the one hand, there is a desire not to white-wash history and simply remove real things that really happened. On the other hand, no one wants their historical game to end up as a genocide and slavery simulator. And the very ‘play-any-country’ mindset which I praised above makes it tricky to be blunt with the player about the human impacts of playing as, say, Portugal (the most active, but by no means only, power involved in the transatlantic slave trade) without effectively ruining the game experience or worse yet, enticing players who out of their own twisted ideology want to play up that aspect of history (this, again, a larger problem with Hearts of Iron; we’ll get there some day).

But I have to say that the effort by the Paradox developers to land on a measured solution is not very satisfactory and instead manages to essentially fail at all of these goals and doesn’t reflect the history very well besides. Slavery is one of the few historical subjects where I tend to say that EU4 fails completely.

(Quick note: I tend to prefer in nomenclature to say ‘enslaved persons’ rather than ‘slaves’ because I think the reminder that people in slavery were people held in bondage is valuable, especially in teaching contexts and I trying to retrain my brain to ensure that terminology by habit (I do not, by any means, claim to have achieved any great consistency on this point; this is not some holier-than-thou bit, just an effort to improve my teaching). That said, as we’re going to see, EU4 doesn’t have enslaved people, it has a trade good called ‘slaves’ which it carefully avoids ever implying too strongly consists of people. So I am going to use ‘slaves’ (with the inverted commas) to denote the in-game trade good and its mechanics, and stick to my normal way of talking when speaking of historical enslaved people.)

First, let’s clear up the mechanics. Slavery exists in EU4 (as, of course, it did historically). ‘Slaves’ are one of the possible trade-goods on the map, represented by shackles (I will note that Victoria II has the courage to represent what EU4 does not; in EU4 slaves are represented just by open shackles, but VickyII represents them graphically with people in bondage and I think here VickyII’s approach is superior). With, to my knowledge, only one exception, every province that ‘produces’ slaves is in Africa; colonizing land also reveals new trade goods and ‘slaves’ can only appear this way in Africa. Around 1500, the ‘Triangle Trade’ event will fire which increases the trade value of ‘slaves’ by 50%; around 1710 the ‘Abolitionism’ event will fire (once the first country takes the Abolition of Slavery Act), which lowers the trade good value of ‘slaves.’ Reaching administration technology 15 (around 1700) lets states pass the Abolition of Slavery Act which grants a small amount of prestige, lowers national tax income (an important, major negative effect), lowers stability cost (a minor, positive effect) and forces every owned province with ‘slaves’ as a trade-good to randomly select a new regional trade good. In raw strategic terms, that tradeoff is only really worthwhile for large trading empires with heavy presences on the African coast (since the new trade goods have a decent chance to be more valuable than ‘slaves’ and trading empires don’t get too much of their income from national tax anyway). It oddly will almost certainly make no strategic sense for a historically configured Great Britain – which historically was the major great power pushing abolitionism as a matter of policy post-1807 – since British enclaves in Africa will be small compared to the income derived from India and Great Britain itself.

A comparison of the graphic used to represent ‘slaves’ in EU4 and Victoria II. Readers may point out that the difference here is that Victoria II’s graphic is indicating a ‘pop type’ – that is it marks an enslaved populace, a group of enslaved people – whereas mechanically, EU4’s graphic indicates a trade good. To which I would note that yes, the dehumanizing graphic chosen for EU4 perfectly fits the dehumanizing mechanics associated with it. Neither approach is perfect, but at least Victoria II makes clear that enslaved people are people.

And that’s it. That’s the entire mechanic. Other than that, ‘slaves’ work in the trade system exactly the same as boxes of sugar or crates of tea.

First, the degree to which slavery is presented here as a distinctly African-and-European thing is just historically wrong and a distortion in the understanding of the historic (and, just so we are very clear, morally reprehensible) institution of slavery. Mediterranean slave raiding had been a regular event in the warfare between Christian and Muslim societies and remained so during this period (the United States went to war with a collection of North African states over this in 1805, though of course one may well note the astounding hypocrisy of the United States of 1805 going to war over someone else’s slavery). That interaction is lamely represented by having one – and only one – North African province (it isn’t even a coastal province) produce ‘slaves.’ The slave trade in the Ottoman Empire is entirely unrepresented, save perhaps that one (and again, only one) province on the Black Sea also produces ‘slaves.’ Slavery in India, well attested under the Delhi Sultinate and the subsequent Mughal Empire (though more limited in the later) is also entirely unrepresented, as is both slavery and subsequent state action to eliminate slavery under the Qing. We’ve also already discussed slavery on the Eurasian Steppe, again, entirely unmodeled here.

Detail of the Trade Goods map for EU4. Dark black provinces mark provinces that produce ‘slaves’ (I have fiddled with the contrast to make those provinces more visible. Note that ALL global ‘slave’ producing provinces are in this image, despite the fact that it only really shows Africa and a small slice of Eurasia.
Also, the choice of black to mean ‘slaves here’ on the trade view is deeply unfortunate.

Instead, slavery seems, in EU4 to exist in Africa, to be expanded to European colonies in the Americas (such colonies are the required trigger for the ‘Triangle Trade’ event that substantially increases the ‘value’ of ‘slaves’), and not to exist anywhere else. This is, unfortunately, frequently how the history of slavery is taught in some western countries, as something that just popped into existence in the 1400s and 1500s out of nowhere, rather than as an (again, to be clear, evil) institution with deep roots in almost every complex agrarian society (though it should be noted that the slavery tradition that Europeans carried with them to the Americas, coming from the Mediterranean form of the institution with roots back into the ancient world, tended to be somewhat more brutal and dehumanizing than some other forms, though we must also note that slavery is always and everywhere bad. Efforts to whitewash non-European forms of slavery are just as much bad history as efforts to whitewash European forms (and often made in very much the same broken, tired and debunked terms)). But slavery was an institution with deep roots in a great many societies all over the globe, something that EU4 simply leaves out.

The Transatlantic Slave Trade

But the game also does a poor job of handling the one form of slavery it does model. Generally over the course of a game, European states will expand down the African coast by seizing territory, which will in turn pull the ‘slaves’ into their trading network (bound, oddly, for Europe and not the Americas, though the Triangle Trade event does make the directionality of the transatlantic slave trade explicit; another weakness of the trade system here). But that isn’t how either European colonialism in Africa worked prior to 1821, nor is it how the transatlantic slave trade worked. European territorial holdings in West Africa remained minimal throughout this period; a combination of strong West African states (which could oppose European traders militarily), geography and potent disease barriers (malaria and sleeping sickness) made European expansion in West Africa beyond a handful of ports-and-forts coastal trading stations impossible. These ports-and-forts mostly existed only at the sufferance of local African rulers who permitted European traders for various economic and strategic reasons.

The arrival of European traders put West African rulers in a strategic bind. West African states (and to be clear, we’re talking about states, not tribes; these are complex agrarian societies) were operating under the same conditions of interstate anarchy as we discussed previously, though often population, rather than land, was the key resource being fought over. The enslavement of captives was a normal part of this warfare (it was part of how you converted military gains into population gains and thus resource gains); early European traders seeking to transport enslaved laborers to the Americas to work on (brutal, inhuman and often fatal) plantations fit into this system (as did slave traders moving slaves East out of Africa into the broader Islamic world). Since the European slave traders (initially the Portuguese, but later all major European colonial powers) were willing to pay substantially for more enslaved people, refusing to treat with them meant forgoing a potential source of revenue (often in goods, not money, I am simplifying a bit), which was a dangerous thing in the brutal interstate anarchy of West Africa (just as it was in the brutal interstate anarchy of Europe).

Via Wikipedia, a historical plan for the British slave ship Brookes (1788). Conditions on these ships were utterly inhuman, and many of the enslaved people died on board. While this image suggests that the ship would hold some 487 people in horrible conditions, in fact Brookes transported as many as 744 enslaved people at a time, in even worse conditions. No part of the inhumanity of this is captured or really even mentioned in EU4.

But that equilibrium undergoes substantial disruption beginning in the 1680s when European traders start bringing to West Africa goods that no West African state could ignore: flintlock firearms. Earlier matchlock firearms, which required a decidedly unstealthy lit match to use, didn’t fit with the dominant tactical patterns of state-on-state West African warfare very well, but the flintlock, which did not inhibit stealthy movement at night, fit all too well. Suddenly access to firearms was a key factor in state security and survival and the only way to get those firearms was to trade for them and the only ‘good’ that was desired in trade was people. Even a good-hearted West African ruler (and like all rulers, many were not so good-hearted) was strategically trapped; refuse to trade enslaved people for guns and you would be defeated and traded by those who did.

Taking the Dahomey region as an example (drawing from Lee, Waging War, 265-72), you can see the clear impact of that strategic dilemma as the slave trade explodes, from perhaps three thousand enslaved persons traded out of the region per year in 1670 to twenty-thousand in 1688. As flintlocks flooded into the region, their price relative to enslaved persons plummeted, from two guns per-enslaved-person in 1682 to 24-32 guns per-enslaved-person in 1718. And that price movement, which is increasingly less favorable to European slave-traders as time goes on, speaks to the degree to which West African states were active participants in what was happening. For instance, Dahomey itself, once a victim of slave raiding from the West African states of Whydah and Allada pointedly conquered their way to the south, becoming a slave-trading state themselves in part to get the firearms necessary to provide for their security (and the insecurity of their neighbors). The multiplicity of African states and of European traders made it impossible for any one state to get a monopoly on the trade, which in turn made it impossible for most states to safely disengage from the trade without rendering themselves tempting targets for the neighbors.

Via Wikipedia, Portuguese merchants and ambassadors presenting themselves before the Manikongo, the ruler of the Kingdom of Kongo, in order to be allowed to trade in enslaved persons. Though the rulers of Kongo initially embraced the slave trade for the profits it could bring, it eventually destabilized the ruler of the Manikongo; civil war led to multiple sides all seeking to trade war captives, leading to further intensification of the trade and further misery in the remains of the kingdom.

In the long run, of course, this process (which might increase the power of individual West African rulers in the short run) had a devastating impact on the region and a horrible human toll. The transatlantic slave trade would transport more than 12 million enslaved persons from Africa to the Americas, under brutal and inhuman conditions. Millions died in transit, millions more died in the slave-raiding warfare at the West African point of origin, millions more died in the brutal conditions of labor they were forced into by their enslavers in the Americas.

(This is, you will not be surprised to learn, a complex and often much debated topic. Lee, Waging War (2016), ch 8 provides an approach and solid ‘for the lay-person’ introduction to the interaction of firearms and slave trading, in particular noting points of debate which remain unsettled. For more detail on those impacts, check out J. Thornton, Africa and Africans in the Making of the Atlantic World, 1400-1800 (1998).)

Probably no strategy game set at the level of states like EU4 is could do full justice to the transatlantic slave trade, precisely because this was a system where states often benefited from the exploitation and misery of the people under their charge, but EU4 accomplishes little, if anything, here. I certainly appreciate that they did not simply build the game entirely leaving out transatlantic slavery, but its reflection here falls badly short of the effort the game goes to model other historical processes.

There is no effort to simulate the acceleration of warfare brought on in West Africa by the slave trade (in contrast to how the systems for the Protestant Reformation and French Revolution do lend themselves towards accelerating violence within Europe), nor the eventual weakening of West African states and societies. And by turning what were European trade enclaves into the direct conquest of large territories, there is also no simulating the strategic traps that rulers in the region found themselves facing (instead they face the onrush of European conquistadores much like the peoples of the Americas do, centuries too early – the scramble for Africa was in the 1870s, folks!). Finally, the impact on Europe and the New World isn’t simulated either; there is (and we’ll discuss this more next time) a persuasive argument that the conquest of the Americas combined with the enslavement of Africans to extract the resources of the conquered Americas was itself a key reason why European powers surged ahead of the rest of the world in military and economic strength in the 1700s and 1800s.

Via Wikipedia, a diagram showing the scale of the transatlantic slave trade. It was by no means the only trade in enslaved persons in the period, but it became by far the largest such forced movement of people. Note that the diagram shows only the transport of enslaved people from Africa; enslaved persons were also forcibly relocated from the Eurasian Steppe and in India in this period, but are not shown here.

As we discussed at the very beginning of the series, EU4 generally doesn’t foreground the human consequences of state actions because it is a game about states. That is still very much true in its treatment of the institution of slavery.

Sic Transit Gloria Europae?

Europa Universalis IV, it seems to me, is clearly a game that is torn between the history of its franchise and parts of its initial design as a early modern Europe simulator (which needs must, due to the period, include the rest of the world) and the evident desire by Paradox to transition the game more completely into being a global early modern history simulation, which might still offer Europe a bit more of the limelight, but which tries to do at least some justice to the whole world. The game has clearly trended towards the latter in its development since release, and in the way it is different from its predecessor, but still has a ways to go.

If this has been very harsh, I want to repeat a point I made towards the beginning: I extend a tremendous amount of charity for any game that makes an effort to present a truly global history. I come back again to what I view as EU4‘s nearest peer in the gaming space, the (now quite aged) Empire: Total War. That game has only one truly non-European playable state in its main campaign (which means, among other things, literally all the Native American factions are reduced to AI-controlled cannon fodder, except in their own, bespoke sub-campaign where they only fight each other; the player is never really put on the business end of a wild colonial power disparity). And E:TW just opts to leave slavery out entirely; your trade ships in West Africa trade in ‘ivory.’ Right. And that is when the rest of the world is simulated at all; Empire‘s successor, Napoleon: Total War confines itself entirely to Europe and the Mediterranean, as do most (all?) of AGEod‘s operational strategy games (Wars of Napoleon, Wars of Succession, etc. – they have quite a large portfolio, but none of their games has yet achieved the level of success and popularity as Paradox’s titles). One would be forgiven for forgetting that the Napoleonic Wars were global conflicts (what Americans call the War of 1812 might justly be called the American theater of the Napoleonic Wars; the conflict also involved the Haitian revolution and a number of other conflicts in Central and South America, along with operations in Syria, Egypt and naval skirmishes the world over; the Napoleonic Wars are not unusual in this regard, almost every conflict involving European powers with colonial empires turned into global conflicts).

Europa Universalis IV at least pans out to the whole world and what’s more, it insists at a fundamental mechanical level that viewing the early modern period through the lens of the Rajas of Majapahit or the Mansas of Mali is just as valid a lens as taking the perspective of the Kings of France or the States General of the Netherlands. It does not always succeed, but the mere attempt sets EU4 apart in this regard.

But there is so much room for improvement, from graphical changes and events to impress upon the player the human reality of the slave trade (and a more complete representation of the slave trade), to a revamp of the trade system to further attention to non-European states. It may even be time for Europa Universalis to drop its legacy title and embrace its status as a World History game rather than a European History game.

If I may speculate for a moment, I think many of the remaining flaws in EU4‘s global presentation may represent the ‘view from Sweden’ as it were. Paradox is a Swedish company and I tend to think that has real impacts on the design of their games. For many Americans, the transatlantic slave trade is not something remote, but an event whose consequences continue to shape our reality. Walking through the lowest floor of the National Museum of African American History and Culture (should you be in Washington D.C., it is not to be missed though it is a heavy experience and will take most of a day) is a moving reminder that the past – even the horrible past – is not really past at all.

On the one hand, I think the distance of a view from Sweden – a country much less involved in the transatlantic slave trade and slave labor in the Americas – may contribute to Europa Universalis‘ somewhat clean and disinfected view of the institution. It feels far off and remote in EU4 perhaps because it feels that way in Sweden. Of course at the same time, I cannot know that an American, British, Dutch, French, Portuguese or Spanish developer would do any better; Empire: Total War comes from a British company and clearly felt slavery was too touchy a subject to be discussed and simply removed it from a history of the period (to be clear, I think that was an irresponsible developer decision). I am left to wonder what a grand strategy game developed in Africa would look like and what decisions those developers would make.

For those looking to supplement EU4‘s treatment, particularly on the transatlantic slave trade, L. Lindsay, Captives as Commodities (2008) provides an up-to-date textbook approach to the topic which covers both the economic aspects and the terrible human cost of the trade in an accessible format. On the specific interaction of firearms and slavery, W. Lee, Waging War (2016), ch. 8 provides a good summary of the factors and arguments in a short accessible format (this is the textbook I use to teach global military history; it is good and an actually global military history, not just a treatment of war in Europe). For teachers looking to get more detail, you can raid Lee’s footnotes, but I think of particular note are two books by J. Thornton, Africa and Africans in the Making of the Atlantic World, 1400-1800 (2nd. ed. 1998) and Warfare in Atlantic Africa, 1500-1800 (1999), though the latter can be pricey.

Finally, when teaching these topics to students whose first encounters with global history were through Europa Universalis IV, primary sources that speak to the direct experiences of people caught up in these grand historical forces can offer much needed balance to the state-and-power centered narrative. For example, the autobiography of Olaudah Equiano, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, The Africa (1789) both documents the horrors of the slave trade and was itself an crucial part of building support for the abolitionist movement in Britain, a book that both documented history and made history.

Next time (though perhaps not next week; I have something special planned), we’ll close out our look at Europa Universalis IV by turning to how the game handles on of the great debates, perhaps the great debate, of this historical period: why Europe?

241 thoughts on “Collections: Teaching Paradox, Europa Universalis IV, Part III: Europa Provincalis

  1. One brief comment to note:

    EU4 does actually suggest Asian, African, and American countries. They’re just relegated to seemingly different historical starts, so it’s very easy to miss that are actually 4 groups of suggestions for starting in 1444.

  2. This is a fascinating look and I appreciate it very much.

    I only really have experience with Stellaris, Paradox’s sci-fi title. And yet in that game the slave trade is much more developed than it is here. (There are still problems with the rest of Stellaris’s trade system, akin to the ones you describe above.)

    In Stellaris, slaves are Pops. That is, they’re the people who do work in your empire, and they’re represented by an icon on each Pop stating that they’re enslaved people who do work. So when you conquer a planet and decide to enslave the population you can just force the population to move to another planet to work for you. This has clear in-game benefits to the conquering power, and so slavery-practicing states don’t want to give that up.

    I think this is more akin to the system you’d like to see in a follow-on to Europa Universalis, as it is more historically-relatable. I think it’s more morally palatable in Stellaris because the Pops you are enslaving aren’t humans; it’s more difficult to get worked up about enslaving fictional aliens.

    1. > I think it’s more morally palatable in Stellaris because the Pops you are enslaving aren’t humans; it’s more difficult to get worked up about enslaving fictional aliens.

      I think the fictional part is the relevant factor here. Removes it from hard-to-swallow memories.

      1. Yeah, even though you technically can enslave humans in Stellaris, it’s still separated from the actual historical practice of slavery by the science-fictional setting. Besides which, it interacts with the Ethics system, other Empires will have an opinion about your slaving ways, the Galactic Community can pass laws about it, etc., etc. All of this takes it away from EU4’s sanitized treatment of slaves as being interchangeable with tea or spices.

      2. Also, part of the fun is that you can play the Evil Empire from your sci-fi franchise of choice. This means slavery isn’t so much “the ugly historical stuff that tragically was common in the era” but rather “I am so cacklingly evil”.

        I mean, there is an actual game mechanic for building a planet-busting battle station and then using it to bust annoying rebel planets.

      3. Not just about removing it from hard-to-swallow memories – the fictional setting also removes it from real-life advocates of those atrocities.

        Hearts of Iron IV already has enough of a Wehraboo problem without the additional draw of letting Nazis roleplay the Holocaust.

        1. I always thought that the key to it would be to have an event robbing you of large amounts of resources, that fires in regular intervals if your government is made of Nazis. No choice but the one where you pick Nazis to play. You wanted Nazis, so now sit and watch your resources siphoned off to do stuff you’d never click on if you had a choice. And another “camp liberation” event firing randomly for players who have successfully invaded German territory, lowering dissent or something like that. But perhaps I am missing something. In which case, I’d be interested in any holes you might poke in the idea.

          1. The horrible “hole” in the idea is that the administration of the extermination camps wasn’t really all that expensive in the context of an industrial war effort or the capabilities of an economy the size of Germany’s. For instance, Pressac’s book on Auschwitz notes 497 recorded tons of coke being delivered to the camp. I say recorded tons because the archival material he was working from was partially damaged and his list of coke deliveries is not complete. So let’s err on the side of extreme caution and say that was roughly 1/3 of all the coke sent, round it up to 1,500 tons of coke during the lifetime of Auschwitz as an extermination center. 1,500 tons is a lot of coke, isn’t it? Well, not when you take into account that Germany (or I should say, Germany plus her assorted conquered possessions) produced over 60,000,000 tons of coke each year of the war.

            The holocaust, in terms of material spent, was pretty cheap. And certain aspects of it, most especially the Hunger Plans out in the USSR, saved them shipping capacity on a front that was always extremely short of it.

          2. Brian Reynolds’ Alpha Centauri has an “atrocity” mechanic, where some actions (like using weapons of mass destruction, “nerve-stapling” your citizens to keep them docile…) result in lowered relations with everyone else, temporary trade embargoes and eventually war… (unless you managed to manipulate the World council to remove these prohibitions.)

            (This is still of a problem of course in games where you’re *already* in a “total war” situation, like the ones centered on WW2…)

          3. Re: the solution: that wouldn’t do what you think – given the inherent asymmetries baked into the game, and that multiplayer is in any case a secondary concern, competitive disadvantage is not a deterrent to a specific starting country pick. More challenging starts are often more prestigious!

            Now more to the description of the problem:

            For the people Paradox is worried about – actual neo-Nazis who want to roleplay genocide – having a game mechanic that purported to simulate it, even if only as a debuff, would be a selling point.

            Deterring people from playing as Nazi Germany at all is not a Paradox goal – Germany is, in fact, one of the most interesting countries to play, in gameplay and strategy terms. And that’s what they want the HoI4 brand to be: buy our game if you’re a wargaming grognard, not a neo-Nazi.

            Note that these are mutually exclusive markets – most of the grognards will not play the game (or talk about it, post about it, or do any of the things that drive future sales) if they think that associates them personally with far-right politics. But they do still want to toy with the strategic problem of Germany’s war-with-everyone.

            So keeping people from creating playthrough writeups (aka AARs) and mods that give the impression that their fandom is neo-Nazi is a political/moral and branding concern that Paradox takes very seriously.

    2. > in Stellaris the Pops you are enslaving aren’t humans; it’s more difficult to get worked up about enslaving fictional aliens.

      Unless you are playing as non-humans and encounter human aliens. That you can enslave and literally relegate to livestock status.

    3. I never played Victoria 2 or Stellaris, but I did play the original Victoria… which pioneered Paradox’s pop-based mechanics as far as I can tell.

      Now, Victoria’s timeframe (1836-1920, as I recall), was when international slave trading was on the way out, and Victoria certainly had no mechanics for forcibly relocating pops. I’m not sure it had any mechanisms for incentivizing relocation non-forcibly either, come to think of it, though immigration did occur naturally sometimes.

      Victoria (like Victoria 2, as Dr. Devereaux cites) had slave pops, too- but, probably as befits the timeframe, no mechanism for enslaving pops, unlike Stellaris.

        1. Victorias immigration system was… janky. Basically it had a certain set of criteria that increased attractiveness to immigration (availible jobs, level of political and social reforms) but to that was added a hard coded bonus for the americas and an even bigger one for the USA specifically. This basically menat immigration was largely people picking up and moving to the US (which…. isnt ENTIRELY wrong for the period, but could lead to the US having 500 million people in 1936)

    4. Yeah, having mechanics specifically representing your population (instead of rolling them into province stats) makes it a lot easier to treat slaves as people instead of just a trade good.

  3. Maybe a mechanic where West African states can get a massive military tech modifier but gradually lose province development over time would work well to represent the strategic dilemma of the slave trade. Or maybe a policy during war that ruins development of occupied provinces but provides a military tech boost.

    1. Let’s hope the Paradox guys read this blog. This is an idea for an expansion pack just waiting for someone to pick it up.

  4. I always enjoyed “Sid Meier’s Colonization,” and was annoyed by the complete absence of slavery, though I understood why they didn’t feel like being known for simulating that–just for simulating, in a limited way, the genocide of the Native Americans. The Civ4 Colonization modpack included slavery in a still more limited way, I understand (you could choose slavery or abolition as options when designing a constitution when you declared independence, though slaves never appeared in-game), and updated the Native leaders by giving them traits which entirely relate to their utility to the European player, like giving more gold presents or training your colonists in skills more quickly.

    My imaginary Colonization sequel would create an overseas port with a name like Angola. You could buy slaves whenever you liked (and the Indian “converts” you sometimes get when attacking a tribe would be slaves as well, let’s be real here), and they would work field jobs well on half the food of ordinary colonists (to simulate the broader brutally extractive conditions), but if the colony was ever inadequately garrisoned they would not be slow to revolt, and of course they would never, ever become “Sons of Liberty” and thus increase the efficiency of your colony’s production. They have no reason to believe in your project!

    You could free them to remove this malus, but freedmen would eat the normal amount of food while functioning worse than free colonists unless and until you educated them. Thus they would be a powerful economic stimulus, and players would feel strong pressure to keep up with the Joneses, but eventually every slave would be a massive liability which could only be addressed at cost. A hard, virtuous beginning or the wages of sin at the end, take your pick.

    I doubt they’d ever make such a game, but it’s my silly fantasy.

    1. They’d probably be labelled a slavery simulator, more inoccuous games have been labelled as worse.

    2. Colonization!’s native “recruitment” mechanic is still pretty impressively accurate and transgressive, and a pretty good representation of the encomienda system in the Spanish Empire, and how the Jesuits were ‘better’ at it.

      You already acknowledge it’s more of a wishlist item, but I suspect that attempting to model slavery in more detail is inherently caught between a rock and a hard place – either slavery is “effective” and you’ve potentially built an icky “slavery justification simulator”, or it’s not effective and the resulting gameplay feels like some ahistorical whitewashing. About the best I could suggest is to make it so that slavery isn’t actually effective or a good idea, but restricting it generates huge discontent among your populace who will conspire to undermine or overthrow you, since they are selfishly in favor of it. (And as far as native slavery and land theft goes, colonial governors that stood up for native rights against citizens who wanted to either enslave them or take their land frequently did become very unpopular and trigger disobedience or outright revolt.)

      1. The hell of it is, African slavery isn’t a whole lot worse than what’s already in Colonization, which in turn was pretty humane and balanced compared to what went on in many contemporary games. You could take the Indians’ gifts, learn their vital agricultural skills, and then turn around and steamroll them out of existence, tearing their villages apart for treasure and earning piles of “converts” to work your fields. But there was at least the possibility of cooperation and trade with them, even if in my experience those were far less lucrative. And it did ding you 1 point off your score for every village you wiped off the face of the earth, which was … something?

        Meanwhile, in Master of Orion by the same company, most wars were resolved by clicking on one of your planets, clicking on the “transport” button, selecting how many colonists to move, and selecting a destination planet. If you selected an enemy planet for the target, the process would seamlessly conscript a vast number of civilians, potentially hundreds of millions, give them powered armor and guns, and send them off to swarm the enemy. Combat was resolved via a single screen that displayed your huge army on one side, the entire population of the enemy planet on the other, with your respective equipment bonuses, and then a huge chunk, possibly all, would disappear from one or both sides, and whoever was left would own the planet at the end of the turn.

        Not that this was the ONLY way to win. You could also bomb the colony out of existence from orbit, potentially using “death spores” or “bio terminators.” But this tended to take longer and destroyed valuable factories you could have used yourself. And then there was the peaceful option of winning the vote for Master of the Galaxy, but in order to have enough population to win that you pretty much needed to have done one of the other two. Galactic Dresden versus Galactic Stalingrad. But, hey–no African slavery!

        1. In freecol Indian trade is pretty lucrative, though runs out of steam after a while. I suspect you can then loot them as well, rather than them having run out of stuff, but I only sack them when they’ve declared war on me. Especially lucrative is gunrunning, selling guns and horses, which you can do multiple times in a row unlike other trades. Naturally I do this with Indians who aren’t my neighbors… I’m not sure how much horses spread even between settlements in a ‘tribe’, let alone between tribes; in the old Colonization days I was paranoid and tried only to sell horses on a different island/continent, but it doesn’t seem to matter now.

          1. In Colonization, at least, they tended to clutter the map, so realistically you had to do a fair amount of slaughtering just to secure enough colony sites to make a prosperous country. Since alarm levels would reset as soon as you burned their capital, there was no real reason not to clear a few sites once you’d amassed a good supply of soldiers.

        2. One grace is that “wiping out the Indians” isn’t a victory condition. Your choices are “declare independence and fight off the motherland” or “wipe out all the other European colonies”, and I know that one only as a game option.

        3. If your species was telepathic, you could also just mind-control an entire population from orbit. I guess that’s better than mass extermination?

          1. That was in the sequel, where you were just plain ol’ imperialistic; I don’t recall if it was even possible to liquidate planetary populations in MOO:BAA. They went soft, I tells ya.

          2. Replying to theredsheep: It is absolutely possible to have your troops exterminate captive populations in MOO2, unless you have a Democratic form of government (or if you have the aforementioned Telepathic trait which causes captured population units to instantly assimilate.) Choosing to do so hugely increases the chance of a revolt, and given how long it takes most races to fully repopulate a planet, a more conventional occupation is usually the better way to go anyway.

      2. “either slavery is “effective” and you’ve potentially built an icky “slavery justification simulator”, or it’s not effective and the resulting gameplay feels like some ahistorical whitewashing.”

        I think there is a good solution to this, and that is just to use actual history. Slavery was not abolished because it was morally wrong, but because the states that came to dominate global politics determined that abolition was beneficial to them. Slavery is highly productive in plantation economies and can be effective for mining and other resource extraction (dependent upon the cost and availability of new slaves). Slavery is also most beneficial to the local elite, but tends to be at best a wash for the overall economy. So you could simulate slavery in this way where extraction economies benefit from slavery but industrial and service economies do not (at least not to the same degree). Add in that the institution of slavery, by virtue of being so profitable to the elite, builds a sort if dependence that stifles development in other sectors (why bother when you can just invest in more slaves) and you can simulate both why some societies would want slavery while others would discard it. Simply make slavery so valuable for the short term in certain contexts that you would be pushed towards it and only too late realise that it is a dead end.

        You can then build off this to show how realpolitik can come to dominate seemingly purely ethical concerns like abolition. States that dont rely on slavery for a significant portion of their revenue, but with rivals that do (england after the revolutionary war is a good example), will have a geopolitical reason to oppose the slave trade and may attempt to ban it. That slavery stifled development of industry will simply help force the transition away from slavery that also occured in our timeline.

    3. It has been a long time since I played it, but I remember the original Colonization having both slaves and indentured servants. I’m talking the original DOS game here.

      1. pemryjanes: The original Colonization! had indentured servants (who could work farms and do menial manufacturing labor, but not thinky or violent stuff) and criminals (just farming fields). If you stuck a mission in a native village, the resulting “recruits” would also be fieldwork-only. With time, though, later generations would “level up” as indentured contracts expired and their kids were just normal citizens who could do anything and be trained in the school and all.

        Incidentally, some of the “gradual abolition” proposals were somewhat similar, and essentially turn enslaved people into something close to indentured servants who could hope for, if not freedom themselves, freedom in the future for the next generation. This is kind of what happened with the very earliest slaves brought to colonial America – originally, their kids at least were free. This didn’t last very long, unfortunately, at least in the South.

        1. I do note that in the orignial colonization Indentured Servants, Petty Criminals and Native Converts all could work all (non specialized) jobs, they were just really bad at it. (if a basic free colonist provided 3 of whatever goods they were doing indentured servants produced 2 and petty criminals one, IIRC)

          1. Native Converts were actually better than regular colonists at field work. It was the resource processing, preaching and liberty bell production they were bad at.

    4. Here’s an idea for a game: slave uprising simulator. I mean, they made a game out of Poland’s Solidarity movement, a slave uprising is not that far removed from that.

      1. That would actually be quite interesting to play, though I would wonder what the “victory” condition would be. Haiti’s the only long-term successful slave uprising that comes to mind, and even there, it’s not a pleasant story.

        1. To be fair, the US deserves much, if not most, of the blame for how poorly things have gone for Haiti. Cuba is more commonly thought of as a target of America’s ire, but Hatiti probably got even worse treatment all told.

          1. Plenty of blame to go around, France deserves plenty for of course the original set-up, Napoleons invasion, and the payments they demanded that crippled Haiti economically. Although it wouldn’t have been all unicorns and rainbows I could see Haiti making a decent go of it if Napoleon had offered them reasonable terms instead of invading. Now I’m imagining goofball alternate history in which Napoleon uses Haiti to recruit armies for taking out the UK’s tropical colonies that wouldn’t drop over dead from disease in Jamaica etc.

        2. Just what I was thinking. Every slave revolt that I can recall off the top of my head ended really, really badly for the rebel slaves.

      2. Slave uprisings usually ended badly for the slaves. But the constant threat of them (and chattel slaves were always on the edge of revolt or flight) distorted slave societies. So maybe a production/development penalty for mass slavery? Plus any invader finds ready recruits – fights at advantage?

        1. It was not just the threat of slave revolts. You have to work out how to inspire the slave to work. If you just use the threat of punishment, you will get slaves that do the bare minimum that they figure will evade the punishment — and if the slave can, through carelessness or intention, do less than the minimum without getting caught, they generally will. Both in Ancient Rome and the Deep South, masters would pay slaves for certain work because it was the only way to get the work done right.

      3. There’s always the Peasant Uprising chess variant. Eight pawns and a king vs three knights and a king (3rd knight goes in the queens space).

    5. Heh, I thought of Colonization too, though I played the actual game like 25 years ago, and have only played the clone freecol since. I think it handles trade decently, and I could imagine a port where you sell guns and buy slaves.

      In freecol indentured servants, petty criminals, and Indian converts *can* do everything, but will be unproductive at ‘indoor’ tasks (like 1/3 as productive). Everyone’s immortal unless killed in the field or starving, so no ‘kids’ progressing up, though you can educate criminals and servants into free colonists and beyond.

      (freecol is fun but like most games has its realism problems, perhaps the biggest beingthat you can stash an arbitrarily large population of people and horses outside your colony (and more horses in warehouses and cargo). They who do not work, neither do they have to eat.)

      1. It inherited most or all of that from Colonization. I definitely remember the issue where you could stockpile an arbitrarily large army of dragoons so long as you had the right specialists working. Payroll? Food? What are those? The only real limit was that the Royalist army grew in proportion to the money you made, but if you turned over as much production as possible to gunsmithing and horse-breeding, you could churn out a ridiculous horde.

        1. > The only real limit was that the Royalist army grew in proportion to the money you made

          Huh, I just thought it increased on some semi-random schedule, not that it was reacting to my conditions. Hmm. The other mystery is why I get mercenary offers at times.

          1. I have distinct memories of making a sizable sale (100 silver or a treasure galleon, say) and immediately after having the announcement pop up: “The King has added X to the Royal Expeditionary Force.” This happened consistently enough that I felt sure there was a connection.

          2. My understanding was always that it was based on tax revenue. So when you sell a bunch of silver to Europe, your king takes a cut based on taxes, and those taxes go to an invisible counter that funds more RAF troops.

            Pretty sure the mercenary offers were based on the size of your treasury; the goal is to keep you from sitting on too much gold and giving you something to do with your cash once you have a consistent surplus.

          3. It’s irrelevant, and we’re straying from the OP something fierce, but I think the idea was just to have the REF scale proportionate to some measure of the player’s power, and the simplest way the developers could think of to do that was with a simple numerical metric like player income. The tax thing sounds sensible, but I don’t recall REF growth scaling down much after I discovered that I didn’t need to accept any tax increases whatever after getting custom houses. To this day I’m not sure if that devastating loophole was intentional or not.

    6. Note that Civilization 4 itself *has* a slavery mechanic, where you sacrifice population for production and temporary unhappiness… (also interestingly, the draft mechanic works almost in the same way – you just get basic troops instead of multipurpose production.)

      Civ4 still (!) has mods being worked upon, like Caveman 2 Cosmos, which has *much* bigger scope, and so has a separate mechanic for the “cannibalism” and “slavery worldviews”.

      Cannibalism just converts captive units into food.
      (C2C also has the hunting mechanic that converts killed and captured animals into food and production).

      Slavery has lots of different mechanics, like converting captive units into food and production or other units, specific slavery-only buildings that captured slaves can help insta-build, the possibility of “settling” slaves as workers, specialization of slaves…

      There are of course units and unit promotions that specialize in unit capture and captured unit transport (either for humans or for animals).

      Both of these worldviews get cumulative happiness and diplomatic penalties as the game goes on.

      “Settled” slaves can eventually be “emancipated” into “indentured servants” and then plain “workers”.

      “Cannibalism” and “Slavery” worldviews can eventually be removed by sacrificing specific kinds of “great persons”.

      For both of these, a mod has less of issues compared to a commercial game of being considered “unseemly”, but there’s sill left the balance issue – these kinds of mechanics are hard to balance properly for good strategic gameplay, they can easily become either too weak (which cannibalism probably should be), or too powerful (which slavery (& serfdom) perhaps should be until the industrial revolution ?).

      (Oh, and IIRC C2C also has a human sacrifice mechanic distinct from cannibalism, which I don’t know much about, except that IIRC it’s strongly tied to specific religions ?)

  5. Some issues with directly presenting slavery and its human cost in the highly mechanical, nearly deterministic eu4 gameplay is the dangerous combination of desensitization of players to the brutality (if you see the events every campaign, you will ignore their content and only care about the mechanical effects; every common event in the game is seen that way by experienced players), as well as excusing the actions of states exercising slavery as inevitable/necessary (if I don’t, my rivals will, and use it to conquer me, so it will happen regardless).

    Treating eu4 as an educational simulator misses the context it is placed in: a strategy game, played to win through exploiting the mechanics to maximize the power of the player state. Inserting slavery as an exploitable mechanic may have the inverse effect of educating people on the true cost and impact of slavery, leading them to believe it was a source of state power, inevitably used in interstate anarchy regardless of its human cost. It is in this context of eu4 presenting world history as rational state actors moving through the security dilemma (and utterly ignoring human wellbeing along the way) that presenting slavery as an exploitable mechanic is likely to give the opposite message.

    On a less heavy topic, I understood trade value as more abstracted, as economic control over productivity, rather than the output directly. In that sense, it is not so much that the goods or money thereof is being sent to the collecting states, but that control over that production of wealth is sent to the collecting states, who can then exercise that when they spend the money on armies and whatnot. Of course, the actual statically eurocentric layout of the trade node network is still unreasonable, but the concept of the trade flowing from productive areas to urban areas makes more sense to me when seen as control over productivity. (I don’t know if that was the developer intention, but that is how I read it.)

    On the network layout itself, I don’t think the system needs to handle cycles to allow for more dynamic systems. So long as there is a total ordering in the network, you can avoid cycles while still allowing the direction of trade flow to change as the game progresses. Consider a system where trade always flows from low trade power nodes to high trade power nodes. That system would be both dynamic, but also immune to cycles. That suggestion is itself imperfect too, of course, but there is a middle ground between cyclic networks and static networks which could be explored.

    1. Players already apply the same brutal calculus you fear for slavery to all kinds of brutal practices, most notably aggressive wars (and a sanitized version of ethnic cleansing, per the first installment of this series). How is slavery different?

      1. I think that’s the point- it’s not different, and we’d see the same level of normalization of slavery in the game community that we already see of aggressive warfare.

        1. Is there research showing a correlation between playing wargames and IRL approval for militarism? I’m not really part of any kind of game community and haven’t been for some times, but back when I played Civ (which is quite frequently won by world conquest) the scene seemed generally skeptical of the GWB administration to me.

          1. I don’t know, but it correlates probably as much as playing Counter-Strike causes school shootings…

    2. Awesomescorpion, I think you might be going down a Jack Thompson style route. Gamers are fully capable of playing as homocidal maniacs in GTA without becoming murderers, having a slavery system in a game should be no different.

      Instead it speaks more to our cultural taboos on subjects to explicitly target slavery when EU 4 is a very amoral game.

      1. Popular culture demonstratably DOES influence human behavior.

        The problem with the approach that you attribute to Jack Thompson, is not this presumption that should be uncontroversial, but the idea that the way it does, is analogous to how a drug might influence brain chemistry (suddenly, profoundly, and and reliably in one predictable direction), and that therefore games should be legally regulated like drugs.

        Video games won’t force you to suddenly act in sharp contradiction to all your other experiences and learned behavior. They are, on the other hand, PART of the process by which you gain experiences and learn behaviors.

        When people are immersed in a fictional portrayal of history for hours upon hours every day, that doesn’t outright contradict other sources that they have, but portrays them in a slanted way, that leads to people developing a slanted understanding of history and drawing slanted conclusions from it for modern life.

        1. True.
          I have played RPGs my whole life (32yo now).
          Recently, I became aware that it might be a factor for a significant bias in how I approach life situations, like a strong drive to be the only “hero of the story”, and discounting the agency of others (subconsciously treating others as NPCs). It has not been easy to admit that, and I am really not proud of that aspect of my personality and how I treat others.

          There are positive influences as well, but overall I think there is no doubt that we are subconsciously affected by the stuff we play, for good or the bad.

  6. Would it be possible to set up the screenshots to link to larger versions? They’re a bit tricky to read as is, even when right clicking to open the image in a new tab.

  7. The idea that slavery is inherently evil is quite a new one. While nobody ever wanted to a slave it was perfectly all right for millenia to enslave people who were not ‘Us’. And Not Us was not always defined by skin color. Sometimes it was a matter of religion, quite often is was a matter of culture or of national and tribal allegiance. The West African states who profited from the slave trade did not see themselves as betraying their own because people from other African states didn’t count as ‘Us’.

    1. West African rulers frequently sold their own people into slavery. A lot of slaves in classical Greece were Greek (see the fate of the Melians). So ‘US’ can have very flexible definitions – often no more than ‘not me’.

      1. For Greeks Not Us tended to be anybody not from their city. For Kings it can mean anybody who isn’t an aristocrat.

        1. Or even from your city, but poor or vulnerable – see Solon’s reforms, that ended the selling of Athenians into slavery for unpaid debt.

  8. There are a number of occurrences of slave trade in the game you did not mention. While I do not think they are very engaging or represent the suffering slavery brings, they did try to put in some content.
    There is an event if you own African land. You get approached by a local lord of your African land if you want to make a slave entrepot, this turns the trade-good of a province into slaves as well as some other effects. I forgot the details, but I think you get money and some other things if you accept, and prestige if you refuse.
    Barbary slave trade is also not completely absent, Barbary states (and pirate states and the knights of rhodos) can plunder coastal provinces. For the country plundered it is a minor inconvenience, mostly devastation in the affected provinces (the pop-ups notifying you of the raid are probably more annoying), but for the countries engaging in the raiding it is a major source of income. For Rhodos it is important to be able to fund the armies required to reconquer the holy land and for the Barbary coast countries it is important since their land does not generate too much income.
    The Mamluks also have slavery built into their state form. When their ruler dies you’re allowed to select a new ruler from different cultures. The less represented that culture is in your empire, the stronger the new ruler’s legitimacy. However they also have “state interactions” that become stronger the more your ruler’s culture is present in your state. One of them is “Sell off [ruler culture] Slaves”, which generates money based on how much development your ruler’s culture has in your country. Now this does not cost you anything, no devastation, no development loss, just a “free money” button. The only decision here is whether you want a ruler of a minor culture (that means high legitimacy) or of a major culture (that makes the state interactions generate more manpower/money). The game does mention caucasian slaves (caucasian here means “from the caucasus mountains”) since that was an important location the Mamluks drew new slaves from, but again the caucasus countries never suffer slave raids.
    The Ottomans also have slavery with Janissaries, these are elite soldiers you can only recruit from christian lands, and if you have a lot of them with a weak leader they can trigger the “jannisary decadence” disaster.
    What was mentioned was that if you are a European country that holds land in Africa and America, you trigger the triangle trade event. Now you cannot prevent this (except for not fulfilling the requirements). It just happens and you get prestige and money.
    Dahomey has a national idea “slave hunts” so that does get mentioned, although you will only see this if you play Dahomey, and if you want to know the context you have to hover over it and read the flavor text.
    It could be interesting if slavery had a more pronounced impact in a way the player might try to avoid it. Or maybe see the advantages of it and engage in it even though they might not want to on moral grounds (red queen problem). The loss/gain of development could be compelling (or just introduce pops). That said, wars, even the religious league war, do not cause any development loss outside of the rare “sack of [city]” event. Paradox would do well to better model the devastation of both war and slavery.

    One idea i had is to do it in the same vein as colonization. In the game when you colonize you have different colonization options, native trade, native repression and native coexistence. They could have a similar system for countries holding land in Africa, America and Europe regarding triangle trade. You can either select “triangle trade” or “no slave trade” and “triangle trade” would generate more resources, develop the American provinces at the cost of African provinces, and give African nations the choice of “sell slaves to Europeans” in peace treaties. Maybe make it at the cost of increased unrest in your colonial holdings. This could give the player the moral dilemma a ruler of the time might experience “do I ramp up the slave trade for massive profit and a quick way to power up my colonies, or do I refuse to engage with such detestable acts”.

    I think the ability of Europeans to conquer all of Africa before 1870s is because the game does not simulate defensive warfare well enough. Mountains just give a +2 roll modifier for the defender. This is a good bonus that can give you an edge. But in wars like the conquest of Granada by Castille or Skanderbeg’s war against the Ottomans ingame are over fairly quickly because the mountains cannot make up for the massive power disparity. This is also the problem in Africa, Europeans should suffer something like 20% attrition. Or alternatively make only the coast colonizable with inner Africa being untouchable that just generates trade resources. But that would mean cutting out African nations as playable nations.

    1. Cavalry should suffer 100% attrition in the tropical regions of Africa. The analogue of sleeping sickness in humans is called nagana in horses (and cattle); this lack of draft animals and thus logistics capacity held up European colonization until steamboats were developed. Unfortunately, logistics mostly aren’t modelled (with AFAIK two exceptions: land armies can exceed the supply limits of provinces, and ships in non-coastal waters suffer attrition).

      1. Forces in enemy territory always suffer 1% attrition even if they don’t exceed the province supply limit. So ramping that up to 10% or something would make war much more costly. 100% attrition on cav doesn’t really matter since most people do without. Only nations that are specialized in cavalry like poland use it.

  9. yeah, dont try to bullshit us. the ‘enslaved peoples’ phenomenon is literally just holier-then-thou speech invented to make people feel better about themselves

    1. While I don’t see the appeal of person-first-labeling for most purposes (nor the variant here), you’re being needlessly confrontational about a minor point.

      1. Person-first-labeling in general is a mixed bag, but I think the purpose of using it with regards to a demographic which is consistently dehumanized is pretty straightforward. It reminds you that enslaved people are people, not just economic resources or victims for the hero to free or whatever. It’s not necessary for every discussion of slaves, but when you’re literally pointing out how a piece of media dehumanizes them, emphasizing their humanity is a good idea!

        1. Idunno; when I hear “slave” I think of a guy working a farm for twelve hours in mid-July while a guy on horseback waits nearby, tapping his riding boots with a whip to remind him to hurry up. When I hear “enslaved person,” I think of a UN report.

          1. I agree with you. The latter sounds … Antiseptic. Which is of course exactly the opposite of what Brett wants to convey.

      2. This is not so much person-first labeling, (like what saying “person of color” as opposed to “colored person” is), so much as mentioning personhood at all.

        It is a matter of talking about enslavement as an action, rather than being “a slave” as a trait that some people objectively had.

        This also applies to using “enslaver” instead of “owner”, and generally refuse to legitimize it as such.

        Compare and contrast “Sally Hemings was Thomas Jefferson’s slave” to “Sally Hemings was being enslaved by Thomas Jefferson”.

        1. The second is more awkward to say IMO. Also, nothing about saying “X is a slave” implies that the slavery is an essential state, any more than “X is a carpenter,” “X is a 49ers fan” or “X is a Catholic.” I don’t think any of those things are immutable characteristics, nor that they encapsulate everything there is to know about a person. There are a few people out there who are under the illusion that antebellum slavery was Not So Bad, yes, but they certainly aren’t going to change their mind because of a circumlocution.

          1. The point is typically not the stressing of mutable vs. immutable characteristics, but that slavery is a condition not located in a person (the way, say, religion or fandom is) but rather a condition forced upon one person *by another person.*

          2. The objective of using “enslaved people” instead of “slaves” isn’t to change the minds of people who think slavery wasn’t bad.

            It’s to make sure that people who do intellectually acknowledge that slavery is bad, but who view it as a historically distant phenomenon, retain the capacity to empathize with the victims of slavery rather than seeing them as faceless statistics who have no independent perspective of their own.

            Dr. Devereaux has noted elsewhere that he finds, often to his surprise, his students instinctively adopting the perspective of nobility and elites in thinking about historical societies, rather than the populations they ruled over. Experimenting with ways to counterbalance this trait (“hey, peasants and slaves were people too and their experiences were just as real and significant as the lord of the manor’s even if they didn’t get written down”) is an important part of the historical project.

            Now, personally I don’t feel much need for the specific term “enslaved people,” in that it doesn’t change my outlook much to use it and I feel like I process the degradation and injustices suffered by the enslaved about the same either way. But my brain works funny in a lot of ways. I am not a representative sample of the audience.

            A guy who’s probably taught classes using both terms and had a chance to directly observe how his students react and engage with the topic of slavery depending on which term he uses is probably better qualified to decide whether it’s worth it.

            So if he thinks it’s helpful, I’ll take his word for it and not nag him about it.

          3. I’ve no intention of nagging anyone; I started this by calling it a minor point not worth being rude over. But I don’t think the conversation will profitably go any further.

          4. @Bret Devereaux

            There are quite a few other characteristics which are being forced upon someone by other persons. Would you recommend against using “conscripts” and “refugees” as well?

            There is also a secondary consideration that it shifts the meaning of “X was enslaved by Y” which is used often in the older sources but with a different meaning – and act of making someone non-free as opposed to an act of keeping someone non-free; while it’s not the end of the world I do not think that the cost of making it harder to understand older sources – including primary sources – is negligible.

          5. As I note, I don’t claim any great consistency here.

            In my own field – ancient history – where conscripted soldiers tend to be from the reasonably well-to-do small landholding class, I find my students have little problem imagining them as persons or thinking about the experiences. I still try to humanize them, mostly by drawing connections between their lives as farmers and their time as soldiers (I begin my ancient history courses with the short version of the farming series on the blog). But the hoplite or Roman legionary perspective is also fairly present in the sources, in a way that the enslaved perspective generally isn’t.

            If I had a long, sustained course on early modern warfare, we would probably spend a fair bit more time on conscripted soldiers and what that meant for their lives and status.

            As for ‘refugees’ here I think the ‘person first’ alternative is actually more bloodless and robbed of meaning; ‘displaced persons’ is just very limp. But the situation is also easier compared to enslaved people, because, “refugees fleeing for their lives” conjures up pity and fearful emotions in a way that I find that “slaves working on a farm” often conjures for students decidedly whitewashed Gone-with-the-Wind-esque images of pleasant pastoral simplicity. Thus my preference for “Enslaved people forced to work on a farm” as a more accurate way to describe their situation.

            Again, I claim no great consistency here (and I don’t demand students follow my usage); I don’t necessarily think consistency is actually necessary. The revelatory ‘oh my God, these were people’ moment (and the attendant lump at the pit of one’s stomach) really needs only to happen once for it to color the rest of the lecture.

        2. >Compare and contrast “Sally Hemings was Thomas Jefferson’s slave” to “Sally Hemings was being enslaved by Thomas Jefferson”.

          No, the latter is terrible. The passive voice is inherently weaker than the active voice, and it dampens the force of the sentence.

          Language doesn’t work the way you think it does. Nobody (outside academia) parses the exact syntactic meaning of a phrase in order to decide what their mental attitude towards it will be. Their attitude is given to them by the *emotional* connotations of the words.

          “Slave”- a word synonymous in the contemporary mind with oppression, injustice, cruelty, dehumanization, ripping parents from their children, and racial hate.

          “Enslaved persons”- Sounds like something you’d see in a CBO report, or a Strongly Worded Letter from the UN.

          If this new language fad becomes popular it will do exactly the opposite of what it claims to set out to do. I understand why academics like you guys are biased towards thinking that social beliefs are constructed primarily through plain discourse and not through power and emotion, but it simply isn’t true. Anyone thinking this is a good idea should reconsider.

          1. Passive tends to be weaker because it allows leaving out the agent: “Sally Hemings was enslaved”. But the sample sentence leaves in the agent, while still having Sally as the subject, vs. “Thomas Jefferson enslaved Sally Hemings.”

            Anyway, you sound very confident. What’s the evidence that justifies your beliefs?

          2. @mindstalko- Even if the agent is left in, the effect of the passive voice is still to de-emphasize the subject (framing her as *passive*, duh), and also to “soften” the force of the sentence due to its indirect phrasing.

            I don’t know what evidence you want. I’m an English speaker who lives in a community of English speaking humans, the connotations of these things should be self-evident.

          3. So, as a teacher who teaches about societies with slavery (Greece, Rome, etc), I am actually quite certain you are off on this.

            Actual students often arrive in my classes surprisingly prepared to swallow arguments about ‘benign’ slavery without thinking about it. Sure, if you ask them direct questions about slavery, they will tell you that it is bad and wrong. But if you have them read about a slave-society like Rome, it is very easy for them to let the people in slavery fade into the background. They become a faceless mass, rather than individuals.

            Talking about *people* in slavery directs attention to the humanity of those people. I have seen this function in classroom discussions and observed it myself. As an educator, I am quite sure it functions which is why I am changing the terminology I use. I am generally quite traditional in my educational approaches; I use BC and AD instead of CE and BCE most of the time, and I am generally averse to fancy historical theory. My crusty, somewhat conservative (in the sense of historical method) approach to history is immediately spotted by my colleagues when they read these posts, but is understandably hard for non-historians to see.

            I don’t do academic ‘fashions’ and I never have. But if something gets things across to students, I do not care how silly it sounds; if it works, I use it.

            As for the sentences, I want to note that the real comparative sentences you want to contrast are:
            “Sally Hemmings was Thomas Jefferson’s slave” and “Thomas Jefferson enslaved Sally Hemmings”
            Both active voice and but the latter indicates – as it damn well should – culpability. And before anyone screams, I am on record being against the wholesale defenestration of Thomas Jefferson. But he is culpable for his enslavement of other human beings (as he practically admits in his own writing).

            But the contrast is also between, “Pliny’s crops were harvested by many slaves” and “Pliny enslaved many people and forced them to harvest his crops.” The former is bloodless; the latter asks a student to think about what it was like to be violently compelled to labor under the lash and the rod. It asks them to think about themselves in the position of the laborer, not merely the rich estate owner.

            Again, for me, it’s about the educational impact which – I’ve been doing that for a little more than ten years now; I shifted terminology really only in the last few (and less consistently than I’d like) but I’ve noticed how the changed wording sparks different discussions and different thinking in papers. Better, deeper discussions and thinking.

            If I need to sound a bit silly in order to be a better teacher, then I will sound a bit silly.

          4. Alright, have to defend the passive voice as my personal windmill to tilt at:

            No, the latter is terrible. The passive voice is inherently weaker than the active voice, and it dampens the force of the sentence.

            No, it doesn’t. Literally this sentence is passive voice:

            Their attitude is given to them by the *emotional* connotations of the words.

            Arranged as an active voice sentence, it would be “The *emotional* content of the words gives them their attitude.” This does not actually seem to be a better way to arrange the sentence.

            People naturally flip back and forth from active and passive, the passive voice is not “inherently weaker” than the active voice. It highlights the receiver of the action. We care that Beria was executed, not that a firing squad executed him. This purpose is well-served in the sentence “Sally Hemmings was enslaved by Thomas Jefferson,” because the point is to highlight the receiver of the action, Sally Hemmings.

        3. The latter strikes me as a clunky way of saying the exact same thing. Owning slaves is a Bad Thing. We know that. Don’t we?

          1. No one who disagrees will be persuaded by such phrases as “enslaved person.”

          2. You know, it’s really interesting you should say that.

            Personally, the “slave” vs. “enslaved person” terminology does little for me. Speaking as a Jew, we have an idiosyncratic encounter with “person-first” language—and, for that matter, an explicit liturgical practice of talking about oneself as having been a slave in Egypt, which may also make it easier to readily identify with slaves in other contexts. (Didn’t work for the Confederate Jews, but I digress.)

            However, there is a language shift that really changes my thinking: shifting from “slave owner” to “slaver”.

            For me, that’s because “slave owner” foregrounds a slaver’s relationship to their (often slaver) peers in their (slaver) society. “This is a person whose claim to own a second person was accepted by third parties.” But when I use “slaver”, I find that my thought processes foreground the act of keeping another human in captivity; the whole edifice of abuse, coercion, and violence used in slavery comes into focus.

            This effect sharpens my moral sense, sure. But I actually am more interested in how it clarifies my analysis. Slavers often deploy a great deal of euphemism and rationalization around their actual activities, which can create a sort of fog of misdirection around the lifeways of slaver societies, their incentives, their interests, and their beliefs. Deploying the term “slaver”—and using active constructions—helps me think more clearly about what was actually happening, and why. (For example, at least for me, “a slave-owning society’s fear of slave uprisings” and “a slaver society’s fear of slave uprisings” perform quite different analytical functions.)

            It is perhaps painfully anodyne to conclude by saying “everyone’s a little bit different”, but I think it is interesting to consider how particular language choices might serve our own thinking; and how different choices, quite irrelevant to us, might serve our fellows’.

          3. “However, there is a language shift that really changes my thinking: shifting from “slave owner” to “slaver”.”

            And the most accurate name for the American Civil War: the Slavers’ Rebellion.

      3. I agree with you. IMO it’s pointless and clunky but if some people feel it makes an important point I will humor their usage.

        1. Apple announced that they were ceasing to use “Master-Slave” terminology to describe circuits that they were — and are — using actual slave labor to manufacture.

          I have seen enough such situations that the usage of such language sets off every alarm bell I’ve got.

          1. It generally is. Witness Colin Kaepernick shilling for Nike’s slave-made sneakers. Witness the people using their slave-made iPads to take photos of attacks on statues alleged to have something to do with slavery (down to and including the statue of an abolitionist).

    2. Tbh, the kind of people who feel bad about themselves for a moment upon being reminded that enslaved people were people, probably still aren’t feeling as bad about themselves as they should.

    3. Its not holier than thou, its a demonstration of being a member of the elite. A decent comparison would be the ever increasing complexity of proper manners and etiquette among the 18th century French aristocracy to set themselves apart from the rest of society. Using enslaved person rather than slave is very unnatural and pretty much has to be trained in to somebody, generally in an academic environment. Thus by utilizing it, one demonstrates one’s elite, educated status. Oh there might genuinely be some aspects of thinking that it causes deeper thinking and discussion (from my experience in grad school it does not, but anecdote vs. anecdote), but the performance of eliteness is still a key aspect of its spread through academia.

  10. I think part of the Issue is that Slavery is very much taught as a Europe only whites oppress blacks narrative, at least thats how my secondary school education taught it.

    If it’s not hitlers rise to power or medicine through time it doesn’t get covered in much detail.

    1. I think this is mostly a result of eurocentric education. Our education system frankly mostly cares about the things white people are doing. As a result you inly really hear about evil things done by white people. Not evil things done by brown people.

      This is a step up from the time people only cared about the good things white people are doing, but we still have far to go.

      1. Eurocentrism implies that European history gets covered in much detail. In my secondary education that was very much not the case. We barely touched on Medieval Europe and jumped straight from the Renaissance to the French Revolution, ignoring everything that came in-between. I’d actually bet we spent more time on China than Europe. Spending more time on China than Europe isn’t necessarily a criticism, but its hardly Eurocentrism.

      2. I mean…why would you expect otherwise? I would expect, for example, history as taught in Japan, China, or Korea to mostly cover things that other Asians were doing, and to not spend a lot of time on Europe or the Americas until they got up to the late 1800s or thereabouts.

    2. I’m looking at my local schools educational program right now, and it seems like slavery is essentially not covered at all. In essence, in the school history program one year of history is devoted to ~1400 to ~1910, i.e. the whole approximate time period where the transatlantic slave trade and slavery in Americas exists. Half or more of that year is devoted to various aspects of local/national history during these centuries – all the many local wars and conflicts, and all and the surrounding events that directly affect it, i.e. all the pan-European conflicts, so nothing about slavery there. There’s a lot of “global context”, but half is about the key cultural aspects relevant from that age, e.g. humanist thought, the concepts of reformation, absolutism, nationalism, etc. (but not slavery). And there’s some time spent in covering the major global events, and in that part there’s a block called “colonies and colonialism”.

      So the middle-school program has essentially a couple 45min lessons and a chapter in a book about all these centuries for Americas, Africa and Asia together. Just a part of that time-limited topic is about Americas, including *all* the key issues of discovering and conquering and colonizing Americas and the rebellions and countries forming and everything up until WW1, about the native peoples and conquerers and immigrants. So the allocated space for slavery essentially something like a paragraph or two mentioning that slavery and slave trade existed, and it was horrible. There’s no separate consideration given to the enslavement of native peoples vs African slave trade; there’s not really separate consideration between slavery in North America and slavery in South America. Then a bit later you get a paragraph about USA Civil War, with one sentence in that paragraph mentioning slavery and that’s kind of it. It is treated as a part of history, but as a very small part of history, being limited to a few centuries in faraway lands of secondary importance. More attention to global history is given essentially starting from WW1.

      1. Middle school programs will really get hung up on very local stuff. Even here in Portugal a lot more of the time is dedicated to local issues. Now, obviously the transatlantic slave trade is talked about, but inane details also clutter the program eating up attention-space (such has how Brazil was divided into capitanies). As far as I recall North America just isn’t talked about until World War I, since it… just doesn’t really matter for the national history that much. (How slavery is addressed is a whole big can of worms though)

  11. had to stop reading halfway through because you take a break every two sentences (or quicker) to moralize. i dont need someone to constantly tell me slavery is bad, we all went through elementary school.

      1. It’s not “objectionable”, it’s pointless. You communicate the evil and horror of slavery simply by showing those truths in the actual essay content, not by replacing and changing up words and labels (even worse, replacing already emotionally charged words like “slavery” with stilted bureaucrat-ese like “enslaved persons”, which doesn’t at all have the effect that Dr. Deveraux feels it does).

      2. The way it’s done seems pointless. I expect that almost all readers already know that slavery was horrific; in their case, repeatedly stopping to mention that slavery was horrific is distracting but doesn’t give them new information. Meanwhile, readers who have a whitewashed understanding of slavery would probably be better off reading something that goes into more detail (perhaps Equiano’s autobiography) to get a better understanding of it. (In the unlikely event that a slavery apologist were to read this, I would likewise expect either detailed description or philosophical argumentation to be more persuasive.)

        (I dislike the “enslaved person” terminology somewhat for its grammatical imprecision — it implies that the person in question had been free & was then made a slave, which is not always the case — but here the intended meaning is clear enough that I don’t think it makes a difference.)

        1. I like ‘enslaved person’ as a term for exactly the reason you dislike it. It implies that the base state of all people is freedom and that they can only be kept in slavery by the continued application of force. Enslavement is something continually done to them, not something that either happens once and stops nor something that could never happen at all.

          1. It takes up, and wastes, more time than the complaints. Furthermore, do not underestimate the annoyance factor, which can produce ugly results.

    1. I think, in a public-facing text, not all parts of the text are actually intended for all parts of the public (but of course they have still to be in there because of those who actually need to hear them). So, depending on which part of the public these reminders were directed at, the author might have had different motives for putting them in:

      Is he – as you seem to imply – suspecting that some of his readers might not yet have realized that slavery is bad and it’s his job to educate them?

      Or is he aware that some people reading his blog might be actual slavery apologists, and hoping that a repeated anti-slavery stance will drive them off before they reach the comment section (a futile effort, I fear; “tl;dr but…” is an all too common intro)?

      Or is he trying to avert a shitstorm descending upon him when some people accustomed to reading everything in the least charitable manner might interpret a dry analysis of “how EU4 does a bad job portraying the positive (for some) and negative (for others) effects of slavery” as condoning slavery, unless copious quantities of disclaimer are added?

      1. > Or is he trying to avert a shitstorm descending upon him when some people accustomed to reading everything in the least charitable manner might interpret a dry analysis of “how EU4 does a bad job portraying the positive (for some) and negative (for others) effects of slavery” as condoning slavery, unless copious quantities of disclaimer are added?

        I assumed that it is the reason, with some subtle sarcasm with repeated “dear twitter please do not witchhunt me”.

        For me it was quite funny and I thought that it was intentional effect.

    2. The point is that this is the internet, where things will be invariably quoted out of context. Last thing he needs is some twitter mob descending on him because they think he supports slavery.

    3. Bear in mind the author is actually working in a present-day US university. Just as he gives credit to Paradox for even trying to make a global-reach game, he also deserves great kudos for even talking about this topic. Such are the times we live in.

      1. All to true! In the current environment if you don’t point out every other paragraph how evil slavery was you are likely to be labelled an apologist for the institution.

    4. Explaining your terms is pretty basic for academic and semi-academic writing. Simply because different people and contexts often uses words in slightly different ways and contexts. (hence why everyone has to start thier books on the middle ages by defining exactly what they mean by, or why they are not using, “feudalism”)

  12. Slave = Enslaved persons therefor politician = untrustworthy person.

    I think most people see slaves as people, you don’t need to change definitions to that.

  13. This is probably one of the posts I’ll get the most off. It covers two of the topics I believe EU4 has handled worst, the trade system and the issue of slavery. I have little to add on trade, I believe them when they say this is now a legacy issue, and look forward to a new elegant system whenever the next installment of the game comes to be.

    On the issue of slavery I have more thoughts I’d like to share.

    I am not sure the EU3 graphical approach to ‘slaves’ is better than EU4’s. Does it force the player to confront the human cost of enslaving people (in particular Black Africans) or does it feed a stereotype and serve as an emotional pornography? I’ve followed debates recently on representation of enslaved Black people and there’s many times been a desire to move away from the figurative for this very reason. To escape the characterization of Black people as slaves. Given that ‘slaves’ is a permanent feature of the map, and a recurring visual identity, I actually find the shackles to be a better representation of ‘the trade good’. I think the figurative representation could fit game events’ art, but not for the trade good.

    I also disagree with your assessment of the Abolition of Slavery Act. Given, the prestige bonus is a minor concern, I believe you interpret the bonuses all wrong. By the time this decision is available, tax income is usually much less of a part of national economy, with trade, production, gold and war being more important for the income balance, and the penalty is very minor. By contrast, stability is cost reduction is far more important, has there are limited ways to lower this slider, the cost tends to accumulate penalties as the game progresses, and it is increased with scarce administrative monarch points. You are effectively rewarded for passing the Abolition of Slavery Act. I agree with you though, the incentive is for states that do not dominate the trade good but it’s not as clear to say replacing ‘slaves’ with a new trade good is as net an economic improvement has this decision will destroy the costly Manufactory buildings built on provinces with the trade good.

    On the Mediterranean slave raiding, I believe they attempted to represent it with the Raid Coast mechanics proeminently featured in the North African muslim states and The Knights. I agree this is largely a one-sided representation, largely ignoring the raids by North Mediterraneans, but I’d wager this is for in-game reasons. It is part of the distinctive identity of the North African Muslim states and would be watered down if Aragon or Naples had easy access to the same mechanic. Considering how lack-luster Morroco, Tlemcen or Tunis can feel I believe this was a way to give these states their own sparkle, and expanding on it dilutes their “identity”.

    Another issue with the representation of slavery in this period is how the game seems to ignore the agency of enslaved people in resisting enslavement. I’ve played many a Portugal game. There are no events to reflect the revolts either while in transport or in the new colonies. I can only assume this is because of the dillema of having the game turn into a “Black African murder simulator”, but it spins back to the problem here discussed: it happened, it has to be incorporated somehow, how to do so? And Paradox seems to have decided to skip over it as much as they could.

    Thank you very much for the thought and time put into this posts, I enjoy reading them every time. 🙂

  14. the map covers the entire world and states on every inhabited continent (take that, Antarctica!)

    BRB, looking up EU4 Antarctica mods.

    Since trade direction cannot be reversed, this means trade always flows from the Americas and East Asia towards Europe, if it flows at all.

    Even when I was first playing EU4 as a college student, more foolish then than I am now (and I just got distracted by every EU4 mod with Antarctica in the title—I didn’t expect there’d be so many!), I recognized the inflexibility of trade flow as a detriment. If I was good enough to form a mercantile Mayan empire or whatever powerful enough to colonize Europe, why should the trade still naturally flow from me to them?
    (And for the pedants in the comment section, trade can flow upstream, but at like 10% efficiency.)

    Also, the choice of black to mean ‘slaves here’ on the trade view is deeply unfortunate.

    I mean, if you’re basically restricting your treatment of slavery to the triangle trade, it’s a…straightforward color to pick? Wow, that’s a weak defense.
    I guess my problem here is that there really isn’t a color that represents the concept of slavery. You’ve got whatever flesh tone is common among the enslaved, and…red for blood, maybe? Not what most players would assume slavery would be colored, I imagine, but it would make a point.

    While this image suggests that the ship would hold some 487 people in horrible conditions, in fact Brookes transported as many as 744 enslaved people at a time, in even worse conditions.

    Is there a word for feeling simultaneously horrified at the fact that someone did a thing, and impressed at how well they did it? You know, a “Oh my god, you cloned Hitler, but I have to admit you’ve done a good job of it” thing? Because the logistics of keeping some of the people in such cramped quarters alive enough to sell at the other end can’t have been trivial—those pictures make it seem like they were almost stacked like cordwood! It’s a crime against humanity, but they crimed very well.
    Does…does this paragraph make any sense?

    [T]here is…a persuasive argument that the conquest of the Americas combined with the enslavement of Africans to extract the resources of the conquered Americas was itself a key reason why European powers surged ahead of the rest of the world in military and economic strength in the 1700s and 1800s.

    I didn’t realize it was an argument. I admit I haven’t looked into this much, but the only explanations I’ve seen are variations on that argument and ye olde ideas about racial superiority or Protestant work ethic or whatever.

    1. To the last, I’d phrase it even sharper: it simply isn’t an argument, because the question is exactly that why the Europeans, as opposed to people from any other region of the world, conquered/enslaved/dominated the populations of other regions. Why did somebody like Vasco da Gama reach India by sea, as opposed to some Indian reaching Europe by sea? Why did somebody like Hernan Cortes, at the end of an over-ocean logistics chain(!), defeat the local empire, as opposed to some Mesoamerican expedition sailing to Europe and kicking over the local power relations with their superior military capabilities? Why did the Europeans sell firearms and other trinkets to the Africans, as opposed to Subsaharan African merchants sailing to Europe to sell their superior manufactured goods in exchange for a coerced workforce with which to cultivate their lands until they succumbed to the working conditions and local diseases?

      Personally, I prefer “geographic” explanations over cultural and genetic ones exactly because they are in a certain sense neutral; thus they are proposed and propagated because people think the arguments are at least partially true, as opposed to being proposed and propagated because they serve someone’s interest. Unfortunately, geography cannot be a complete answer, since states at vaguely comparable levels of development (notably Rome and China) failed to explore and colonize the world in this way, but the remaining questions are usually answered with hypotheses about political incentives. (Geography saving throw: Rome didn’t need to explore for seaways because they had the pharaonic/ancient suez canal.)

      1. Re: Rome and China: There were some pretty big developments in seafaring between the Roman Empire losing its lands near the Atlantic and Christopher Columbus (or even Lief Erikson). As for China, I’ve heard geographic explanations there, too—the most convincing one I’ve heard is that trade winds blow the wrong direction.

        1. I’m skeptical of a wind direction explanation. Explorers try not to make one-way trips, so if you leave and return by the same route you’ll have to go against the wind at some point. And if you use a circular route to get favorable winds both ways, that can work in the Pacific too.

          I figure it was mainly because the Pacific is a lot wider than the Atlantic. Columbus just barely made it across the Atlantic; a similar trip across the Pacific would have run out of supplies in the middle of the sea.

          Also, lots of Europeans in Columbus’ time were trying to find sea routes to the far east. I’m not aware of any similar effort going the other direction, though I admit I don’t know a lot of Asian history.

        2. For a couple thousand years, Europe was eager for Asian silk and spices. Apart maybe from Roman glass, I’m not aware of anything that South and East Asia were desperate for from Europe. With China, India, SE Asia, Japan, and Central Asia, you’ve probably already included more than half of the entire human race, and kind of the most trade-productive half at that. The Indian Ocean also connects to the Mideast and northeast Africa; one video called it the “monsoon marketplace”, more important than the overland Silk Roads.

          With easy access to all that, what’s worth the dangerous long journeys of trying to round the Cape of Storms toward Europe, or trying to cross the seemingly endless Pacific?

          As for geography, I couldn’t provide a reference, but I think I’ve read that trying to sail south past Madagascar is challenging, especially between Madagascar and Africa. And looking at
          trade winds aren’t a problem at all, but the southern westerlies might be; going from the Indian to Atlantic looks like slow going and hard work even if you’re good at sailing into the wind, even if the weather were otherwise nice, which it’s not. And again, what’s the payoff? From a Chinese/Indian POV, you’re fighting the wind and scurvy to sail *away* from the center of civilization, for…?

          1. “Prior to British sales of opium beginning in 1781, […] a major source of bullion for the Ming and Qing dynasties.”
            Between ~1600 and the ascendance of the opium trade, the Europeans traded so much silver (some of it drawn from the Americas) to China that IIRC it caused economic problems (various fees and taxes were traditionally set as a fixed weight of silver, but the supply gradually grew severalfold).

            As for motivation: the Polynesians ventured in, and probably did reach South America (and brought back the sweet potato “as a souvenir”), despite their vessels (outrigger boats) being only stable, but having a tiny displacement and thus producing a very uncomfortable ride. They also reached and populated Madagascar.

          2. “so much silver (some of it drawn from the Americas) to China that IIRC it caused economic problems”

            According to Mann’s _1493_, the silver saved Ming China from monetary incompetence. He says the existing monetary system was copper cash, but each emperor kept canceling the money of its predecessor, and/or engaging in hyperinflation. The merchants used silver in trade for self-defense, and the Ming eventually gave up and just taxed in silver.

      2. While Cortéz had an over-ocean logistics chain, I do note that in practice it was not as long as you might think: The spanish conquered the mainland from the Carribean, and he did so more by successfully exploiting divisions within the aztec empire than by personal military superiority.

    2. “Because the logistics of keeping some of the people in such cramped quarters alive enough to sell at the other end can’t have been trivial—those pictures make it seem like they were almost stacked like cordwood! It’s a crime against humanity, but they crimed very well.”

      There weren’t really any complex logistics involved. A high percentage just died. The profit margins on transporting enslaved people were so high that it made sense to pack the ship in this way and accept a a death rate of ~25%.

      1. Those journeys lasted months, didn’t they? They’d have to get food and water to the slaves somehow (and probably do something about the waste—hard to imagine death tolls would only be 25% if they didn’t), and it looks like they’re packed tightly enough to make that a non-trivial task.

        1. By the time the Brookes was sailing, I believe the middle passage only took 6-8 weeks. I’ve only studied this as an undergrad, so I’m hardly an expert, but every source I’m aware of agrees that slaver crews did the bare minimum to keep their prisoners alive. Food and water were minimal (by necessity, as storage space is sharply limited on a sailing ship, even when it isn’t so overcrowded), sanitation and medical care non-existent. Off the top of my head, I can only recall two things captors did for their captives’ health: they might bring people on deck in small groups for exercise and fresh air, and they might have anti-suicide netting on the deck. (IIRC they might also punish anyone who refused to eat or drink, but I’m not sure where I read that so I’d have to check on it. At any rate, beatings are a pretty weak example of a “health” measure, even if they possibly did keep some people from dying.)

          If I had to speculate about how so many people survived this experience, I’d start with two facts:

          1. The process of being captured, transported overland, and confined in a slaver port was deadly in its own right. By the time they got on the ship, the weakest captives were already dead.

          2. Enslaved people were predominantly working age adults and teenagers, in reasonably good health before the voyage started (because small children, the elderly, and the infirm were not valued as laborers). People in their physical prime are surprisingly resilient on time scales of a few weeks to a few months.

          If the survivors of the middle passage are a testament to anything, it’s the surprising things a person can live through.

      2. That doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. If you packed in 25% less all your cargo would reach market alive and you’d make the same amount of money.

        1. But you wouldn’t, because even with 25% fewer people on the ship, the death rate would still be fairly high; an 18th century ship at sea is not a healthy environment to begin with, crowding would still be severe, and on top of that you’ve got the violence of slavery. We know this from experience, because in the early years of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, ships were less crowded and death rates were lower but still quite bad, generally in the 10-15% range. It’s only at the height of the trade, in the 18th Century, that we get these super-crowded and super-deadly ships. Also keep in mind that there are fixed costs associated with a slaving business- the ship and the crew- which are the same no matter what. (There’s an analogy here to modern just-in-time shipping practices, I think, except that those don’t involve crimes against humanity.)

          Contemporary slavery apologists often made similar arguments about how the slave trade ought to work, in theory (“obviously the slavers have an incentive to keep their victims alive, so they must be trying their best to do that.”) Actual slavers, responding to market incentives, gradually but steadily moved in the opposite direction.

          1. I actually had a look at some stats for danish slave ships, and they actually had higher mortality rates for the crew than for the enslaved persons on board. (though that is largely because the crews tended to make longer trips)

        2. But you wouldn’t, because even with 25% fewer people on the ship, the death rate would still be fairly high; an 18th century ship at sea is not a healthy environment to begin with, crowding would still be severe, and on top of that you’ve got the violence of slavery. We know this from experience, because in the early years of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, ships were less crowded and death rates were lower but still quite bad, generally in the 10-15% range. It’s only at the height of the trade, in the 18th Century, that we get these super-crowded and super-deadly ships. Also keep in mind that there are fixed costs associated with a slaving business- the ship and the crew- which are the same no matter what. (There’s an analogy here to modern just-in-time shipping practices, I think, except that those don’t involve crimes against humanity.)

          Contemporary slavery apologists often made similar arguments about how the slave trade ought to work, in theory (“obviously the slavers have an incentive to keep their victims alive, so they must be trying their best to do that.”) Actual slavers, responding to market incentives, gradually but steadily moved in the opposite direction.

          1. Another point is that the captain sailing the ship, and the crew bringing the slaves, was usually not the owner of the cargo, that was some guy London who probably owned the ship.

        3. I think the idea of putting as much slaves as possible in a ship was that, as long as you treat them and transport them like slaves (and not like European passengers crossing the ocean), a minority is going to die from illness, malnutrition and the insalubrity that goes with storing hundreds of people in a wooden box; how much the people were packed would have an influence on the death rate, but a less densely packed ship would still lose slaves.

          1. If you went about it the right way, the death rate on a long distance sailing voyage could be quite low. The Royal Navy organised and managed the transport of the First Fleet to Botany Bay (mostly convicts, plus a small number of free settlers). Their experience, plus a humane and careful commander, kept the death rate very low (4% on a voyage of eight months). The Second Fleet was contracted out – and the death rate was high (27%).

      1. I’m trying to think of a way Australia could become a big power player in the East Indies.

  15. I don’t think you were at all too harsh, I think you can rest easy that you’ve been at least fair to Paradox here.

    I’m a much less experienced EU player than you so apologies if I’m a little naive with my comments. A big angle I think about with EU is that, in order to capture the the sheer scale of their ambitions without murdering the player’s attention budget, they’ve had to abstract out several systems quite significantly, a simple example being to compare the army composition in EU4 to Crusader Kings or Hearts of Iron. Something of a conservation of player attention, and it’s something I think about a lot when designing games – you have to limit the scope somewhere, will you do a lot of things shallow or a few things deep?

    Where this becomes a failure with how slavery is represented feels in a lot of ways like a result of the way they chose to represent demographics in general, not as agents or objects at all but as adjectives of the actual objects of the game, provinces. The vast, vast majority of people simply aren’t nouns in EU and this has a lot of knock on effects. Though I do think it’s right to point out that even inside their “people are an attribute of the land” approach, they also craft a poor representation of how the systematic enslavement of peoples would interact with the rest of their system. I’m curious if somebody has made a mod or even just a thought out proposal for modeling slavery not as an arbitrary set of goods from a geographic location but a set of actions for transferring tax base from one location to another.

    I’m excited to see how you analyze their approach to “why Europe.” Would it be untoward to guess that “The Great Divergence” will come up?

  16. “there is (and we’ll discuss this more next time) a persuasive argument that the conquest of the Americas combined with the enslavement of Africans to extract the resources of the conquered Americas was itself a key reason why European powers surged ahead of the rest of the world in military and economic strength in the 1700s and 1800s.”

    The conquest of the Americas, maybe. The enslavement of Africans, I disagree.

    For the colonization aspect, sure, the English / French / Spanish were both powerful and sported huge conquests. But Germany got a very late start on its colonial empire, and wasn’t even unified until 1870, yet was surely a pre-eminent power by the end in military and economic strength. But clearly this power did not stem from their minor African / China / Pacific holdings, rather those were a result.

    For slavery – I can maybe see an argument that bringing in more labor was economically powerful, in the same way that sending random Europeans to the New World was an economically good choice. However, I have to think that it’d have been even better (from a cold, amoral perspective of “maximize state strength”) to have brought Africans in on a similar basis to indentured servants if brought at all – labor for a term of service, followed by freedom. We have some evidence on this: the North of colonial British America imported enslaved people, but not as many, and said people and their children eventually became free blacks at a high rate. The South kept to the “one-drop” rule and made slavery an unending curse. And the North was substantially more economically and militarily powerful by the time of the Civil War. There’s obviously a lot of reasons for that, but “more meritocratic society is more successful and thus more powerful” is surely one. Many of the Caribbean islands which were highly lucrative in the 1700s off slave labor stagnated with time, such that they were economic footnotes by the 1800s. Argentina was a quite successful state in the 1800s that didn’t have a very high proportion of natives stuck in the encomienda system nor African slaves, and across the Spanish Empire mixed blood descendants were normal citizens (insert disclaimer: Argentina just killed the lowest status American Indians in genocidal wars, so it’s not all roses there). Basically, if I was in charge of a simulation, I’d think that avoiding slave labor entirely would actually be the “optimal” play, and European powers increased in strength *in spite of* stupidly enslaving potential free citizens.

    1. As I understand it, a large share of the free North’s wealth was still tied to the slave trade–lots of mills converting cotton into valuable cloth. They just didn’t dirty their hands directly. I’ve also read that slavery was a very effective means of solving a manpower shortage issue; simply inviting free people to come wasn’t working, and cotton-picking was fairly unpleasant labor back then. You spent a lot of time out in the sun, bent way over to pluck fibers off this prickly plant. It’s the kind of job that gets done more efficiently if taking breaks and quitting are both off the table.

      1. Eh, not buying it. Those Northern mills had ties to *cotton*, not to slavery. It’s not like the cotton industry immediately collapsed after emancipation – it still happened, just sharecroppers were at least paid to do it. I don’t agree that there was a necessary connection that cotton had to come from slavery. The North had lots of agriculture too – it was just done by free farmers who, if they endured brutal labor, at least got to keep some of its fruits. When the work was tough and on marginal land, that just meant that only desperate people took it. Farming was a tough job everywhere; slavery-heavy regions just made it even more horrible because the people in charge were immoral people, not due to some unalterable fact of life.

        For comparison, Hawaii had a “labor shortage” for its pineapple plantations in the late 1800s, and that was some tough work, too, such that neither whites nor native Hawaiians were much interested. But slavery was banned. Well, they just brought in Chinese immigrants, then Japanese immigrants, then Filipino immigrants, with each wave working the fields for awhile, then eventually making enough money to either get a less brutal job in Hawaii or go back home with the proceeds. Don’t get me wrong, there was definitely some capitalist exploitation going on here (notably in intentionally recruiting from different countries to avoid collaboration or unionization), but a tough job got done without slavery, and that also led to at least some shared prosperity long-term – Hawaii was rather successful, I’d argue.

        1. “slavery-heavy regions just made it even more horrible because the people in charge were immoral people”

          But this raises a question: why do some regions get dominated by ‘immoral people’?

          1. As I said above for a long time and pretty much everywhere slavery was not considered an evil, more like an unpleasant necessity.

          2. Well, a lot of reasons clearly, but real countries aren’t ruled by impersonal immortal game-players with perfect information who are trying to “win”, but rather fallible humans who can be selfish or misguided, and favor their own personal interests over that of the state as a whole. Nevertheless, the states they create can be stable, and require either a reformer coming into power or an outside force like an invasion to make them change course – basically, pure luck.

            I guess a modern example might be the Gulf States powered by oil money, which engage in very-close-to-slavery practices with the laborers they import from South Asia, and have created a society that is substantially worse to live in even for the elite than a random middle class lifestyle elsewhere (witness all their wealthier citizens who spend a lot of time in Europe or the like, and send their kids abroad for education), but is very stable for the rulers on top, who are happy ruling in Hell rather than serving in Heaven.

          3. Roxana, you write: “As I said above for a long time and pretty much everywhere slavery was not considered an evil, more like an unpleasant necessity.”

            By whom?

            Our host is fond of discussing Sparta. As per his earlier posts, Spartan society was overwhelmingly Helots numerically, a once-free and independent class of people subjected to, among countless other abuses, random murder by Spartiates.

            No Helot texts survive; I believe Dr. Deveraux has mentioned that not even the NAME of any individual Helot survives. So we can’t know for sure what they thought. But it seems implausible that most Helots considered their enslavement and subjugation an “unpleasant necessity”. I suspect they considered it an evil; and the acts of the Spartiates evil acts (if unavoidable evils).

            If that’s so, the majority opinion in Sparta (one of the premier slave societies of antiquity!) was against slavery as an institution. It’s just that the people who were against slavery were those who had been enslaved.

          4. When the helots revolted in Messenia, they held land for years before being put down, and they did not abolish slavery during those times.

          5. @Erl137: There’s a big difference between “I don’t want to be a slave” and “I don’t want there to be slaves.” The helots of Sparta doubtless objected to being enslaved–however, had they managed to overthrow the Spartiates, they would have kept slavery around–it’s just that they would be the masters.

            Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

        2. When Queensland in northern Australia developed a sugar industry, cane harvesting was hard work. No slavery, but the planters tried bringing in (often kidnapped) people from the Solomon Islands. That was nixed by the labour movement, so what did they do? They raised wages and white people took the job, and they invested in mechanisation. Turns out people will do quite a lot if the pay is right – and it encourages investment in machinery to boot.

          1. Mann’s _1493_ says that the Arab-Mediterranean sugar industry used well-paid free labor. European sugar in the Canaries and Caribbean took a different turn.

            > Sugar is the plantation product par excellence. Even the most sugar-mad grower cannot consume the entire harvest at home; some must always be sold off the farm. Once refined, sugar can be easily packaged and shipped for long distances. And there is always a market abroad: nobody has ever overestimated humankind’s appetite for sweetness. The main pitfall is labor: without workers, fields, mills, and boilers will sit idle. To avoid this calamity, plantation owners must take steps to ensure an adequate supply of employees. In an exhaustive study published in 2008, the University of Provence historian Mohamed Ouerfelli has shown that Islamic sugar plantations kept their workers by paying relatively high wages. European-owned plantations initially adopted the same strategy—in Sicily, Ouerfelli showed, people actually migrated from other parts of Europe to work on sugar plantations. But over the course of time Europe’s sugar producers reconsidered.

            > Madeira was where plantation agriculture was joined, however shakily, to African slavery. In time, Vieira says, the convicts, Guanches, Berbers, and conversos were replaced by west-central Africans. Africans grew and processed sugar, and their numbers rose and fell with the fortunes of the sugar industry. The world of plantation slavery was coming, terribly, into existence. And Madeira was, in Vieira’s phrase, its “social, political and economic starting point.”

        3. You are jumping ahead 400 years, in 1492 europe is still recovering from the Black Death, Population growth is slow. It is not the 19th century with a massive population boom fueled by the agricultural revolution.

      2. It wasnt just that inviting people wasnt working, it was that european monarchs were often not all that keen on having their valuable population go off to the other side of the ocean. (by the 19th century population growth has changed this significantly, but in the early stages there really isnt the large surplus population to export)

        Another point is that certain typesof work (mining and works at sugar plantations) are really, really unpleasant and harsh, and most people dont want to do it. certainly not to the point where they are going to move across the world to do it unless they are paid A LOT of money. And that would ruin the entire point.

    2. Japan is another powerful counterexample to the alleged keyness of colonies. 1500s Japan went from “what are muskets?” to mass warfare with domestically designed guns in like 20 years. Then, three centuries later, 52 years took it from quasi-feudal rice farming to steamships and beating up Russia. Japan jumped into the colonies game too but I don’t think there’s a strong case that colonies gave them the essential means.

      For Europe colonizing other places, just better ships/navigation would get you a lot: if invasions are only one way, you’ve got a big long term advantage, even if you just had Viking arms and armor. Germs that kill 90% of the people also help a lot (and going the other way, kept Europeans out of non-coastal Africa, despite guns and ships.)

      For economic dominance, I’m skeptical there’s any better explanation than whatever led to the Scientific Revolution and the Industrial Revolutions. Colonial economics may have fed into that (slave-grown cotton for the textile mills) but can hardly be a simply cause; people had empires before. Though colonial imports also include guano, leading to more food and Europeans. (And potatoes and maize, but you just need seeds to get started, not mass extraction.)

    3. This would be the casein a tabula rasa type situation, but thats not the world it happened in. Colonies don’t need man power, rich land owners need land power, and they want the most work for the least pay. At the same time, they have already been using prisoners of war from colonial conquests as labour, so the step to consider “Where else can I get labour thats dirt cheap?” isn’t hard to imagine.
      Combine this with the West African states where raiding for slaves is already a thing that they were heavily engaged in. And also, they are really interested in getting European weapons. Crafty European merchants filled the gap and the triangle trade was born.
      The idea about bringing african labourers (SLAVES!) to labour for a time then be freed doesn’t hold much water to the rich land owner that actually buys the slaves. Why free them when he can simply have them continue working for him forever, for only the cost of feeding, clothing and housing them sufficient to keep them alive. By freeing them he’d only be putting his costs up. Permanent enslavement means permanent cheap labour. Also, how many Africans would
      Now certainly the North benefited from more freed black people, higher productivity, more investment in their society, but the lack of the immortal and future thinking ruler prevents this in plantation heavy lands. There is no guiding force looking at long term development. The governments of the day were the representatives of the rich land owners, they enact policies to the benefit of the rich land owners, not of the state.
      The vast productivity of using enslaved labour for the hard jobs of field work and mining fueled the rise of industry in Great Britain certainly. Britain became the land of factories to process all the New World raw material. Industrialisation could be said to have been driven by slavery in this sense.
      And while you are certainly correct that agricultural states became less powerful and relevant as time passed and their industrialised neighbours progressed beyond them, what really matters to the continuation of this behaviour is not the slave states becoming less relatively powerful, but the continued dominance in those states of the wealthy land owner slavers.

      1. The British industrialisation ran very much on local materials. The British imported huge amounts of sugar, tea and rum, but those were luxuries, not staples. The industries of the 18th century ran on English and Scottish wool, domestic iron and domestic coal. The most important exports for the industry to work were tar and timber for the ships and mine tunnel props.

        1. There’s an argument that sugar and tea – and timber imports – allowed Britain to maintain a higher population and a higher standard of living than it would otherwise – the sugar (taken with tea) replaced grain acreage and the timber likewise replaced domestic acreage. Without these you are in a Malthusian trap.

    4. Regarding the British American colonies’/US’s north-south differential–the North’s relatively lesser reliance on enslaved labor led to greater development, but not because of “meritocratic society” or anything like that. It’s to do with an orientation toward more capital-intensive economic development.

      The South had a huge amount of land that was naturally well-suited to cash-crop plantation agriculture (in rice, tobacco, indigo; and later cotton, and sometimes sugar). The impact of additional labor on this industry is pretty high–throw more bodies at it, make more money. So to the extent that wealthy elite plantation owners (who dominated Southern export production) had more money to spend, they ‘invested’ in the importation of more people to force to work to death in their fields, or in expanding their land holdings.

      Northern industries (shipping, fishing, trapping, logging, goods manufacturing) didn’t benefit in such a linear fashion from adding more unspecialized labor. They’re often happening in a context where it’s cost-prohibitive or impractical to employ the people you need to continue compelling your forced laborers to work. (Training a bunch of people to crew a boat and then sailing away for a month of being dependent on them is a very low-percentage move.) Or the job requires specialized skills, which you might not want to bother training someone in (though this did happen too; Frederick Douglass worked as a carpenter in Baltimore, for example–but this simply requires a lot more investment).

      So now the Southern planters are in a situation where the best short-term move is to get the linear scaling: get more land, add more unspecialized labor input, get more profit. To the extent they try to increase their yields, it’s by brutalizing their captive workforce even more cruelly (and thereby inventing the beginnings of modern management theory–see, decreasing the already-low costs of the labor input. The North, by contrast, did not have this easy and obvious application for newly acquired capital: rather than buying more people, the Northern elite invested in technology that expanded the productivity of the same labor supply (buy a bigger ship, build a factory, etc). Since their businesses didn’t scale linearly with additional workers, they had to invest in ways to multiply the value of the labor input. While this is riskier, overall it pays off and leads to greater output potential over a longer horizon.

      The problem with linear scaling, after all, is sooner or later you hit a wall where it stops working and to improve output more, you need to invest capital in technology rather than in cruelty. This process was already happening in the American South prior to Whitney Cotton Gin (which separates useful cotton fibers from seeds; engines like this had existed for centuries in India and those were also used in the US South, but Whitney’s was the first one that worked for the short-staple varieties which dominated the southern US, rather than the long-staple Indian varieties). Up to this, the production bottleneck for cotton was processing the bolls, not raising and picking them; and this was *so* labor-intensive–required so much capital investment in enslaved human beings–that cotton was only marginally profitable; it just took too much labor to clean it. But rice and tobacco were hitting the Farmer’s Paradox: there’s a cap to how much of a consumption good you can consume, and so while you want to make more money by making more of the good, you wind up just driving down the price, so the cash crops were undermining their own value base. (I expect a similar process was at work in the Caribbean sugar islands–increasing production gradually driving down the value of the goods produced, coupled with sugar beet production coming online–but that’s mere uninformed speculation.)

      But technology usually doesn’t improve by magic; it improves by continued gradual investment into incremental changes that save some labor or improve yields. Those ideas come from people who are familiar with the details of a problem and have enough time and financial leeway to experiment with new ways to do things. That doesn’t work in plantation economies: you don’t listen to the ideas of people you’re dehumanizing and brutalizing to compel their labor; and if they do think of a way to do things better, they aren’t going to tell you anyway. Especially when the planter strategy is to push them to work faster for longer and think less. And someone whose principal avenue for investment is the linear expansion of their enslaved labor force is not likely to invest in risky technological changes. (Note that Whitney himself was a non-manual-work but not elite-wealthy Northerner without his own huge capital resources.) It’s hard to imagine a social structure more ideologically hostile to technological improvement than US southern plantation agriculture.

      But through this process, the South becomes trapped in a low-growth equilibrium: so much elite capital is tied up in captive labor that they have a strong disincentive to move that capital to labor-saving machinery. Doing so would wind up devaluing a huge amount of their prior investments, and even if you accept that risk, they’d have to switch into new production methods that are untried and unfamiliar and in which they don’t have expertise. So while Northern manufacturing continues to develop, the South is hurrying down an economic dead end.

      Of course, the North meanwhile is benefiting from getting the value-add of processing all those raw resources coming from the South. Their hands aren’t clean (and after emancipation, they don’t complain at all about the essential re-enslavement of freed African Americans through brutally exploitative sharecropping contracts with company-store arrangements or through blatantly discriminatory penal codes which offer a loophole through which people can be forced to labor again–up to the present day); they’re just positioned to benefit through investment in factories rather than chains.

  17. “In Colonization, at least, they tended to clutter the map, so realistically you had to do a fair amount of slaughtering just to secure enough colony sites to make a prosperous country”

    Ah, but you can get the Founding Father Peter Minuit, and no longer have to pay for land! (You can also, like, pay for land.)

    1. I think this was meant to be a reply much higher up, but Minuit did not solve a couple of issues. One, you couldn’t take the land the Indian village itself was occupying, and two, building very close to Indian villages, even without seizing land, tended to elevate tensions to the point where raids became almost inevitable without constant bribery. At least, that’s my recollection; it’s been a long time since I played.

  18. My 5 minute image of how slavery could work

    – You can take slaves in peace threaties instead of provinces (in situations where this would be historically accurate)
    – being forced to give slaves loses you development in your provinces
    – you can set your slaves to work in provinces that produce goods traditionally cultivated by slaves (this will increase their development)
    – you can sell slaves if you whish

    I think this would naturally create a samblance of the triangle trade with european powers going into africa to buy their war captives, putting them to work in the new world, and recieving money from the now more productive new world.

    the mediteranean slave situation is also simulated likewise.

  19. I’m not sure that I agree with the problematicness of the pitch black color for slave trade on the trade map. I mean, what other color should it be? Magenta? Peach?

    Together with the shackles as an icon, it gets the tone across, that what is being traded there is unalloyed human misery.

    I’m not sure if portraying slavery as a “pop” really does that much more good as an educational tool. Some people in this comment section have been glib about how obvious it is that slavery is bad, but really, I think it is fairly accepted nowadays that enslaved people were human beings.

    Portraying the victims of chattel slavery as merely another class of people next to serfs and commoners but in worse rags, would be it’s own form of euphemism, when in reality they WERE traded the same as tea and spices were, which the EU4 mechanics sumewhat bluntly represent.

    While there are ways in which the game could be more pointed about this, and also be more fun to play as a simulaton of different state approaches to slavery. I would say that providing a false narrative about what incentivized slavery and overstating how useful it was for the purposes of European states prevailing in the interstate anarchy, is a greater danger than suggesting that enslaved people literally were objects, which I think most players will be able to see as a gross way of representing the perspective of the colonizer rulng classes of the time.

  20. Re: Akbar, part of it may be religious. Modern norms around how anyone traditional and religious must be bearded are often projected into the past.

  21. “though often population, rather than land, was the key resource being fought over”

    What was the reason for the difference? Was West Africa underpopulated?

    1. It would make sense if there was a large local slave trade i.e. to the middle east.

      However this feels like a baseless assertion.

          1. I don’t think this is a “pass”. Rather, it’s an utter lack of investigation.

          2. Slavery in Indian Country: The Changing Face of Captivity in Early America by Christina Snyder is probably the book you want. There were several factors. Population density was part of it. Another factor was keeping them captive. An Indian captive had a lot easier time getting back to his tribe.

        1. That’s a rather tendentious article. Arabs were active in the slave trade – mostly from east Africa, and it was large-scale and brutal. The numbers are hard to estimate. AFAIK, agricultural chattel slavery was rare after the Zanj rebellion in southern Iraq – it was deemed too dangerous. Also, there was considerable debate in Islam about the morality of slavery.

          If one has to rate post-classical slavery, then the Caribbean was probably the worst, followed by Brazil, judging from what population statistics are available.

  22. It’s worth noting the “scope” of what the game is trying to model and what it’s explicitly excluding.

    It abstracts away the happenings within provinces and within states – so any “internal” slavery would get as much representation as various other forms of exploitation, i.e. none, just a numeric evaluation of the productivity of the province.

    It also abstracts away population movement and structure, unlike Victoria (2). So the transportation of enslaved people can’t have a proper representation in this simplified model.

    But it does try to model the motivations of states, in order to nudge them to take in-game decisions similar to what would make sense (for the state benefits, not moral sense) in the real world. So it does need some representation of the transatlantic slave trade, just because it was a so large segment of economy – which the game *is* trying to model. Arguably, any proper representation of the slave trade would need a ‘pop’ system – without that, you get just the one-sided “trade goods” aspect.

    So the outcome of the choices for the scope of EU4 game mechanics mean that the only part of slavery that gets modeled is the economic aspect of the trade, and the human aspects of slavery fall “out of scope” just as e.g. ethnic and religious cleansing in various conflicts and policies, other forced resettlements, etc.  The only aspect that does clash with the game mechanic design is the impact on slave trade to the African states – since the major impactors on these states (unlike the fate of their peoples) is quite explicitly what the game tries to model.

    On a side-note, the modeling of non-Africa slaves as one province per a large region is consistent with how all the other trade goods are modeled with the ridiculously simplified assumption that a province only produces one thing. If the economy of a region is half wheat, third fish, and some iron, then that’s represented by allocating a couple provinces to iron only; so if slave trade (i.e. interstate import/export of slaves, not labor done by slaves within a province) represents a couple percent of the regional economy, then that region gets a single province with “slave trade goods” and (within the limits of the economic modeling simplification) that’s as good as it gets. And IMHO there’s no issue or contradiction with the trade mechanic from African “slave trade good” provinces flowing to Europe – after all, the EU4 trading system (unlike, again, Victoria) models the flow of extracted trade surplus, not the flow of goods; and it seems an accurate representation to say that in the Triangle trade goods flowed in a triangle, but the flow of the extracted surplus on that Triangle trade was essentially one-way towards Europe.

  23. Hi Bret, I’m interested in picking your brain further about what you mean when you say mercantilism “was wrong”. To me mercantilism and neoclassical economics can’t be “right” or “wrong” empirically, they are just different ways of organizing the economy.

    Like, sure, you can try and enact the optimistic Friedmanite liberal project where free trade makes everyone better off in terms of utility… or alternatively you can reject the end of maximizing utility and conceive of economics as a means to monopolize control over resources to the end of maximizing political power. Mercantilist regimes strive to do the latter, and historically many such regimes have had considerable success doing it.

    Since EU IV is a game based on geopolitical realism, it only makes sense that the game would also understand economics as a means to the end of realist power competition, and liberal economics as being just much of a false self-serving ideology as liberal geopolitics. It’s perfectly consistent.

    1. Going by wikipedia, mercantilists viewed trade as zero sum, and “Since the level of world trade was viewed as fixed”. These are false premises.

      Pure classical economics makes falsified predictions, which is why we have Keynesianism now.

      1. I don’t think that premise is an essential feature of mercantilist theory, any more than the labor theory of value is an essential premise of classical economics despite being falsely believed in by Smith, Ricardo, etc. At its heart mercantilism is about subordinating economics to the end of state power.

      2. A good starting point is that mercantilists were not stupid. It was not that they saw trade as zero sum, but that the supply of gold and silver as static or only slowly growing. Since state power in Europe was tied to credit (Pitt remarked, ‘modern wars are contentions of purse’), and credit to cash flow (more income, less discount on one’s bills, more favourable terms of credit), maximising one’s own cash flows – which meant control of the trades with Asia and the sugar from the Caribbean – and minimising that of others was a key to success. These were not fully monetised economies, and states depended heavily on external finance.

        Why trade with Asia rather than a silver mine in Peru? Bullion flowed to Asia, since Europe had little to offer until the C19 (India had cottons, spices and chemicals, China silk, tea and porcelain, Indonesia spices). A silver mine (and the road to Potosi was almost literally paved with bones) bought these things or, spent on European wars, flowed to Asia via your rivals. A trade monopoly took silver and gold from your European rivals, which could be spent on your own fleet and army to reinforce or extend the monopoly. See, eg, the way Spanish silver financed the Dutch wars against Spain (and Dutch expansion in Asia). Very roughly – Spain extracts silver, pays army in Flanders, Flanders merchants sell to army, buy sugar, cottons etc from Dutch for re-sale. Dutch finance fleet, extend control…

        As local credit systems merge and Britain gets control of them, pure cash flow becomes less vital, and Adam Smith can say it was all a mistake. But obsolete is the the same thing as wrong.

  24. “I’m an English speaker who lives in a community of English speaking humans, the connotations of these things should be self-evident.”

    And yet Bret and I are also English speakers who live in communities of English speaking humans.

    1. Honestly, if Bret says that he’s achieved results teaching a particular way then I’ll take that as food for thought and nuance my opinion. But different people get lots of different meanings out of language, and I’m pretty sure there are many out there who will agree with me about “slaves” vs “enslaved persons”. I think it’s reasonable to assume that extensive contact with academia (which both history profs and motivated history students would have had) biases your approach to language in ways that are at odds with the general population, and so what works with the nerds will often fall flat or backfire with the normies.

  25. Excellent post.

    One thing that I think perhaps also needed addressing was the reduction of enslaved peoples to a trade good also means that they functionally disappear in the Americas. As you know, when a colonial power ‘settles’ a New World region they have a limited ability to select which culture will replace the ’empty’ tile (itself a fairly odious mechanic, but that’s another post.) Or you can directly conquer an indigenous nation, and their population will still be present.

    But African people apparently never populate the New World at all. That means that if France colonizes Sainte-Domingue, for example, then its population will be entirely French (and presumably white.) That’s obviously massively ahistoric. No Haitian revolution here. That also means you get no Maroon communities in the Caribbean, no African-Americans in the south, no creole peoples of any kind.

    I agree that Paradox did a better job than Creative Assembly of acknowledging the existence of slavery, but the more you look at it the more dehumanising a job they did.

    It’s also worth dipping into their official EU forum from time to time to see the mass of comments, staying carefully within the moderator’s rules, that denounce any move by the developers to give more attention to the world outside Europe as reverse racism. I saw the presence of Maori nations in the new expansion labeled as ‘Marxist anti-Europeanism’- a comment that was allowed to stay up.

    The studio has a long way to go to reckon with these issues- not just in their games, but within their own community.

    1. > Marxist anti-Europeanism


      Maori were one of the best surviving ‘native peoples’ (possibly because Polynesians are more recently Asian and kept pigs).

      They also provide one of the clear cases of horrible ‘colonialist’ behavior not being exclusive to Europeans, given the chance:

    2. “I saw the presence of Maori nations in the new expansion labeled as ‘Marxist anti-Europeanism’- a comment that was allowed to stay up.”

      I…really don’t see the problem with Paradox not taking action here, as long as they’re allowing similar comments from leftist types.

      1. The problem is that it’s suggesting the mere inclusion of non-white people as historical actors is anti-European bigotry.

        1. For context, it’s important to understand that, for years, the official Europa Universalis forum has a permanent sticky post from the moderators reminding the fans that they are not allowed to use white supremacist slurs used in the ethnic cleansing of the Balkans.

          The forum does not have a similar problem with particularly vocal leftists (presumably the closest equivalent would be tankies.) As a result, I am not deposed to be generous when I interpret comments like the one I quoted above.

        2. That much is obvious. But people with stupid opinions will not disappear if Paradox bans them from their forums, though. It seems tough order for a game company to fix the all the bad information in the minds of its people of play their games.

          Anyhow, I believe it is good if mistaken (or worse kind of) opinion is made and then defeated publicly. To do otherwise and ban it implies that certain thoughts can not be presented. For some things, like insults, it makes sense as a general principle. For some other things, banning it implies that reading and thinking such thoughts is dangerous and forbidden, not a misconception that can not be defeated.

          It is not like a concept of anti-European bigotry is impossible in historically-set computer games. Did you read the author’s review of Assassins Creed: Valhalla and its unfortunate implications of anti-Christian pro-Norse colonialist bigotry?

    3. One thing that used to be a thing (not sure if it is any more) was that there was a connection between slave provinces and sugary/cotton provinces, IIRC it used to be that the more cotton and sugar province existed in the game, the more valuable slave provinces became. I am not sure when (or if) they removed that though.

  26. I remember seeing a Quill18 youtube playthrough of EU4 where he used a cosmetic mod that replaced ‘slaves’ with ‘oranges’, to literally no in-game effect. I think that it was out of discomfort but a cynic could say something about demonetization

    I just remembered that time I spent my days watching people play EU4 on youtube.

  27. It’s possible to create a ‘pseudo’-end node anywhere in the world. If you take a trade region and all entire trade regions downstream of it, you can collect 100% of the trade in the first trade node because nothing will be pulling trade from it. As an example, as Russia the best way to sort out your trade is to take all of the Baltics and collect in Novgorod.

  28. One reason it’s difficult to model slavery realistically in EU4 is that it’s not possible to accurately model the spread of slavery as an institution without explicitly modeling both race and racism. Why was it acceptable in the 1600s to procure slaves from West Africa but not, say, Italy? Because Italians were white and West Africans were not, and most the people doing the enslaving were white. Suddenly you have to add an entire race dimension to the game to get anything even remotely historically accurate regarding slavery. That’s touchy, to say the least.

    Even to model why America is colonized far earlier than Africa, one has to consider race as well: lack of Native American resistance to European disease annihilates 90% of the population very early on, collapsing pretty much every complex society, whereas African diseases took heavy tolls on Europeans attempting settler colonization. Can you model that with “culture” alone? Given a choice between explicitly modeling race relations and trying to sidestep the issue entirely I’m not surprised in the least that EUIV went for a complete abstraction.

    1. Disease was certainly important in the colonization of the Americas, but I think it’s sometimes overstated. The Mississippian civilization was destroyed, but the Aztec civilization (which was more complex) more or less survived, despite exposure to the same diseases.

      1. For the record, the flower of Mississippian civilization, Cahokia, collapsed long before the introduction of European diseases.

        To the extent you were talking about the various well-developed statelets that Hernando de Soto encountered in the American southeast (and I don’t think it’s crazy to call them at least Mississippian adjacent), the fact that they met de Soto’s expedition (which conquered no cities and only made it home by the skin of their teeth–but left behind plenty of feral, disease carrying pigs) and not Cortez is kind of the rub

        1. sorry, upon re-reading this I see I was totally unclear: my point is that de Soto showed up, introduced diseases, then left, letting the region temporarily return to pre-history. When Europeans returned nearly a century later, they found a political landscape changed by nothing except their diseases. In Mexico, however, the Europeans stayed, recorded everything (including massively destructive plagues). A visitor to the region who arrived 90 years after the arrival of Cortez would also see massive changes to the political landscape, but disease was, of course, only one of the many forces at work

          I’d also speculate that the fact that one of these regions received a new elite that was largely immune to the diseases and the other didn’t served as a significant anti-centrifugal force

          1. >When Europeans returned nearly a century later, they found a political landscape changed by nothing except their diseases.

            European slaving expeditions into the Eastern parts of what is now the US greatly contributed to the spread of disease in this time period.

    2. As I understand it the reason it wasn’t acceptable for Western Europeans to enslave Western Europeans in the early stages of the trans-Atlantic slave trade was not because they were white but because they were Christians. Race was only called upon as a justifying factor once enslaved populations began to convert to Christianity.

    3. The first slaves in the sugar islands were Irish – and sugar in the Caribbean built on similar plantations in the Canaries and Cyprus, both where the labour was ‘white’ slaves. What made Africans preferred was their resistance to yellow fever and other diseases (ironically, introduced from Africa by Europeans). In a sense, the slavery led to the racism, not the other way around (see, eg depictions of Africans in European literature pre C17 to after).

      1. The best inadvertent illustration of this point that I’ve seen is the wikipedia page for Saint Maurice. Saint Maurice was according to legend from upper Egypt and became patron saint of the Holy Roman Empire. Medieval depictions from the Holy Roman Empire show him as black African. Later depictions show him as white European. (It’s not quite as neat as that – the earliest depiction of him as white European predates one of the depictions as black African.)

    4. In fact, I would say that if anything, the way the Swedish company Paradox treats slavery as an African phenomenon is a result of a historic insecurity. Namely, you can enslave white people, and it happened quite nearby. Finland, which was an integral part of Sweden, was occupied twice during the 18th century by Russia. In both cases, the occupations involved a large portion of the population carried off as “prisoners”. The point that these prisoners were actually enslaved, and sold either to Southern Russian landowners or to Mongol Khanates is really uncomfortable. In fact, I can understand it well: acknowledging that some a Swedish citizen can be enslaved was, in 19th century world, essentially an acknowledgement of being at the wrong end of imperialism. You don’t want to confess that, because it sets a precedent. If the siblings of your ancestors could be enslaved 300 years ago, why not you? In a 19th century or early 20th century world you wanted to present yourself as a white man, a civilizer and conqueror, not as a population historically being raided for slaves.

      This was an actual contemporary view, not just liberal 21st century philosophy: when we became independent, one of the main missions of the Finnish foreign missions was, until 1950’s, to promote the idea that Finns are white, not yellow, exactly because it was seen as vitally important for us to be perceived white. Any other perception was considered to be disastrous for our national security, as it would mark Finland as legitimate pray.

      The same goes for Maghreb corsairs: they took Europeans as slaves. The white American or Swedish sailors whose governments didn’t pay the protection money were not “prisoners” but slaves when their ship was caught. If no ransom came, they were sold. Of course, the victims of the coastal raids were even worse off, because nobody even assumed that a ransom would be forthcoming, ever. However, you don’t often see this dynamic discussed in terms of chattel slavery, but couched in euphemisms. Discussion of English renegades centers on their seamanship and later wealth, not on the fact that they had been, by law, enslaved by the captors of their ship, and becoming a corsair was a way to serve their masters better.

      So, treating slavery as a peculiarity of the African coast is not only about avoiding a “slavery simulator”. It is also about white self-protection. You don’t want to make a game where you can actually enslave white people. (If you read Thousand Nights or Daniel Defoe, you can see a completely different dynamic: there, it is perfectly OK for the hero to be enslaved and then, later, by good service, become a confidant and friend of the master, finally gaining wealth, freedom and passage home. (E.g. Sindbad the Sailor.) Having been a slave in a foreign country carries little stigma.)

  29. I gather that the plan of the Brookes in the illustration was printed by the abolitionist movement after a legal ‘reform’ limiting the number of slaves that could be transported in one ship. The point of the print was to highlight how inhumane even the reformed legal limit was.

  30. As a Swede (who hasn’t played any Paradox games), I suspect you are right that many or most Swedes have a view of the early modern slave trade that is quite distant. While Sweden did participate to a small extent it was never an important part of Swedish society and economy. I only studied it closely quite late in my school years and I suspect most Swedes would simply never get to that point in their history classes. They are aware of it of course, but they don’t really understand it deeply. Which might contribute to Paradox not wanting to take it on too closely.

  31. Interesting article. I’ve learnt from Harry Potter debates online that there are some debates between Americans that it’s best not for non-Americans to even try to contribute to, and since I’m British…

    See you next week (maybe).

  32. Sociologically, economically and psychologically slavery is a tremendously damaging system for all concerned. The sufferings of the slaves are obvious. Less obvious is the damage to the poorer free classes whose labor is cheapened keeping them poor. Even the wealthy owners suffer from a constant state of fear of a rebellion by their victims.

        1. Take it up with Roxana.

          “Sociologically, economically and psychologically slavery is a tremendously damaging system for all concerned.”

          1. The economic damage isn’t unfortunately obvious to the contemporary eye.

          2. The destruction of a middle class because of the devaluing of free labor.

      1. We think of slavery as being mostly about getting others to do the hard work. But its possible that much slavery in past was also a response to demographic fragility. One historian noted that every Roman woman of child-bearing age had to have five births just to maintain the population – and a few plague years or a couple of bad wars would set things back for a generation.

        So Rome dragged masses of foreigners in, set them to work and gradually emancipated many of them into Roman citizenship – with the attendant obligation to military service. Many Islamic dynasties put slaves straight into the front line – janissaries, Mamelukes and many others. Household slaves in most societies seem to have been steadily absorbed into the lower classes (it’s a different story for mine and gang slaves) – and sometimes into the upper classes via concubinage (or other routes – my favourite Egyptian ruler was an ex-slave described as “a one-eyed black eunuch of great ugliness and surpassing charm”).

        1. That sounds like a depiction of a character from Mika Waltaris “The Egyptian”. (though he never becomes a ruler, just the financier of one)

  33. “On the other hand, no one wants their historical game to end up as a genocide and slavery simulator.”

    This is what Stellaris is for! 🙂

  34. Hi Bret,

    Insightful post, thanks. One thing I’ve always wondered that your post brought to mind: why do you think the large-scale European slave trade developed in West Africa and no place else?

    Obviously there were network effects once a critical mass of people had been enslaved and taken to the new world: enforcement was made easier by the assumption “black=slave,” and culturally it was probably easier for the slaveowners as well. But there were plenty of areas of the world Europeans had access where there were conditions of interstate anarchy and sufficient technology inferiority vs Europe that flintlocks were very valuable.

    So why didn’t we see a European slave trade with east Africa, south Asia, or southeast Asia? Was it simply geographic proximity or is there more to the story?

    Relatedly, why is it that African enslaved people became a huge slave class in the Americas, but the same thing didn’t seem to happen to native American peoples? Were native population densities just too low?

    1. The trade winds seem like an obvious factor. The prevailing winds off of West Africa (the trade winds) will take you directly into the Caribbean, while the North Atlantic winds (the westerlies) will then take you neatly back to Europe to repeat the trip. The geography of the winds bends those travel routes to the triangular configuration and markets in enslaved people already existed in West Africa when the Portuguese arrived.

      Note that ‘technology inferiority’ isn’t really the issue here. While flintlocks became a crucial trade good, other goods (molasses, sugar, rum, copper, cloth) were also important and could have easily taken the same place. And it is important to stress that even well into the 1700s, the military advantage in West Africa was with the local rulers, whose larger armies could easily intimidate European port-and-fort trade-posts and prevent penetration into the interior. Matchlocks end up accelerating the processes in important ways, but they aren’t required.

      1. IIRC; the Portugeuse did penetrate a bit inland, but they did so essentially by sub-contracting their african empire-building to african or mixed-race clients. Basically you had portugeuse governors show up and die constantly of diseases while the actual running of the place was done by locals.

    2. Slavery in Indian Country: The Changing Face of Captivity in Early America by Christina Snyder is probably the book you want. Several factors were involved. Population density was part of it. Another factor was keeping them captive. An Indian captive had a lot easier time getting back to his tribe.

    3. One web page on slave ancestry says “Other tribal members were also traded into slavery in smaller proportions. These groups include the: Kru and Mande from Ivory Coast, Liberia, and Sierra Leone (5%); Allada, Ewe, Mahi, Yoruba (4%); and Makua and Malagasy from Madagascar, Zimbabwe, and Tanzania (2%).” so there were a few from East Africa. But the winds post I put in another comment shows westerly (west to east) winds through the tip of Africa, which also seems to be excessively exciting in terms of storms and big waves. So I figure it’s a trip you do if you have to, for spices or generally being Indian ocean pirates (hi Portugal) but not if you can avoid it. West Africa is closer, safer, and have denser populations than east Africa, and closer/safer than Asia. (Even without the storms, a longer trip would mean higher expense — longer turnaround time, more people dead on the voyage.)

      As for native Americans, they often were enslaved. Plantation slaves in Spanish America. Charles Mann says that early on, the Carolina colonies were *exporting* Indian slaves to the sugar islands. But they also died a lot, first from the European diseases, and then from African ones in the tropical latitudes. And as Mary says, using a Carolina Indian slave in a Carolina plantation, or a Brazilian one in Brazil, had a lot of runaway potential. (I *think* Spanish plantation slavery was organized differently, more like serfdom? And mine slaves are another matter.)

      But I think disease is the big one. Populations dropped, and once malaria and yellow fever were imported to the Americas there was a strong selection pressure for people with resistance, i.e. Africans. Mann says the region most directly dependent on African slavery, the humid Americas from the Mason-Dixon line to southern Brazil, is also the range of latitudes that favor the most deadly form of malaria. (I’m not sure how Central America fits in this story.)

      1. The United States was one of the few areas where the enslaved managed to grow their population by reproduction. As Bret’s slave importation graphic shows the greatest mass of slaves was shipped to the Caribbean and South America, chiefly because the high death rate meant there was always a demand.

      2. There is also the point that enslaved people in some sense needed to come from outside: ONce the native peoples were conquered they might very well be enslaved or put under various conditions of forced labour, but they were at this point the Kings subjects and the king fo Spain doesent like people stealing his subjects. THey are his to tax and conscript and use for building projects, not yours to use to sell sugar. (it gets abit more complicated, but there is a point that native slavery was not limited just because the population died, but also because there was now another interested party who had a stake in their exploitation)

    4. A huge class of enslaved Native American *did* exist – in Portuguese Brazil, where slavers raided the local tribes mercilessly, even over into technically Spanish territory. The combination of disease and cruel treatment meant that Portugal brought over Africans in great number anyway. It was horrible.

      The British (& later Americans) mostly just exiled the natives and stole their land. The French were fairly enlightened by the standards of the era. The Spanish are a complicated case. They had a system, the encomienda, which was complicated and varied by place. It was basically one step above slavery (but still really bad to be in) – basically mass corvee labor, but people in it still had individual rights. Importantly, children of Europeans and AmerIndians were Spanish citizens, who had right to their own native wards under the encomienda, which spread the system out unsustainably until it collapsed. So, there was a huge underclass, but it wasn’t quite slavery, and racial mixing tended to blur the lines over time until it was finally abolished in the late 1700s.

  35. The slavery modeling discussion makes me very curious — do you have a good source for a comparative survey of slavery systems across time and regions – either academic or popular? There are a lot of different systems that get lumped together under the term slavery, despite having very different levels of oppression. And similarly there are many systems (serfdom, peasants bound to the land, apprenticeship, indentured servitude) which have elements of slavery but are not called such. My images of slavery are all from American history and Spartacus, it would be really nice to have a better ability to place it into context.

    1. Paul Lovejoy’s Transformations in Slavery is a good overview of slavery and the slave trade in Africa and the various forms that both took, although it does keep things at the rather bloodless broad analysis level rather than getting into the personal stories.

      1. Thank you, “bloodless” is what I am looking for. Personal narratives are an incredibly important part of history, but it is so easy to filter them for “interesting” and end up with a bit of a skewed view.

      2. The personal histories are very helpful though in making clear enslaved Africans were not passive objects but extremely active ones with all kinds of coping mechanisms and ways of getting what they wanted out of their masters.
        It’s painfully obvious from slave owners’ accounts that massive amounts of passive resistance were going on in their fields and households and concessions were not infrequently forced from them. Basically slave owners were lazy. They just wanted the work done. They didn’t want to take the time and trouble necessary to manage their workforce and with the exception of a few out and out sadists most were uncomfortable inflicting the kind of punishment necessary to force compliance.
        According to the slaves themselves truly evil masters were as rare as saintly ones. The vast majority are described as ‘generally kind, unless drunk or in a temper’. Of course the fact that slave owners could take their temper out on slaves with no consequences is bad enough! And no amount of ‘kindness’ can alter the inherent wrong and existential evil of slavery.
        My point is that there were methods of resistance more subtle, and successful, than futile and bloody uprisings.

  36. I’m loving your blog on these but I do have a minor query that I guess you might already have anticipated:
    Given the recent announcement of Victoria 3, does that change any of your plans for reviewing the later paradox games? Will you be conducting this sort of in-depth analysis on Victoria 3 instead of 2, or will you do it to 2 and then have a shorter review for 3? Or perhaps something else?
    I suppose it’s understandable if you are also still trying to figure that out…

    1. I suspect I will discuss VickyII well before III comes out (there’s no release date yet, just an announcement) and probably end by expressing hopes (or gesturing to announced features) for VickyIII. Ideally, I want to have the discussion of VickyII out early enough that it might yet provide some food for thought for the developers as they enter into polishing and balancing and are thinking about the theory of history their game presents.

  37. YIKES! I couldn’t finish reading until this morning and I’m still slogging through the mire in trying to read/understand the comments. But here are a few typos I noticed in the OP (started last week, so they may have been fixed by now!) . . .
    victimize one’s neighbors lead to -> leads OR led ??
    there are no new world -> New World
    but it mostly a competitive -> it’s
    and I trying to retrain -> and I am trying
    isn’t how either European -> how European [delete either]
    handles on of the great debates -> one of the

  38. I’m very late to the party here but the line “though in the long run, doing so [trading furs to Europeans for firearms] made it impossible to create a united front against European powers, with devastating results for Native Americans” seems kinda strange to say when that trade lead to the only pan-American, non-European aligned united front against the British. Pontiac’s war in 1763 was waged by the fur trading tribes. Although the trade didn’t close the military gap, it did create an economic incentive which at least gave the Native Americans substantial bargaining power. As haphazard and uncoordinated as it was it does at least indicate the bulk of the Native Americans pulling in the same direction which is the exact opposite of the conflicts over land where they were constantly played off against each other.

    Dynamics like this make me think that the “Red Queen Race” is actually a liability to historical representation then an important understanding of interstate anarchy. We have here a situation where broadly speaking there are two resources, land and fur. Land is far, far more valuable then fur. So the Red Queen Race tells us that in order to survive the Europeans the Native Americans should try to compete where they are most successful, conquer the other tribes and “blob” to compete. But this completely backwards because the more valuable the land was the more incentive the Europeans had to compete with the natives, a fight the natives wouldn’t win while the more valuable the fur was the more incentive the Europeans had to trade with the indians which gave the indians more time to adapt. The Paradox dynamic is that as a small state the thing you need to do to survive is slit your own throat.

  39. It doesn’t seem fair to me to criticize the game for failing to reflect the horrific realities of transatlantic slave trade when, as you rightly point out, the game entirely skips the human impact of any of the player’s decisions. To the human consequences of war, forced recruitment, or implied forced relocation/genocide that have been mentioned in the previous parts of the series, I’d add pretty much any agricultural resource on the map being produced either by local slaves or serfs (whose status often differed from that of slaves only in minor legal details); the resources produced by mining likely even worse in their human impact.

    Why would any of that human suffering inherent in the functioning of early modern states (and, in fact, in the modern globalized economy as well, just with the worst of it kept out of sight, out of mind for the consumers in the developed nations) be any less deserving of representation? Just because it’s not as hyped in the US? In this way it indeed looks apparent that the game represents a view from Sweden – or, rather, from outside the US.

  40. “the Abolition of Slavery Act which grants a small amount of prestige, lowers national tax income (an important, major negative effect), lowers stability cost (a minor, positive effect)”

    -5% tax income is not a “major negative effect”, it’s a barely perceptible drop in your least important source of income. Production and trade are making vastly more money by 1700 than taxes (assuming you’re playing at all optimally with your merchants). And the -5% is applied additively with your other modifiers. If you have +50% from other modifiers (easily possible) you’re only losing 3.33% of total tax income. -5% stab cost is a much more impactful modifier because it stacks additively. Each marginal % reduction is more valuable than the previous %.

    “It oddly will almost certainly make no strategic sense for a historically configured Great Britain – which historically was the major great power pushing abolitionism as a matter of policy post-1807 – since British enclaves in Africa will be small compared to the income derived from India and Great Britain itself.”

    It makes even more sense because you forgot the biggest impact of the abolition decision. 1 month later, it triggers a price change event that reduces the price of slaves worldwide by 40%. It makes a ton of sense to do this as a nation which doesn’t own slave producing provinces because you make all the slavers poorer.

    It’s still a benefit to do the Abolition act even if you own all the slave provinces because most other trade goods are better. But the main nation hurt by the act is one that choose not to abolish slavery while owning a number of slave producing provinces.

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