Collections: Teaching Paradox, Victoria II Part III: World’s Fair

This is the third and final part of a three part series (I, II) examining the historical assumptions of Paradox Interactive’s 19th and early 20th century grand strategy game, Victoria II. Last time, we looked at how the game’s models for the industrial revolution and warfare interacted: by simulating (even in a fairly limited and abstract way) both the tremendous increases in productivity of the industrial revolution and the tremendously increased destructiveness of warfare brought about by the weapons of the industrial revolution the game reproduced one of the key historical developments in warfare in the period. While for most of human history the best way for a community or a society to become wealthy, power and secure was to seek out aggressive, expansionist war, the industrial revolution marked a turning point where war no longer ‘paid’ and the best strategy for state power and wealth (as well as for the well being of the citizens of that state) was to avoid war whenever possible, since even a victorious war was unlikely to be worth the cost.

Having that theory of history come together as an emergent, interactive part of gameplay (as far as I can tell, quite unintended by the developers) is I think the singular triumph of Victoria II as a historical game. But of course you all knew this series couldn’t be all positive things. So far we have stayed mostly focused on the game as it is played by the various western ‘Great Powers’ (mostly the European powers, but also the United States and the Ottomans). But this week we’re going to mostly look outside of the major players of the European state system towards the subjugated, colonized and enslaved. And here, unfortunately, Victoria II makes its fair share of missteps.

Victoria II’s artwork reflects its narrower focus on the European state system, making this one of the few instances where the official game artwork looks outside of that system. This is something that you will note more recent Paradox titles have worked a lot on, so I expect we’ll see a fair bit more focus in presentation (and we may hope mechanics) outside of Europe and North America in Victoria III.

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Civilized Conversation

So far we’ve kept our discussion focused on how the game treats the Great Powers and the rest of Europe and I have mostly been full of praise for the game. But as with Europa Universalis (and every other Paradox game of this type), it isn’t merely the major imperial powers which are playable: all of the countries are playable. And I want to start in the same spirit that I did for EU4 when discussing this: I have quite a lot of grace in me for any game that lets the player experience imperialism for the perspective of indigenous people and states which found themselves on the ‘business end’ of imperial power. Other strategy games of this type almost never do that; minor powers are unplayable, for instance, in the Total War series, as are the ‘city-states’ which fill the same role in the most recent Civilization games. So when it comes to presenting a truly global perspective and decentering the Great Power experience of colonialism, Victoria II has a strong foundation in this one game design choice.

Unfortunately after that just about everything begins to come apart to one degree or another.

We can start with some of the essential terminology. Now I should note at the outset that Paradox games often have a ‘tongue in cheek’ framing to a lot of the game’s text and descriptions which includes often presenting the narrow-minded or culturally chauvinist attitudes of the period straight to an exaggerated degree as a way of poking fun at the ‘things we used to believe.’ For instance the confirmation dialogue for an event where support for war against a neighbor (that your government is fomenting) builds due to paranoid xenophobia (promoted by your government) has the confirmation text of, ‘They’re Coming Right For Us!’ both a joke about the frequent absurdity of such paranoia and a South Park reference. One of the responses for the crop failure event (‘Potato Blight’) is labeled ‘Let them eat cake’ (the other option, “Spare no effort in relieving the local farmers” limits the extent of the penalties inflicted by the event). This sort of humor can work, but it can also easily go amiss and the line between what is meant to be funny and what is meant to feel historical is often very thin.

That approach extends into the terminology and the results are often unfortunate. The most obvious one is how states are classified. In Victoria II, all states are classified as either ‘civilized’ or ‘uncivilized’ (abbreviated by the player-base to ‘civ’ and ‘unciv’) with the former then being subdivided into Great Powers, Secondary Powers and just plain ‘Civilized Nations.’ As the wiki helpfully notes, “All nations with their capitals in Asia and Africa, with the exceptions of Oranje and Transvaal are uncivilized from the beginning of the game” (plus Hawaii). ‘Uncivs’ cannot industrialize and do not have access to the technology part of the game until they enact a series of reforms collectively referred to as ‘westernization’ and broadly modeled on Meiji Restoration’s ‘westernizing’ reforms and the Chinese Self-Strengthening movement. ‘Uncivs’ are also vulnerable to more powerful casus belli, reflecting how they are not protected by the diplomatic niceties of the European state system; it is much less reputationally damaging for an imperial power to seize territory from ‘uncivs’ than from other states; while the ‘unciv’ label is unfortunate, I have to conclude this mechanic expresses the logic of the period’s imperialist ideology. It really was unfair to be a state that Europeans saw as the ‘other’ and there really was a double-standard in their application of international law and public outrage and in some ways it is good to make the player feel the unfairness of that system.

Via the Victoria II wiki, the westernization screen, showing the reforms that have to be enacted in order to ‘westernize’ and gain access to technology research and industrialization.

This is a fairly awful set of terms. At the time the developers suggested that the goal here was to capture the way that states were talked about in the period, but this has the effect of re-centering the attitudes of the western powers. The Chinese, after all, did not consider themselves to be uncivilized! By taking that value judgement made by people at the time and putting it into the game mechanics it transforms an opinion that some cultures had of other cultures into an immutable fact in the game-space, which is deeply unfortunate. I should note that the developers on the sequel, Victoria III have already indicated that they are dropping this terminology in favor of ‘recognized’ and ‘unrecognized’ countries which at least has the advantage of placing the question back firmly into the realm of perception, rather than reality.

(For what it is worth, I understand the development difficulty here. A game set in this period probably does need to mechanically distinguish between powers within the broader European state system and those outside precisely because the Great Powers of that state system interacted very differently with states and people outside of Europe (and a few select independent colonial countries which were, for all intents and purposes, regarded as European powers that just happened not to be in Europe). But calling them ‘uncivs’ along with blocking off the tech tree is just a horribly clunky way of achieving this. Recognized/Unrecognized isn’t a perfect solution either, but it is quite a bit better.)

Slavery

And area where Victoria II does better is the topic of slavery. Enslaved people are simulated exactly like every other pop. They don’t have advanced needs and can only be made to work in RGOs as farmers or laborers (their pop type remains ‘slave’). The lead up to the American Civil War (‘ACW’) is modeled in game and unlike so many games about the ACW where the war seems to have been about nothing in particular, the ACW in Victoria II is explicitly a product of slavery and the defense of slavery. A United States which manages (by whatever manner of gaming cheese; the USA generally gets the ‘slavery debate’ modifier early on which reflects the intransigence of southern slave-holders and prevents abolition without war) to abolish slavery before tensions burst into war simply skips the ACW because there is nothing left to fight about. I think this is an admirable level of candor from the developers here, though I also think it is reflective of the ‘view from Sweden’ I’ve mentioned earlier; the ACW isn’t the hot-button issue for the Paradox devs that some other wars are (a point we’ll come back to with Hearts of Iron).

(And yes, the American Civil War was fought over slavery. We know this because the Confederates who fought it for that reason were exceptionally clear, in their speeches, statements and letters, that this was the case. A decent sample is gathered here, for instance. James McPherson also assembles quite a few examples in Battle Cry of Freedom (1988) and For Cause and Comrades (1997). We are not forced to infer this motive; we are told it, again and again by the Confederates themselves.)

Enslaved pops in Spanish Cuba at game start.

Slave pops in the game provide both advantages and disadvantages at the state level. The major advantage (again, from the perspective of the state; slavery is bad as an absolute matter) is that slave pops demand fewer goods to survive. The disadvantages are…everything else. Slave pops generate tremendous militancy (gee, I wonder why?) which cannot be channeled into political reform (because they’re not in your political system) which makes that militancy a pure negative impact for the state. Moreover, slave pops cannot promote to other kinds of workers and since all other kinds of workers are more productive than farmer/laborer RGO workers, this is a major drawback. Consequently, for the handful of countries with slavery (either nation-wide or as a set group of ‘slave states’) at game start, moving deliberately towards abolitionism is both a matter of compassion but also of business as one prepares for industrialization.

One thing that Victoria II has going for it here is that outlawing slavery is done through the reforms system. This is the last major design pillar and I haven’t talked about it too much here. Each state has an ‘upper-house’ which must approve reforms (split into political reforms and social reforms) and the party affiliation of those members (who may be restricted to the ruling party, more broadly appointed or elected depending on the structure of your state) determines if they’ll support further reforms. As a rule, socialists approve of social reforms, liberals of political reforms; other parties may be brought to approve of reforms of one or another type with high militancy (typically high militancy can allow liberal-socialist-communist coalitions to push social reforms and socialist-liberal-conservative coalitions to push political reforms; reactionaries always oppose both types).

Because outlawing slavery is a political reform it is subject to this system, which means that for a country that starts with slavery legal, abolition is a political movement rather than merely flipping a switch. Support has to be mobilized (often particularly among the elite, depending on your upper house structure) in order to pave the way to making what was for many societies a titanic social change (this is true for the USA in game as well, because the ACW triggers are tied to the percentage of the upper house which is ‘liberal’ and thus ready to vote for abolition).

Again this implementation is not perfect. Victoria II does more than most strategy games to make you care about your pops, but the issue of slavery still very easily becomes an abstract issue of maximizing production rather than a concrete issue of human suffering. I wish that there was a bit more in terms of showing, in the case of the United States in particular, the long push necessary to build political support for abolitionism in the United States (which in turn led the South to sucede); there are a few events to this effect, but most concern the arena of politics rather than shifts in public opinion. Likewise, the role that Britain played in encouraging (and in some cases forcing) other countries to abolish the slave trade in the 1830s and 1840s could be better modeled in events and decisions (and perhaps made a path that any sufficiently inclined naval power may choose to pursue). Still, the representation of the horrors of slavery in video games (historical or otherwise) is generally just so relentlessly bad that VickyII scores well above par simply by doing a baseline adequate job.

One point where I would like to see improvement here is the implementation of Haiti. Haiti is playable in VickyII, but is not given any real unique mechanics or significant events. This is unfortunate. Haiti was the product of arguably the world’s only fully successful slave rebellion and still a very young country when the game opens. It was a unique country and was recognized as such (mostly in the form of hostility from powers, including the United States, which still practiced slavery in the new world and worried that Haiti’s example would encourage their own enslaved workers to rise up). Historically, Haiti was burdened by a massive indemnity (from France) as well as that hostility, factors which have substantially contributed to the currently impoverished state of the island but which are not reflected in game at all. I think some unique mechanics to reflect these challenges but also give the player a chance to chart a different course for the world’s first and only state established by a successful slave revolt.

The other point where I would like to see major improvement is the representation of slavery outside the European colonial empires and the United States. Slavery was practiced in a great many places even into the 1800s; in many cases even in states which had formally abolished slavery or the slave trade (the two not quite being the same thing), slavery continued to be practiced (and in some cases, still continues to be practiced) in areas of weak state control. This is a case where the soft focus on the world outside of the European colonial empires can lead to the mistaken impression, still quite common in the public, that slavery was unique to the West (albeit it should be acknowledged that trans-Atlantic slavery can be fairly characterized as having been an uncommonly cruel form of slavery).

There being 0 enslaved people in the Ottoman Empire in 1836 is frankly preposterous. The Ottoman authorities were still trying to stamp out slavery – pursuant to treaties they had signed – as late as the 1890s. Here I wonder if the developers fell into the common mistake of conflating the abolition of the slave trade with the abolition of slavery, but these were often disconnected things.
The United States, for instance, banned the slave trade (at least in law, though not necessarily in practice) in 1807. Actually banning slavery, however, took almost 60 more years and one civil war.

The Gates of Africa

One thing that VickyII attempts to simulate is how European colonization proceeded in different places at different times. It does this through a gating system based on a game-stat called ‘life rating.’ The ‘life rating’ of a province is meant to reflect its general habitability and each province has a different rating. At the start of the game, all countries can colonize territory with life ratings at or above 35, but most of the ‘uncolonized’ states in Africa have values below that (usually around 10 or 15). Apart from regions of, say, hard desert (and most of the ‘uncolonized’ lands are not hard desert or anything close to it), that framing is a bit awkward. After all the people living in these places presumably do not find them uninhabitable. Once again, the cover for this is to argue that the game is framed to assume a European perspective in its terminology, but I find myself wishing both that this system was more flexible (it is odd, for instance, that countries in Africa require prophylaxis against Malaria to colonize in Africa when they themselves are the malaria-resistant humans who actually live there) and perhaps better framed.

The way this system then shapes the colonization process is that countries can only colonize ‘uncolonized’ provinces if they are first accessible (either by sea or through a land-border) and have a life-rating above the minimum life rating that the colonizer-country’s technology supports. This allows, for instance, for Russia to complete its conquest of the steppe during the early game, although I’d argue these conquests probably ought to be modeled as wars even in the game’s logic. It also allows the United States to Manifest Destiny westward in the early and mid-game (though I’d argue these conquests probably ought to be modeled as wars) while still walling European powers out (except for the occasionally British effort to nab the Pacific Northwest), and causing the Scramble for Africa to happen at roughly the right historical moment in each play-through.

In our Ottoman playthrough, it is 1878 and the Scramble for Africa is well underway. Having annexed Egypt and drawn even technologically with the Great Powers (through a relentless and expensive literacy campaign), the Ottomans are now rushing to secure the resources of Africa.
Here we can see an ‘uncontested’ colonization and thus the option to immediately create a protectorate is available.

The technologies which are tied to allowing states to expand into lower life-ratings thus offer a pretty clear theory of history, essentially positing that under the ruthless logic of imperialist expansion under the balance of power conditions in Europe, these technologies removed the last impediments to European colonization. With those keys to open the gates of Africa, as it were, the Scramble became inevitable. This is a fairly pure technological explanation – in essence arguing that the pressure to expand was always there but that these specific new technologies made it possible. And in fact that is a fairly mainstream historical view, expressed notably by D.R. Headrick in The Tools of Empire: Technology and European Imperialism in the Nineteenth Century (1981). In Headrick’s view, industrialization provides the means of empire which enabled the European imperial project to push into areas that had to that point resisted it; the corollary of this position, that essentially all states are what we might call ’empires in waiting’ and that Europe was set apart by means, not methods or goals is one embraced by the Paradox games (and we discussed it back with EU4).

The key developments in Victoria II are all innovations rather than technologies so they may depend on having multiple technologies researched:

  • Prophylaxis against Malaria offers 5 extra life rating. It requires the technology ‘Medicine’ and its discovery change is doubled by researching the technology ‘Inorganic Chemistry” (which is the next tech in the medical tree).
  • Mission to Civilize offers 10 extra life rating. It requires the ‘State and Government’ tech from the political thought tree (becoming available in 1840) and is made much more likely to discover from having researched “Nationalism and Imperialism,” “Market Regulations” and “Naval Statistics.”
  • Colonial Negotiations offers 10 extra life rating. It requires “Breech-loaded Rifles” from the Army tree (available in 1850) and is made far more likely to develop from having “Machine Guns,” “Economic Responsibility” (by which what is meant is ‘government responsibility for the economy”) and “Naval Logistics.”

(I should note technically each technology reduces the ‘minimum life rating’ that you can settle in, but that’s clunky so I’ve said ‘offers’ life rating.)

Given that ‘Colonial Negotiations’ is mostly dependent on rifle and machine-gun technology, I think we should understand the name of the innovation as being a bit tongue-in-cheek (much like the ‘Aggressive Negotiations’ line from the Star Wars prequels), though Victoria II often struggles, as noted, to signal when we should take its titles and descriptions as humorous. Getting into the various sub-inventions and technologies that offer increased discovery change then, it seems like the Victoria II vision of what made the Scramble for Africa possible was:

  • Anti-Malarial Medicine.
  • Advanced Firepower (machine guns and breech-loading rifles)
  • More complex economic theories (Market regulation and economic responsibility)
  • More sophisticated systems of naval organization
  • And the ideological framework (Mission to Civilize) to justify this, rooted in nationalism.

And this is a mixed bag. There is some overlap with Headrick’s arguments, but it is far from perfect. We can start with what is right here: anti-malarial medicine and firepower. The impact of disease on European intervention into Sub-Saharan Africa is hard to overstate. Rates of disease mortality among European soldiers stationed at the relatively less malarial port-and-fort posts they maintained (which we’ve discussed in this series) in the period period to the Scramble could still exceed 60%, often substantially so. While disease was almost always in the pre-modern world more of a killer than actual combat, rates of attrition that high created an effective disease wall which could swallow effectively unlimited European armies whole. Likewise, because West Africa was filled with states rather than smaller tribal units, European armies operating at great distance from their base of logistics needed massive force-multipliers to be successful and so the multiplication of European firepower was crucial.

But the rest of this goes rather off of the rails, if you will permit the joke. Headrick’s other two developments were modern industrialized naval superiority and steam power. Now VickyII does have naval organization, but this isn’t what Headrick means. The key elements here are not the organizational structures (for once it’s not about socially embedded organizational culture!) but the actual physical machines. In particular, European warships that even by the end of the Age of Sail (much less the Age of Steam) couldn’t be effectively challenged by local warships; they simply had too much firepower. Improvements in gun-boring technology (combined with the need to punch through thicker ship armor) rapidly meant that non-industrializing countries would find it simply impossible to either build ships or coastal forts which could stand up to such vessels. That, combined with steam engines on ships and steam-powered railways on land, allowed for the vast logistical distances to be spanned, suddenly exposing one ‘remote’ (to Europe) places to European power.

At the same time, the presence of ‘Mission to Civilize” strikes me as off. European notions of bringing ‘civilization’ to the ‘savages’ were not new in the 1860s; you see elements of this posture in the earliest defenses of Spanish imperialism in the Caribbean. While the ‘civilizing mission’ of the 1800s might seem at first more secular, these imperial projects came with missionaries and forced education in boarding schools designed to ‘Christianize’ the natives all the same. Here I must agree largely with Headrick’s standpoint: the ideological framework for the New Imperialism of the 19th century had largely been in place for several centuries. Balance of power politics and the pressures of acquiring resources to fuel industrialization led to a race to essentially ‘catch up’ to the British Empire and nationalism played a role in this, but these were not the factors that initially prevented and then enabled the Scramble for Africa or Manifest Destiny, both of which, in any event, I think could probably be better represented within the game mechanics through the war system.

My own preference for this system would be for the gating technologies to be shifted to medicine and breech-loaders (as before) along with a set level of railroad technology and the development of steamships. New ideologies might add effects that make the process move more swiftly or offer a competitive advantage against other imperialist powers, but shouldn’t ‘gate’ the process. The ideological gate had long been battered down.

Looking ahead to 1889 in our Ottoman game and the Scramble for Africa is complete. One thing I find is a strength of Paradox’s approach is that, having adopted the neo-realist frame which assumes that all states seek to maximize their power (and thus imperialism is not and was never, under this model, a uniquely European disease) they actually follow through by allowing non-European states to play the empire game every bit as aggressively and – if you are good at the game – every bit as successfully as the Europeans. Here, some clever maneuvering and a bit of violence and the Ottomans, not Britain, walk away as the biggest winner in the Scramble for Africa.
(For those wondering about ‘Scandinavian Africa’ a pan-Scandinavian Union is one of the possible national unions; here they were awarded the Congo during the Berlin Conference which historically gave it to Belgium. As a historical note, while the treatment of Africans in basically all of the European colonies in Africa was extremely poor, the Belgian Congo was notable even among that awful company as remarkably terrible.

Oh, and I think probably this entire system could be better represented within the game mechanics as a series of wars. Did I mention that?

Cultures and States

Once the relevant technologies are researched, colonization in Africa – the last great explosion of colonial activity in the game – proceeds very rapidly. And this is as good a time as any to discuss the system. States can attempt to lay claim to provinces marked as ‘uncolonized’ (this term just as awkward here as in Europa Universalis IV). Doing so requires ‘colonial power’ which is generated by a state’s naval assets (presumably reflecting the overall ability to sustain the ocean logistics network to support the effort). Sending an expedition to lay a claim ties up colonial power until the effort is completed. Assuming no other state sends an expedition to the same place, the original state can then ‘create a protectorate’ to lock competitors out. If there are other states attempting to claim the province, the two states compete in investing colonial power to try to force each other out; if neither backs down it can trigger a crisis.

‘Protectorate’ provinces can then be upgraded by a further investment of colonial power into ‘colonial states.’ This is presumably meant to reflect a greater degree of investment in infrastructure and administration and it allows more resources and taxes to be extracted from the province, along with the recruitment of local troops (that latter point is odd; European colonial powers were using local troops in most regions of Africa before establishing territorial control so the order here is off). However colonial states aren’t represented in the government of the country, their pops won’t assimilate to the primary culture and factories cannot be built there. Also recruitment of troops is less efficient in colonial states (it requires more pops to support a given number of brigades).

Colonial states can then be converted into fully-fledged states by having at least 1% of the population be bureaucrat pops (who generate ‘administrative efficiency’) of an accepted culture. Here some of the Gen2 railroading rears its head; whereas players could add new accepted cultures in EU4 to reflect an effort to push towards a more pluralistic, ethnically accepting state, this is not an option in Victoria II. Apart from a few rare national decisions (like forming Germany), primary and accepted cultures are fixed. None of the major European colonial powers have accepted cultures that are not themselves European, meaning that the only way to transform a colonial province into a full ‘state’ and thus a full part of the country is by shipping out large numbers of primary-culture bureaucrats.

Here we have more of the Ottoman Scramble for Africa, in this case competing with Scandinavia for control of the province. If the competition goes on long enough, it could trigger a crisis and from there potentially a general war. That said this province is very strategically important since failing to obtain it would wall off the rest of southern Africa from the Ottomans.

It is thus impossible, for instance, for the Netherlands to decide that its subjects in Dutch Java ought to be full and accepted members of the Netherlands; the best it can do is encourage them to assimilate to Dutch culture (and even there, there are very few mechanisms for this). While at release it was often possible (and indeed sometimes easy) for colonial powers to ‘state-ify’ their colonial possessions (which for democracies with colonial possessions meant including those colonial subjects fully and equally in the democratic process), balance changes (mostly to limit Britain’s ability to do this in India) have made this much more difficult. By and large ‘state-ification’ mostly now is simply the means by which Russia and the United States bring new territories (the last of the Eurasian Steppe and the Great Plains) fully into their countries. Even if a player surmounts those hurdles, they can only do so by shipping out – in our Netherlands example – large numbers of Dutch or Belgian bureaucrats (rather than, say, encouraging Javanese bureaucrats, because those pops do not count for this calculation) which reeks more than a bit of the ‘civilizing mission’ since the only way to accomplish the industrialization of a colonial province is to first import large numbers of ‘civilization bearing’ European bureaucrats. There is no way to encourage indigenous development, nor to declare the local culture tolerated and valued.

This mechanic is a touch trickier than the also-awkward ‘westernization’ mechanic because at least westernization had fairly clear historical models in this period. In the end the state-ification mechanic is in most instances a counter-factual: none of the great imperial powers did simply decide to embrace pluralism and incorporate their colonial possessions as full core elements of the state except for a handful of relatively small islands. They didn’t do so even under the pressure of two World Wars. Heck, to some degree the United States still hasn’t (though Hawaii may otherwise be one of the most notable exceptions to ‘colonial powers never did this’). Nevertheless, especially for countries that begin the game with substantial colonial holdings, it seems like the counter-factual of pluralism and toleration rather than exclusion and exploitation ought to be offered and in a more meaningful and fleshed out way (and probably with substantial political opposition to be overcome from the imperial core who would be loathe to share).

More troubling to my mind is that the colonization process is all about competing with other European powers but generally not with resistance by the people being colonized. Even in Eu4, the local population would occasionally attempt to destroy a colony and reclaim their land (at least until control was firmly established) but this doesn’t happen in Victoria II and in deed apart from a few events triggering militancy among Native American pops who find themselves inside the borders of the USA, the existing population of ‘uncolonized’ lands are presented as being almost entirely passive as their territory is seized. Indeed, they’re only actively simulated as pops once their territory is seized; before then they are simply represented as a population number which is only converted into pops once the province is incorporated into a state.

This is part of why – broken record here – but I think these systems could mostly be better represents through the game’s existing war-system or something like it to make clear that there is conflict happening in this and that these spaces weren’t ‘settled’ but rather ‘conquered.’

Conclusions

Victoria II is an odd game to assess. It is a very niche game even when compared to the other very niche games Paradox produces. When it was in development, Fredrick Wester, then CEO of Paradox promised to shave his head if the game made a profit (it did and he did, by the by), which speaks to the degree to which the game’s appeal was understood to be limited. I rather wonder if the success of games like Factorio and Satisfactory were what prompted Paradox to consider actually developing a third game in the series (though of course we all know the decisive push was my relentless, brutal campaign of bullying the devs). The long, long reticence I think ought to be taken still as a sign that this has always been a niche title. Victoria has pretty much always been the last of the core Paradox titles to get a new issue and indeed has been lapped by Crusader Kings which has had two releases since Victoria II.

And it isn’t hard to see why: of all of Paradox’s games, Victoria is perhaps the most complex (rivaled only by their WWII series, Hearts of Iron and even then having played HoI 2, 3, and 4 it feels like a lot of the complexity of those games has been smoothed out in successive iterations though perhaps this is just the product of coming to each game with more experience of the systems), it lacks the iconic subject matter of Crusader Kings or Hearts of Iron or even Europa Universalis. And, as I’ve noted a few times, nothing in VickyII ever quite works right.

But precisely because this is the closest Paradox has ever gotten to attempting a pure simulation, it has some pretty impressive virtues. I should note that I haven’t covered everything there is to cover here either. We’ve barely touched on the complexities of Victoria II‘s political system, for instance, which attempts to simulate the complex changing political consciousness of entire nations, pop by pop. And I should also note we haven’t cataloged all of Victoria II‘s flaws. The ‘substate’ system for China, for instance, which splits China up mostly as a game balance mechanic rather than having anything to do with history (China in 1836 was certainly still very much a unitary state!) is frustratingly a-historical. And the game suffers from the very soft-focus that most older Paradox games have when it comes to affairs outside of the great powers of the European state system. Those are flaws I hope will be addressed in the sequel – and I should note we have heard promising noises from the develops in this regard (though the proof will be in the playing, of course).

But more than the systems, I think Victoria triumphs because of the focus on pops and through that on actual people. Some other Paradox games (Stellaris, Imperator) ask ‘what do people mean to the state’ but Victoria II is the only game that really asks, “What does the state mean for people?” Militancy in particular gives the player direct feedback to know when their actions are making their own people angry or hurting them and the game does not back down from imposing real penalties for failing to make life at least passably decent for the pops under your care and the digital humans they represent. And the game relentlessly counts each pop (and each pop is given meaning through the things they can produce or the future pops they can create). The game makes the player care about the people under their governance through its mechanics.

One of the great weaknesses of nearly every historical game out there is that they almost always set the player in the role of either a ruler or an institution, a situation where the common people are largely instrumental rather than central. People in most historically set games end up feeling more like tools to a larger purpose. Victoria II doesn’t quite entirely escape the pull of this kind of presentation, but for all of its many flaws, it gets far closer than almost any other game I have played.

That is, I think, for all of the jank of the game, a considerable achievement. And one I hope to see continued (with, we may pray, a fair bit more polish) in the sequel.

171 thoughts on “Collections: Teaching Paradox, Victoria II Part III: World’s Fair

  1. As someone who really loves Vicky2, I do have to agree that its inability to pick a tone between “Seriously presenting things as a state leader at the time would have seen things” and “mocking the bad ideas and hypocrisies of the 19th century ruling classes” is one of its weaker points. I may get quite annoyed by it (and judging by some of your posts on this blog about presentations of religion in medieval-esque settings like Game of Thrones, it might be annoying to you to), but at least both CK2 and CK3 are pretty consistent in their mockery and borderline contempt of medieval religiosity. It doesn’t cascade between taking medieval religion completely seriously in one event and openly mocking it in the next. Meanwhile, as amusing as it is that one of the events for fabricating a casus belli for taking a colony from another country is “They probably aren’t even properly exploit–educating the the natives!” in Vicky2, it really doesn’t mesh well with most of the rest of the game.

    1. Such mockery also carries the danger of mocking the details when it is the essence that is the problem– and not limited to that era.

      People making plans to topple a statue because of some connection to slavery on slave-made phones…

      1. Exploitation and slavery are terrible problems with our global economy. Is the device you used to post this free of exploitation? Or are you simply snarking because you approve of statues commemorating racists?

        1. A good response to your first point would be to not expend effort on something that is of no benefit to any slave when you could try to do something to help the slaves., and instead try to help them.

          An evil one is to try to impose a purity test on someone who notes you are what you claim to object to.

          1. You’ve kind of dodging thrust of the other commenters point.

            You’re criticising people for mobilising to remove statues of slavers because they ‘could try to do something to help slaves’. You’re implying that trying to get the statues removed is bad because it’s not good enough for your standards. Surely if removing the statues is good you can be happy people are doing it even if you don’t think it’s the best use of their efforts?

          2. You lie.

            I criticize people who actively profit from slavery occurring here and now trying to take the moral high ground by indulging in pointless gestures about slavery occurring a century and a half ago.

            Also, given that they attacked the statue of an abolitionist and a memorial to black Union soldiers, it is clear that your “if” is a counter-factual. Any advantage achieved by any removal of any statue is clearly and obviously dwarfed by the encouragement given to a hate-filled lust to destroy without distinction.

          3. I see no reason to accuse others of lying.

            Bret allows some lively discussions on this board, and I think arguments can remain civil, i.e., without this kind of outright accusation.

          4. It is the height of uncivil behavior to take the side of the liar. and refuse to let the person lied about even note that it was a lie.

          5. In that case, it’s better you have no intention of keeping to eat if you ever want to criticize exploitation, seeing that, no matter where you are, near slavery in the fields is a given.
            Just keep consuming and ignore the costs of civilization, they get to send some money home and become civilized too!

      2. The statues in question are intended to glorify individuals who, in the modern day, are understood to be unworthy of glorification. And in the case of statues of confederates, their intent is explicitly to glorify slavery and to impose upon the descendants of those who were enslaved a sense of social unacceptable. Immagine, for a moment, the experience of walking every day under the shadow of representations of men that faught to keep your ancestors enslaved. It has a profound psychological effect of emboldening the abusers and terrifying the victims. So bringing statues of slaveholders down is hardly a pointless act, it serves to reinforce that racism is wrong and will not be accepted in the modern day. It emboldens the victims of racism and marginalized the racists in a very real way (which is why racists are so obsessed with keeping their symbols like the confederate flag prominently displayed in public, these symbols being removed is a significant step on the path to racial equality).

        Moreover, in order to be consistent in this take you would need to oppose the bringing down of statues of Stalin and Lenin after the fall of the USSR. Do you also oppose the effort to destroy the monuments of Nazism in germany after WWII?

        And even if planning to topple a statue of a slaveholder using smart phones made by slaves is meaningfully hypocritical, so what? Does that make it wrong to want that statue taken down? Do you think these activists could meaningfully effect global supply chains? Or are you suggesting that they boycott smart phones?

        I doubt any of this will actually change your mind. Generally, arguments of hypocrisy are not made in good faith any more than ad hominem arguments. Even the slightest bit of thought makes it immediately obvious that whether a person is a hypocrite or not has nothing to do with the goodness of a particular belief or action. Accusing that those who topple these statues are hypocrites does not make the action wrong.

        1. Was there some point to that?

          Because if you were actually arguing the existence of those statues is a far greater evil than the existence of slavery in the current day, it didn’t come across.

          1. Well you definitely missed the point. These statues are intended to cut certain people, especially black people, out of civil society. Almost all 9f the statues now in contention were erected at the start of the Jim Crow era and were explicitly intended to reinforce that black people were not welcome in society. That they were lesser and aught to live in fear of and subjugation to white men. Their continued presence carries the same message.

            Is this worse than slavery? No. But it is still an evil that aught to be undone? Yes. There is oo place for these statues in a free society and to take then down will improve the lives of all citizens. Yes, even the people that defend these remnants of hate will benefit from their removal. Because by removing these symbols of bigotry from public life we take a further step in making bigotry socially unacceptable. And in so doing we ensure that there are fewer (and less extreme) bigots in each generation. And bigotry does no service to the bigot. The country can only be improved by the removal of these symbols of hatred and subjugation, so naturally opposed to the ideals of its founding.

          2. What a way to double down.

            Even granting these absurd claims — a statue of an elk was erected to make blacks feel unwelcome — people who exploit real, current-day slave labor are double-dyed hypocrites for claiming that so distant a connection is an injury to them.

            Also, they are bigots themselves because they literally defend getting angry about slavery only after checking the race of those enslaved, so you are encouraging, not discouraging, bigotry.

          3. Accusations of hypocrisy are a classical example of ad hominem argument, attacking the people and not ther ideas. I’ll give a simple and relevant example here.

            Immagine a slave holder in the old south who publically argues that slavery is wrong and the practice should be ended. His opponents naturally reply;

            “you decry the practice of black slavery and yet you own slaves, curious!?!?”

            And this is obviously true, to decry slavery while partaking in slavery is obviously hypocritical. But, fors this mean slavery isnt wrong? Obviously not. Slavery is evil and the hypocrisy of those arguing against it does not change this fact. Every single person arguing against slavery could be a hypocrite, and they would still be right.

            We can even take this further. Let us assume the least charitable possible take on the opponents of any injustice, that they are both hypocrites and entirely self interested. Let’s say the slave holder in the prior hypothetical happens to also own a successful factory. Currently, most capital investment in the south goes to the very profitable slave plantations. But the end of slavery will mean; 1. That capital investment will need to shift to other industries, like his factory, in search of returns. And; 2. That a massive influx of free labor will drive down labor costs and allow him to hire more workers for less pay at his factory using all that new investment, greatly increasing proffits.

            So not only is this guy a hypocrite, but his advocacy against slavery is entirely selfish, he has good reason to believe that the end of slavery will make him a lot of money. Taking this into account, is it wrong for him to advocate against slavery? Is slavery in any way defended by pointing these fact out? Let us go even further, and assume for the sake of the argument that everyone who ever advocated against slavery was/is both a hypocrite and acting entirely out of their own self interest. Does this make slavery less wrong? Obviously not, and so opposition to slavery can still be morally correct even if all opponents of slavery were self interested and hypocritical monsters.

            Now, for the benefit of anyone who has read through this I’d like to point to some common tropes in reactionary arguments of the sort made by the person I am replying to. I have already touched on the ad hominem attack of claiming hypocrisy. But there are other elements here:

            First is bringing up an unsourced and vague allusion to something that sounds patently ridiculous on its face. The implication is that a statue of an elk is being brought down because of a connection to slavery. That certainly seems far fetched on its face, but we have no reason to believe that this is even happening.

            And even assuming that this is a relatively honest summation of events, we are missing context. Perhaps this statue is closely connected to slavery, maybe it was put up by a prominent local slaveholder and/or confederate. Maybe it is the symbol of some local pro slavery or anti civil rights group from the past. It is entirely possible that for the local community this “deer” statue really does represent racial hatred and slavery. And is it not up to the local community to decide what symbols adorned their public spaces, so long as it does not spread bigotry and hatred?

            And even if this truly is as ridiculous as it is made out to be, so what? The existence of a few excesses does not impugne the movement as a whole. And it is not up to us to defend and justify the actions of others, only our own. The taking down of Jim crow era pro confederacy statues is a good thing, and should continue even if a fee people go “too far” in some edge case.

            And then there is the claim that actually taking down statues that glorify racists is the real racism. But this is obviously ridiculous if one thinks on it for a few moments. How could removing a statue of Robert E. Lee, for example, be racist against white people? Is the argument being made here that removing a statue glorifying a person (or people) that engaged in and/or faught to defend slavery is racist against whites? This seems to imply that fighting for and engaging in slavery is somehow integral to whiteness, which seems like a prety racist assessment of white people to me.

            It’s either that or somehow the removal of any statue of a white person is anti white racism. Or is it that the removal of any statue because that person was a white supremacist anti white racism? Was it racist to bring down statues and symbols of Hitler and the Nazis after WWII? This contention, that taking down statues of white supremacists is somehow anti white racism brings with it the implication that being white means being a white supremacist, and as a white person I consider such a contention prety racist!

            Remember when you hear “its heritage not hate” that the heritage being referred to is one of hatred, bigotry and white supremacy built on a foundation of black slavery.

          4. When you’re in a hole, stop digging. Your accusation of ad hominem is in fact the ad hominem in hand. Hypocrisy is the subject of what you were feigning to attack, and therefore the relevant fallacy is ignoratio elenchi, which you have been indulging in from your first claim.

          5. But it is still an evil that aught to be undone? Yes.

            At what cost? If the cost is the preservation and continuation of slavery, NO.

          6. These statues are intended to cut certain people, especially black people, out of civil society.

            Also, complete lies vitiate your argument. The statues targeted included those of abolitionists and memorials for black Union Civil War soldiers.

            When you maintain that a memorial to black soldiers is intended to cut black people out of civil society, you have demonstrated beyond a doubt that you are lying.

          7. It occurs to me that some people reading this will be missing some context about the elk statue in question. There was a much-beloved elk statue in downtown Portland, set in the middle of a street in order to convey the notion that nature does not care about our convenience. In the summer of 2020, Black Lives Matter protests escalated, and many statues were knocked down. The elk statue was not one of these! It was removed by the city to keep it safe, a move that was generally ridiculed by the protestors, who turned the soul of the elk statue into a sort of patron spirit, and put an inflatable elk where the statue had been

          8. Vandalizing the elk statue seems traditional for Portland protests, including Occupy Portland. Which means

            “Even granting these absurd claims — a statue of an elk was erected to make blacks feel unwelcome”

            is itself an absurd claim: no evidence has been presented that anyone claimed the elk statue was erected to make blacks feel unwelcome.

          9. So your position is that they vandalized it in a fit of mindless vicious destructiveness despite their open claims to destroy statues for connections to slavery?

          10. “Vandalizing the elk statue seems traditional for Portland protests, including Occupy Portland.”

            Well, alright then. We all know that “traditional” activities are immune from criticism. In fact, it’s probably racist or something to criticize any traditional activity.

        2. > Do you think these activists could meaningfully effect global supply chains? Or are you suggesting that they boycott smart phones?

          Well, yeah actually, they could.

          The arguments against statue toppling and similar activities, and arguments made by leftists, not conservatives, are that 1. it’s ineffective and serves only to make the protesters feel better about themselves; and/or 2. it’s actually harmful, a diversion from meaningful change.

          The first argument is that far too many “progressives” are obsessed with post-modern symbolism and language. Toppling a statue is a symbolic gesture. The people making these gestures feel better about themselves, and don’t actually have to do anything that is personally inconvenient or costs money, but there’s no measurable improvement in, eg, the infant mortality / education / imprisonment rates / employment opportunities of black people.

          The second argument is that statue toppling, and other current day “progressive” activist favourites such as emphasising racial identity, preserves the existing power structures and exploitive capitalism. Wall St doesn’t give a f**k about Confederate era statues or race and gender. Those at the top of the global capitalist system just want it to continue, and if that means 50% female billionaires, 12% female billionaires, or whatever other ratios are “equitable” that’s fine.

          This is my inadequate summary. Two much better writers are Freddie de Boer, who you can find on Substack; and the book “Woke, Inc” by V Ramaswamy.

          1. As I stated, symbols like the statues in question or the confederate flag have the effect of making a section of the population, black people, feel unwelcome in their own communities. At the same time they embolden the racists who identify with these symbols. So removing the symbols ismt some pointless gesture that only serves to make activists feel better about themselves. It actively changes the social environment, making bigotry more overtly unacceptable and removing a chilling effect from the black community (and other racial minorities by extension). This does have a tangible positive effect on the lives of black people and that effect will grow with time as fewer and fewer white people get the racist bug transmitted to them. Racism spreads like a disease, by removing it from public spaces you slow its transition. You can tell that such deplatforming works based on how terrified racists are of deplatforming. If removing these statues really didnt matter, reactionaries wouldnt be so mad about it.

            Moreover, it is possible to fight for more than one cause at a time. One can advocate for economic and social justice at the same time. In fact, I would argue that they are both inextricably linked and that one cannot ever be achieved without the other. Generally speaking minority groups are the most committed to economic justice for exactly this reason, so by empowering minorities and disempowering the bigots who try to dominate them you are in fact actively promoting economic equality.

            Also, also; the case you made sounds awfully similar to the arguments made by people like Kyle Kulinski. The problem with this way of thinking is that giving up on social progress in the hope of easier economic progress dosnt work. The right will never shift on its economic stances no matter how much they signal at economic populism. So the left gains nothing from sacrificing social issues in order to focus on economics, in this typically just results in the disillusionment of some of the most committed followers if the cause. Constantly dangling the possibility of joining the left on economic issues if they would only abandon the social issues has been a strategy of the right for a very long time, and it has never worked for the left.

  2. “none of the great imperial powers did simply decide to embrace pluralism and incorporate their colonial possessions as full core elements of the state except for a handful of relatively small islands.”

    You forget French Algeria, good sir.

    Full representation in the national government, and French citizenship for anyone willing to convert.

    1. If they are willing to convert. French Algeria was overwhelmingly Muslim until the very end, and very oppressive towards said Muslims to the end.

    2. Of course, the ultimate outcome of the French presence in Algeria — high militancy among the indigenous majority and a vibrant anticolonial independence movement, prompting a humiliating French withdrawal from a territory that had previously been regarded as a core part of France, destabilizing the entire French political system for years and even leading a cadre of disgruntled right-wing military officers to attempt a fascist coup — might be an object lesson in why European powers didn’t generally dabble in such experiments in nominal political equality for their colonial possessions, at least not until they’d imported enough European settlers to decisively outnumber the natives. (The latter of which was a de facto mandatory precondition for a US territory to be considered for statehood, as happened in Hawaii but not, say, Puerto Rico or the Philippines.)

      1. I honestly do think French Algeria was, in some sense, the blueprint for the stateification mechanic, flawed as it is in many ways.

    3. Only on the condition of rather painful assimilation, though, which was not appealing to the vast majority of the population.

  3. Typos:

    “Each state has an ‘upper-house’ which much approve reforms” – must?

    “(which in turn led the South to succeed)” – secede?

    “(and perhaps made a path that any sufficiently inclined naval power my choose to pursue)” – may?

    “Breach-loaded Rifles”
    “(machine guns and breach-loading rifles)”
    “medicine and breach-loaders (as before)”

    breach or breech?

    “Headrick’s other two developments were modern industrialized naval superior and steam power. ” – superior what?

    “But more than the systems, I think Victoria triumphs because of the focus on pops and through the on actual people” – through that or through them?

    Now I am recalling one of Iain M. Banks later “Culture” novels where there is much discussion of the when or if the simulated people in games become complex enough that you need to start considering their rights.

    1. “as well as for the well being of the citizens of that state” – “wellbeing” (possibly optional)
      “All nations with their capitals in Asia and Africa, with the exceptions of Oranje and Transvaal are uncivilized from the beginning of the game” – “Transvaal, are”
      “which in turn led the South to sucede” – “secede”
      “except for the occasionally British effort to nab the Pacific Northwest” – “occasional”?
      “its discovery change is doubled” – “chance”
      “various sub-inventions and technologies that offer increased discovery change then” – “chance” again, and now I’m wondering whether I’ve misunderstood.
      “suddenly exposing one ‘remote’ (to Europe) places” – “once”
      “the imperial core who would be loathe to share” – “loath”
      “this doesn’t happen in Victoria II and in deed apart from a few” – “indeed”
      “these systems could mostly be better represents through” – “represented”
      “we have heard promising noises from the develops in this regard” – “developers”

  4. “but the issue of slavery still very easily becomes an abstract issue of maximizing production rather than a concrete issue of human suffering”

    I think it is hard to really get around this. Most people that play a videogame and try to maximize their success. Other socially positive things are also there to help the player out. Investing in art, increasing literacy or pushing through social reforms? You don’t do that because you want to have complex, developed, articulate people (unless you roleplay). You do that because of the bonuses it gives. You make the mental calculation, what is better, paying for basic healthcare, or stomping down rebellions. The game even has a feature which is purely there for caring about your pops, Prohibition. It lowers your tax income and increases militancy, and gives no bonuses. As the wiki puts it “All in all the decision actively hurts the country and is one of the worst decisions in the entire game.”

    Which reminds me of your piece of outlawing gas attacks. Governments did not ban them because of humanistic reasons, but because they simply did not have a place in modern warfare. And that same dynamic is also present in the game, you do not become a constitutional monarchy (from an absolutist monarchy) because you think absolutism is wrong, but because it will help your state.

    1. I don’t even see why it’s a problem. I’ve barely played CK2, but one thing that still sticks with me was getting the “Expel the jews” event. Here’s this thing that a lot of people did back in the day, that seemed to me purely randumb evil. And here I am as a player contemplating doing it too because I do like money.

      I think Paradox games are at their best when min-maxing their mechanics leads you to reenact historic decisions which would seem motivated purely by foolishness or idealism. It’s more powerful when it happens through the frame of the mechanics alone.

      1. I’ve heard of a player — I forget the game — complaining that a certain game forces you to engage in slave trading. When someone from the company objected there was literally nothing forcing you, the player whined that it was SO profitable. Unsurprisingly the person from the company said that they are not sorry for causing moral dilemnas.

        1. Well that is quite surprising. I see a lot of game devs make sure that whatever path you take, it is always equally rewarding. Otherwise people feel that they make “the wrong choice” or feel they get punished for choosing their preferred solution.

          1. Usually “rewarding” in the sense that the player’s choice is meaningful and leads to a different outcome.

            (I do remember a “Choose Your Own Adventure” dungeon
            gamebook where it seemed that all choices amounted to nothing, because whatever you did, you still completed the quest. We turned it into a competition to see who could find a way to actually get killed by a monster.)

            Most game developers strive to give the players more than one way to win. As many decisions as possible should be multiple choice, in the sense that it isn’t obvious which choice you should take, nor should it be obvious that some choices will automatically lead to failure. With a random number generator in the mix, even low probability / risky choices might actually pay off.

            Within a game, this is good. Not everyone wants to minimax their outcome. There are players who say in Vicky2 want to see if they can become a Great Power while remaining pacifist. And there’s the emotional factor in multiplayer human games, eg Diplomacy, where players form alliances or backstab each other for non-rational reasons. A study of history shows that yes this is “realistic” behaviour.

            The big, big, problem for game designers, which comes up frequently in the comments on this blog, is whether to allow players to “win” by making choices that are currently considered immoral.

            So for example in tabletop wargaming, I’ve played a game where the objective was, literally, to win WW3 by nuking opponents. At the end of it one player summed it up as “well that was very enjoyable and morally disturbing.” Because it was fun! As long as you didn’t think too much about what, or rather who, those counters on the map actually represented.

            Even my earlier example of the Choose Your Own Adventure gamebook is dodgy. We were trying to figure out how to get this individual, with a name and brief personal background, horribly killed?

            As someone who lived through the panic about Dungeons & Dragons encouraging satanic worship, and about first person shooter computer games encouraging mass murder, I come down on the side of “it’s a game, there won’t be societal negative effects from those immoral choices in-game, may even cause players to think about the real world implications.”

            It’s complicated.

    2. Also, if you make ending slavery not the “right” decision in mechanics terms, especially in this period in history where in reality it got abolished in many places, people will complain about slavery being better than in reality or they will use it to excuse their favourite slavers because “like in , it is just very effective!”

    3. To a certain extent you’re kind of getting close to a deeper issue, or I suppose element, of what it means to have a game about history. IRL, you don’t WIN history. There are ways to win or lose at a tactical level (e.g. state gets annexed, or having your cause fail), but there isn’t a unified question of winning. Paradox games are *largely* better at this than, say, Civilization, at least in so far as most players don’t play Vicky to try to be #1 at 1936 (or at least, they might do that once or twice but it’s not the dominant mode). They typically are doing some amount of roleplaying and exploration.

      That said, the question then becomes “what is the intended play of Victoria.” Because Vicky players are not totally freeform, they have in fact settled on certain modes or lenses for understanding their own gameplay and success. A lot of this tends to involve painting the map, but also a lot of it involves hitting certain industrialization goals by certain periods, and particularly accomplishing certain event decisions or boundaries with certain countries. Having a fulfilled, happy populace is rarely a significant end goal here, and I think that is not because of something about the essential nature of history being simulated (because, again, that essence is not to be found), but because the game verbage doesn’t make that particularly rewarding. The example I like is from Dan Olson talking about Dark Souls – the game may tell you its bad to kill every single NPC in the game, but it still rewards you with interaction and content. For people who aren’t trying to optimize for winning (which again most Paradox players are not), the responsiveness of the system is the guide for intended play. Having a healthy, happy citizenry in V2 isn’t that much more interesting than a miserable, depressed citizenry, save for its use as a means to to forestall or accelerate political changes that may be part of your strategy.

      That said I don’t think this is all that bad, if the goal of V2 is to portray 19th century statesmen as total sociopaths (which…well, I’ll let you read the history books and judge that for yourself). Eventually though, the designers at Paradox are making game design decisions about what elements of the game system they want to be rich and which shallow, and they did basically make the subgame of ‘enlightened populace’ more shallow than other subgames they made.

    4. Most people that play a videogame and try to maximize their success.

      I feel like this is a bit…homogenizing? There are absolutely genres where that is the dominant way players play, but there are others where only a minority do. Framing it as “most gamers focus on success, some don’t worry about it” instead of something directly tied to the game being played makes this analysis limited in its utility. After all, if we can recognize that players in (say) RPGs often pick sub-optimal choices for ethical/narrative reasons, we can try to figure out why they do that and incorporate that into (say) a grand strategy game.

      That said, I don’t think a Paradox grand strategy game is a good vehicle for that kind of thing. RPGs that get people to worry about the morality of their actions seem to need the player character, some of the people they affect, or both to be fully-realized characters; while this doesn’t require a totally linear game, it does require a game with a bounded narrative, and Paradox’s historical sandboxes are basically the opposite of that.
      (An aside: Crusader Kings characters aren’t anywhere near fully realized, basically being procedural bags of traits, but they do come a lot closer than anything in the other PDX games I’ve played, and I just realized that might be why both of my favorite PDX games are Crusader Kings.)

      And while this isn’t important, I’m not sure how I feel about calling Prohibition “caring for your pops”. Sure, alcohol can hurt people, but banning alcohol doesn’t do much to alleviate those hurts.

      1. I made this statement out of my own experiences and from my time gaming I’ve seen many people pursue success over suboptimal choices. Now of course this is anecdotal, the experience of players that bother to use online forums to discuss a game. So I can see your problem with it. For example in RPGs I often see that people will pick good/evil and then just stick with one choice, instead of making a choice on a per case basis. But in those games game developers often still make a choice to make sure both sides get similar rewards.
        As for paradox games, you have many roleplayers (I think CK permits this more since you control a character, rather than a faceless state), but the game does seem to nudge you in a certain direction. Between the great power list and your game being cut short if your state is fully annexed the message seems to be “get high prestige/industrial power/military power and if you get fully annexed you messed up”.

        I mentioned the prohibition since this was a clear case where a moral choice does not align with increased state power. I thought it was important enough to mention as a counterpoint to Devereaux’s assessment that abolishing slavery might feel a bit more of a “powerplayer” choice rather than a moral choice.
        As for whether its actually good, I have no issues with alcohol consumption myself (I drink), but at the time drinking was more abusive. Factory managers that paid out their workers in a pub (they had a deal with), imperial russia that had a monopoly on vodka, alcohol generally being used to keep the populace drunk and docile. Socialism at the time wanted to prohibit alcohol, and the temperance moment sprung up, because they saw alcohol as a poison destroying the working class. So I don’t think a ruler trying to rein it in is all that bad (just dont go 100%).

        1. Establishing a state monopoly on alcohol production and distribution and jacking up the price to fill state coffers is a way of reining in alcohol consumption. (The same effect can be achieved, of course, with an appropriate regime of regulation and taxation.)

  5. Maybe the serfdom in Russia could be modeled using the same mechanics in the new game. It had the same effect: a part of population was forced to live in poverty (consume little resources), didn’t have representation in political system and could work only as unskilled workers because of low literacy. It was abolished almost at the same time as US civil war despite the opposition of landed aristocracy and enabled industrialization of Russia.

    1. In one of the popular mods, Historical Project Mod (HPM), the mod developers actually do model serfs separately from slaves using mostly the same mechanics, and consider them to be one rung up from slavery.

      1. Personally I’d say that serfdom is a form of slavery. Sure, serfs had some rights, but so did slaves in many areas of the world.

        1. The English word “slave” is literally derivative of the word Slav, ethno/language group of the general population in Russia, Poland, etc., So at least in the English language to be a “slave” is very much to be like a Eastern European peasant/serf.

          Interesting aside for r classism in the the English language, the English word for English serfs is “villain”. And an act is f villainy is to behave like a serf, historically usually by stealing yourself from the land and going outside the legal requirements of land bondage.

          1. That is nonsense. C.S. Lewis has a whole chapter on this in *Studies in Words*, but the acts first marked out as villainous were breaches of chivalry such as rudeness — and rape.

          2. As I understand it the etymology of slave was that the Slavs–prior to conversion to Christianity–were considered fair game for enslavement in the early Middle Age, rather than a commentary on their relationship with their own feudal lords later in the period.

          3. The word for slave is a derivative of “Slav” is most European languages (French ‘esclave’ and similar in Italian and Spanish; ‘sklave’ in German and so on). Comes from the period when people from eastern and south-eastern Europe were the main source of slaves – roughly 900 to 1300 (before that a lot of the victims were British and Irish, taken and sold by Vikings)

        2. IIRC, serfs in England could not be bought and sold, which strikes me as being quite a big difference. Russian serfs would have been more comparable:

          https://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674920989

          I’d say the big difference is that serfs were seen as low-ranking Russians, but slaves were seen more like low-ranking enemy aliens.

          American slaves were the country’s major security threat, other country’s slaves were a more minor security threat, Russians slaves were hardly a threat at all.

          1. Insofar as we can generalize the usage, the serf has been a legal person, who could sue in court, for instance. The only lawsuit a slave could bring was a freedom suit claiming to not actually be a slave.

          2. Only note that serf uprisings – usually futile, but sometimes devastating (eg Pugachev), often inflicting extreme violence on the landlord family and their henchmen, were quite common and a major concern of the government.

          3. In addition to what Peter T wrote, I would note that extremely violent serf uprisings happened not just in Russia: Szela’s Uprising in Galicia, part of Austria comes to mind. It really does seem like a pattern which could be used by game developers to have a more general mechanics for many countries, as opposed to something unique for the US.

          4. “The only lawsuit a slave could bring was a freedom suit claiming to not actually be a slave.” And–oversimplifying a little–Dred Scott held that he could not even do that.

          5. No, he just lost. There were cases brought up to the verge of the Civil War. Frequently of people claiming to be not octoroons as their masters said, but kidnapped whites.

          6. Dred Scott held that a black man was not a citizen, and thus not entitled to bring suit in federal court based on diversity jurisdiction. That rule would not preclude an occasional suit by a white person claiming to be wrongfully enslaved, but it would preclude the vast majority of suits by slaves challenging their status.

          7. IIRC Russian serfs *couldn’t* be bought and sold when the Russian word was originally translated into English as serf but the institution evolved so they could later on.
            Which I think is a thing in general – whilst there are definitely meaningful differences between form of forced labour, people don’t necessarily change words as they change the form. In the opposite direction, that is after all, why we use a word in serf that derives from the Latin servus which we – correctly – translate as slave.

  6. I think that the “stateification” mechanic, as awkward as it is, does a decent job of simulating the imperial states that did attempt to extend their political and cultural homeland into their colonial empires. Here I’m thinking of the examples you cite: the US and Russia, where massive in-migration of people more racially and culturally acceptable to the imperial powers reduced indigenous people to a minority in many cases, but also French Algeria, which was ostensibly a political extension of Metropolitan France, but also restricted citizenship to only those culturally, linguistically and religiously acceptable to the imperial core.

    Admission to full political equality being gated behind the presence of a governing class that is sufficiently European for the powers that be to recognize it is ethically awful, but it seems like an ok way to model the logic of the racist ideologies that drove the imperial projects of the great powers in the period.

  7. “Likewise, the role that Britain played in encouraging (and in some cases forcing) other countries to abolish the slave trade…”

    Britain : The Slave Trade is officially over for everyone.
    Nigeria : What if I don’t want it to be?
    West Africa Squadron (RN), loading cannons in Lagos’ harbour : Well? What if you don’t?

  8. Having never played Victoria, I can still offer what I think is a good guess as to why they decided to simulate great power expansion into places like most of Africa and the U.S. westward expansion without using the war system. It’s very, very hard to meld into the same set of mechanics a unified set of war mechanics that simultaneously works for great power peer (and usually all out) conflicts on one pole, and small, often long duration but low intensity colonial wars on the other. I assume Vicky has war exhaustion mechanics similar to other Paradox titles, and I don’t think it would or should work that 4 years fighting natives in what’s now the Congo should be anywhere near as damaging to the colonial power’s political structure as 4 years of !not WW1.

    The game that got me into gaming, (and history. My first readings on history were to try to mine real life for strategies in the game) was a WW2 strategic level hex and chit wargame called “World in Flames”, by Australian Design Group. And it already has to carve out a lot of ugly and confusing exceptional rules for things like the Soviet-Japanese border conflicts, or the seizing of French overseas colonial possessions if France gets a pro-axis puppet regime installed.

    Just from what I’ve seen in these articles, Victoria has more flexibility than WiF does, but I’m sure that the reason that the colonial stuff isn’t considered a “war” by the game has a lot more to do with balancing game mechanics than anything else. You mentioned in an earlier post about how you tend to have most of your professional forces be artillery, and pad them out with lots of infantry reservists as a war continues. What happens if expanding into a colony is a “war” and then you can use that as a pretext to call out all your reserves, to get a nice mobilization advantage to rush one of your peers in Europe? Or if you intentionally drag out a colonization project for a while to discredit the more anti-war population segments for the pursuit of larger political goals (Assuming the politics actually work that way).

    Maybe you could make military force occupying a greater part of the colonial process and need to keep troops in your colony while you’re carving it out, have some sort of insugency and counterinsurgency mechanics to simulate combat during the process, but I suspect the game could not work if you make all of these little wars “wars” for purposes of game mechanics.

    1. Disclaimer: have also not played Vicky, and only for other Paradox titles played a tiny bit of EU4 then gave up because it was too complex to learn while in the middle of classes and homework.

      > I assume Vicky has war exhaustion mechanics similar to other Paradox titles, and I don’t think it would or should work that 4 years fighting natives in what’s now the Congo should be anywhere near as damaging to the colonial power’s political structure as 4 years of !not WW1.

      Perhaps the exhaustion system should work differently then? Perhaps the exhaustion could scale with troops committed, lost and inversely to distance to important economic or political centers. So if a potential colony managed to put up enough of a fight that you had to send the entire army for 4 years, it would not be as bad as WWI but it would still give you quite some exhaustion.

      > You mentioned in an earlier post about how you tend to have most of your professional forces be artillery, and pad them out with lots of infantry reservists as a war continues. What happens if expanding into a colony is a “war” and then you can use that as a pretext to call out all your reserves, to get a nice mobilization advantage to rush one of your peers in Europe?

      My interpretation was that you didn’t want to have reservists called because 1) they don’t like it and 2) they don’t do their normal jobs anymore, so calling them up early isn’t as useful because it damages your economy, but again, have not played, idk how it works.

      I think your last paragraph is a good alternative though, force you to station troops, lose some to attrition. Potentially there could be an event that is basically “some local nation decides to oppose you, declares war and marches on your local troops” that can force you into a more normal battle to

      1. Colonial conflicts have always been a problem in Paradox games, partially due to actually doing them and partially to get the AI to be able to play them.

        The classic example in EU4 is Spain Invading the aztecs with 50,000 men, denuding the country of defences and then being conquered by Morocco.

        AI’s are generally *very bad* at doing the kind of gradual scaling that humans do. It’s hard for humans to decide how much to invest, when to fold, and when the cost outweighs the benefits (especially when allocating limited resources and having to deal with contingencies like “Do i bring these troops over here where I am actually fighting or do I keep them here to deter against a possible but not inevitable invasion?”) for an AI it’s almost impossible.

        There’s not only the matter of scale (though by Vicky times at least, the amount of troops committed are often at least enough to be existent in the units granularity) but in EU4’s north american theatre where 500 men is a signfiicant force it gets messy quick. (so things gets scaled extremely ahisotrically both when it comes to natives and imperialists)

        There are ways of doing better, I think, but they almost always involves carving out some kind of exception from the “general rule” (whether or not that general rule should be wars between the Great Powers is a different matter that I think could be debated)

        There is some kind of balance between “exceptional game mechanics” and “universal systems” somewhere there and then the question of how to define them, but I don’t know how to do it.

    2. Paradox games are war games, wars are big events player have to focus on, move troops around. There is lots of micromanagement required to do a war and it can be really tedious to play one without a powerful foe to beat and conquer.

      In my first game of EUIV (early days of the game) I played as Emperor of Japan, united it and than focused on colonizing/conquering pretty much every island in Pacific ocean. My personal goal was to conquer China, but I needed much more strength to do so, so I accidentally recreated WWII era maximal Japan empire (plus colonies in Australia).

      There is so many islands in the region and back then, I had to send around 10k troops to each province with a settler to not lose all progress because of random attacks from locals. It was chore, there was no challenge, there was no chance of loosing, just annoying island hopping without any opposition.

      Later Paradox added Colonization policies, to allow different approaches. One was same as old one, second granted increase speed of colonization, but greatly increased chance of an uprising. The third one lowered speed. but reduced chance of uprising to zero. I wish I had that third button during this campaign, it would be so much smother experience.

  9. Once again requesting that these posts include links to larger versions of the screenshots. As it is the details are very difficult to read.

  10. I sometimes wonder if Britain would have abolished and been so militant about it afterwards if the American Colonies hadn’t seceded.

    1. Great Britain abolished slavery in 1833, which precludes the Confederate secession as a cause. It most likely had more to do with the decline of the political and economic power of British sugar planters in the Caribbean.

      On subsequent militancy, I can’t say, but they appear to have been pretty forceful again before the US Civil War. That said, a lot of the British acts against the international slave trade were timed to coincide with US bans on international trade in human beings, so there was almost certainly some mutual influence there.

      1. I’m pretty sure they meant the 1783 secession. IE if Britain had kept control of the North American cotton plantations, would they still have been as gung ho about abolition?

        1. Exactly this – if the Southern Colonies are still populated by Englishmen, who are making their money and paying their taxes To The Crown (instead of competing with &c)

          I mean, I’m presupposing that the Colonies get meaningful representation in Parliament and GB politics (which India never really did), but, the Colonists are (as they took pains to point out in the run-up) Englishmen, not $DEROGATORY_COMMENT_ABOUT_LOCALS$

          OTOH, Britain could not both give the colonists what they wanted AND remained an empire centered in and run by London…

    2. My guess very much so. They play the moral card and end the Atlantic slave trade. Thus they retain viable and profitable slave colonies why slowly say killing the ones in the islands that could not maintain internal replacement (profits lost to other contries). Also gotta assume the Southern colonies get some kind of representation so a whole block of people directly advocating against abolition.

    3. In that case the slavery debate would presumably have been Britain + Northern States vs Southern States. So presumably the Southern States would have lost this debate rather sooner than in our timeline. A generation earlier, perhaps. In the 1830s…

      As I understand it, most legal traditions worldwide treated people as members of different groups, with different rights and privileges. Slaves fitted into that system as members of the group with fewest rights, or none at all. English law was very unusual, until the French Revolution, in that there was little or no legal difference between different orders and classes of society. So slavery was an unusually poor fit with English legal and political traditions.

      So people in almost every society might think it virtuous to free a slave, but few people outside England had any reason to think that slavery as such was wrong.

      1. It’s not at all clear to me whether Britain would have sided with the northern states over slavery, in this alternate reality.

        Part of the dynamic was the north wanted to commit to industrialization and manufacturing. The share of national wealth controlled by the agricultural slaveholding elites in the south worked against this, as did their control of the labor supply in the south. That tension would not have been present to influence the attitudes of British industrialists, who might have just preferred the cheap cotton and not wanted competition from their North American cousins.

        Put another way, do the rising British capitalists think in terms class interests and ideology and support the end of slavery and rise of free labor? Or do they prioritize regional interests and do what’s best for the industrialists in their home country?

      2. Don’t ignore the british West Indies in this case. Historically they were fairly minimal in their opposition but when allied with the southern states things become more complex.

      1. Although the Emancipation Proclamation killed off any real chance of British intervention, which was surely the point.

        This is why Antietam is far and away the most important battle of the Civil War, IMO – after it, military victory is an impossibility for the Confederacy (although hoping for Union war-weariness might still be a possibility).

  11. There’s something definitely worth teasing out in the semiotics of how strategy video games tend to simulate technology by collapsing knowledge and promulgation and implementation into single blocks and then simulate technological differences by blocking or throttling access to those blocks for particular groups. Because in Vicky2, you have a slightly more complex technological system, one where the spread of knowledge produces inventions, etc. and so the firm block on technological development at the level of knowledge becomes more prominently strange.

    (Similarly, Europa Universalis 3 had “unit groups” for military units which were weighted to produce “historical” outcomes- West Asian units are stronger early on but reduce in strength, states in the Americas and Africa south of the Sahara have pitifully weak units- but also had reductions in technological progress for states that weren’t Western Europeans, with an option for states to adopt Western European technology and units through a long process that left them vulnerable. Which seems like a baffling duplication of effort. But of course, the way in which technology is represented in video games creates the urge to simulate perceived technological inferiority via restricting access to technology as a whole, and this independent of the separate historical simulation mechanism of different unit groups.)

    Of course, getting into the weeds of, say, just why the Qing state deployed such a low percentage of musketeers during the 19th century in its wars, etc. takes you into the realm of requiring relatively serious research that quite possibly leads you to counterintuitive conclusions that disrupt the expected aspects of play, even if having a Qing state that is hampered by means within the default systems of play is better than having special exceptions carved out.

  12. On the artificial game hack to make China weak: I think that’s kind of par for the territory, unfortunately. One of the rare things that Sun Yat-Sen, Mao Zedong, and Chiang Kai-Shek could all agree on was that the Qing Dynasty suuucked. Really, China has no excuse to be as weak as it was during this period, but the government was bafflingly incompetent, just picking the worst functionaries, bureaucrats, generals, etc. Based on the world state in 1830, the version we got in real history seems among the worst to march down of the possibilities. So a simulation has to choose between the historically accurate option of a weak China, and the simulationist option of letting Asia in this period play out very differently due to a more competent / less unlucky China AI. An artificial China-nerfing hack is a fair enough compromise on the matter, I think, to the extent the goal was to force things down a real history-ish path.

    1. Hearts of Iron runs into a similar issue with France. A more realistic start position would leave Germany getting beaten fairly early, as long as the French command is sufficiently aggressive in 1939, but that makes for a poor WW2 game

    2. It’s often a bit less incompetence (though there certainly was plenty of it) and more very different political goals and constrains: Historians see again and again the Qing sacrificing “Winning” in the Paradox sense for eliminating internal political threats. (and managed to admittedly in a flawed manner, navigate these fairly treacherous water until for the entire 19th century, not a bad run for an ethnic minority vastly outnumbered by it’s subject population and quickly losing the military edge that made the initial conquest possible.

      There are examples for instance where the Qing court clearly saw (and arguably, rightly so) the western powers as less of a threat than empowering han-chinese elites, a weak military was preferable to a strong one because that would mean giving power to chinese people outside of the power-structure. (and they were, eventually, proven right, the regime *was* overthrown by the Beyiang army after all)

      1. Basically, the Qing while not truly a steppe people (Manchuria is in the forest zone) were in a lot of ways the last Steppe Empire, just at the point in time where those kinds of empires were getting outpaced, The Qing had to deal with not only imperialist aggression from the west but also their status as a minority ethnic-group trying to hold on to power in a vast multi-ethnic empire. (and the way they did this was often fascinating, eg. “China proper”, Manchuria, Mongolia/Turkestan, Tibet and various other attached territories were all ruled in different ways)

        It’s not particularly strange that the Qing saw the primary threat to their power as not being the imperialist europeans but their own subject-peoples.

  13. In the first sentence, “grad strategy game” sounds like a really cool idea for a game – let’s say, a roguelike where you play a grad students trying to finish a thesis and get a job – but I think it’s a typo ;).

    1. (As a grad student racing to submit his thesis before the end of the month:) Now THAT sounds like exactly the kind of nail-biting, nerve-wracking, edge-of-your-seat-tense action the gaming industry needs!

  14. There’s actually a weird scaling with the images that matches the text size. So if you zoom your browser all the way in such that the column of text takes up the entire screen width, you get a reasonably sized image.

    Of course, then the main text is hopelessly impractical.

    The best option is probably to zoom in, open the large image in another tab/window, and then zoom back out to something sensible again.

  15. Quick note on the Chinese substate system – the actual reason it was implemented was because of the global trade system. I was a beta tester for the Heart of Darkness expansion, and during the beta for some reason that was never fully worked out, when any country would sphere China, the global economy would crash. It was some issue related to Chinese pops having priority access to global goods through Britain or another Great Power’s priority position in the global economy hierarchy, I think. It impacted everybody, including whoever sphered China, and was a fatal issue that didn’t improve even after China was removed from that sphere

    The devs couldn’t figure out how to fix the trade system so that wouldn’t happen, so they just hard coded it that it’s impossible to sphere a country with above a certain population. But that brought up another problem – we’ve got all of these wars with China historically about getting access to Chinese trade goods, which in-game was represented by spheres of influence. So the devs decided to split up China – the sub-states would be small enough to sphere, representing the European (and American and Japanese) competition for access to China’s market

    1. Indeed! I played back then and I remember at release how sphereing China would cause absurd economic results. I didn’t want to get too far into why the sub-state system was adopted, just to note that I thought it wasn’t an ideal solution.

  16. “None of the great imperial powers did simply decide to embrace pluralism and incorporate their colonial possessions as full core elements of the state except for a handful of relatively small islands.”

    I will say there was one very interesting and temporary exception to this during the Napoleonic Wars, and that is Brazil. With the occupation of Portugal in 1807, the Portuguese court transferred to Rio de Janeiro, and this became the capital of the Portuguese Empire until 1820, with around 15,000 people having moved there as part of the court and government.

    As a result, VERY briefly between 1815 and 1822, the country was officially the United Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil and the Algarves, a transatlantic equality NOT shared by Portugal’s Africa colonies.

    It didn’t last because Brazil became independent very shortly afterwards and was recognized as such by the Portuguese in 1825. It is pretty much unique in that a colony effectively ruled the home country for 13 years.

  17. A few more typos:
    to become wealthy, power and secure – powerful?
    in the period period to the Scramble – two periods
    exposing one ‘remote’ (to Europe) places – once?
    and in deed apart from – indeed

  18. “The Chinese, after all, did not consider themselves to be uncivilized! ”

    I’m pretty sure that Europeans of the time did not consider the Chinese to be uncivilized. Oriental despots, perhaps, but not uncivilized.

    OTOH, it occurs to me that the Chinese themselves considered that only one man at a time could have the Mandate of Heaven, from which it follows logically that their Emperor should be the rightful ruler of the world. If they could have conquered the world, they certainly would have done. According to their own theory of imperial legitimacy, the very fact that they could do it, would prove that they ought to.

    1. I’d need to doublecheck scans of old newspapers to be sure, but I’m 99% certain that you had contemporary press claims in Britain of China being a kingdom of barbarians and savages after the whole incident with members of Parks’ delegation being tortured during the Second Opium War.

      1. Yeah, but that sort of hyperbole is fairly common when someone commits an atrocity or atrocities, even if they are normally regarded as “civilized.” See World War I propaganda about Germany (Huns, anyone?).

  19. “albeit it should be acknowledged that trans-Atlantic slavery can be fairly characterized as having been an uncommonly cruel form of slavery”

    I guess that depends on your definition of cruelty. India, which may have imported twice as many enslaved Africans as all of the Atlantic slave trading countries combined, has barely 300,000 of their descendants living because they were all killed as cannon fodder nearly as soon as they were unloaded from the boat. Seems quite cruel.

    I think it’s fair to say that the reason the U.S. has some rudimentary consciousness of its own historical racism (and India, well, struggles on that score) is that we still have a Black population. Unlike every other major slaveholding country except Brazil, we enslaved people and didn’t murder them all. Even in the Afro-Caribbean pretty much the entire Black population is descended from almost the last generation of enslaved persons imported, because the previous generations were all male and died doing the almost universally lethal task of farming sugarcane.

    This may not be a popular opinion, but again, it can only be unpopular or popular because genocide didn’t make it a moot point.

    I’m not really patting America on the back here; this isn’t because Americans are virtuous but because we grow cotton instead of cane (Louisiana excepted) and aren’t religiously forbidden from fighting our own wars. Nevertheless I’m going to say that while watching your kids grow up knowing they’ll never be free is almost intolerably cruel, it still beats being slaughtered young without kids.

    1. There are actually two sides to the US having a black population, theres the increased lethality in certain areas but the other is the very strict racial segregation and thus lack of assimilation. The (admittedly much smaller) slave populations in the iberian mainland for instance largely disappeared… But mainly becuase they eventually assimilated into the iberian majority, leaving only a few genetic markers and family stories. The same thing happens in the middle-east. (Not to say this wasnt in itself not a cruel process, it involved a whole lot of sexual violence for one thing)

    2. Most people use the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade as a term for all African export slavery. Where the slaves were considered consumptive goods or beasts of burden like cattle… hence the term “chattel” slavery. To differentiate between the coexisting Arab-sub Saharan slave system and domestic African slave systems. The African export slave systems often being more alike to each other than to past traditional forms of slavery in the Mediterranean basin, in case weren’t considering our knowledge base Eurocentric enough.

      1. Its a bit more complicated and seems to largely have to do with the purposes of the slavery, eg. its been argued that the “classic” transatlantic plantation slavery can be traced directly to roman agricultural slavery (via remainin slave plantations in Sicily and Iberia, then Madeira and the Azores, and finally the Carribean and the US South) when other places adopt plantation slavery (which happened briefly in the middle-east and also in the indian ocean) the structures seem to become similar.(though there is some variation depending on the precise crop and what htat means.

        What makes plantation slavery distinct is that A) You need a lot of slaves and B) you need them constantly, and there is a reat deal of ability to expand the system (so long as demand exists) eg. mining tends to be equally horrendeous, but there is basically a limit to the amount of slaves you can effectively employ in a mine. Construction works (which is another thing that tends to kill a lot of slaves) is another big consumer but those tends to by their nature be fairly limited (you build the thing you want built and then you are done and the demand for slaves plummets)

        Domestic slavery (IE: Where slaves are luxuries rather than capital goods) tends to be less lethal simply becuase there isnt the same economic incentives: Which doesent mean slaves werent beaten, killed, raped or mistreated in a million different ways, but there isnt the same “If I push them harder I earn more money” direct incentive. (theres “I push them harder and I get a cleaner house”, but thats not quite the same thing)

        There is a bit of a middle-ground where slaves are basically agricultural help in a non-export context (this seems to have been how thralls in scandinavia largely worked) which is somewhere in-between.

        1. The blatant Islamophobic slant of that article is getting the side eye from me. Anyone have a more academic source?

  20. Weren’t the worst atrocities committed in the Congo Free State rather than the Belgian Congo proper?

    1. Those are the same place, King Leopold just handed formal ownership from his individual person over to the country of Belgium.

      1. I know they are the same geographical location, but they were two separate states that existed in the same area.

    2. Yes. I found this a little glaring oversight in an otherwise good article. The Belgian Government explicitly didn’t want any colonies, and it was to King Leopold II in person that Congo was attributed. After the atrocities in the Congo Free State were exposed, he was obliged to hand it over to a, at that point, still reluctant Belgian government, who were as bad or as good Colonial overlords as the British and the French, but in different ways.

  21. Something of a nitpick, but actually utilizing Manifest Destiny as the United States basically does require a sizable war against Mexico. They hold most of the southwestern United States, and (ahistorically) may attempt immediate colonization of Colorado, Oklahoma, and Oregon.

    As part of the war system, it’s extremely difficult to take that much land from any power in a single war. In fact, just to come out historically quote-unquote “correct” the U.S. may actually need to go to war against Mexico two or even three times! A more experienced player can do it a single war although that’s not necessarily optimal, partly because Texas is virtually guaranteed to lose against Mexico when the game starts, unless the player intervenes.

  22. Excellent post, Dr. Devereaux.

    I will take issue with one minor point though-

    ‘They didn’t do so even under the pressure of two World Wars. Heck, to some degree the United States still hasn’t (though Hawaii may otherwise be one of the most notable exceptions to ‘colonial powers never did this.’

    I think that this is an uncharacteristic touch of American exceptionalism. If the idea is that in the present day, indigenous Hawaiians have nominal legal and social equality with other Americans, then that’s not exceptional at all- New Zealand grants such nominal equality to its indigenous population (and the various Pasifika peoples in the islands it still exercises suzerainty over.) France has largely done the same in French Polynesia and Guyana, Britain in its remaining crown territories. Australia and Canada have both abolished much of the oppressive legal regime (though by no means all of it) that oppressed their indigenous peoples.

    So if the measure is one of successful assimilation as defined by nominal legal equality, Hawaii is unexceptional. In fact, it performs worse than several of those other cases- indigenous Hawaiians have less political and legal protection than most indigenous groups in the continental United States, and certainly nothing to compare to the (inadequate) programs of recompense and reparations offered by New Zealand.

    If the measure is of successful assimilation in economic terms, then Hawaii is again not exceptional. Hawaiians, like the Māori, or First Nations Canadians or the Kanaks of French Caledonia remain notably poorer, subjected to worse outcomes in health care, educational opportunity, representation in politics etc than the rest of the state’s population.

    If the measure is of successful assimilation at a political level, then it’s still not exceptional. Hawaii being colonised, annexed and integrated as a state is no different on the face of it from the journey of Aotearoa to British ‘protectorate’ to self-governing colony to Dominion. Or of the push westward in Canada and the continental US. Or Australia.

    The process of Hawaii’s assimilation, in all, is absolutely typical for a settler colony.

    Sorry for going on at length. Forgive me- I’m defending my doctorate on Tuesday, a large chunk of which deals with imperial competition in the Pacific in the late nineteenth century, so this is on my mind. Besides, if I’ve learned one think from the doctoral process it’s that everyone loves- loves- someone who has ‘more of a comment than a question…’

    1. Hmm. I’m hesitant to disagree with someone writing their doctorate thesis on this, but this interpretation of the Native Hawaiian experience doesn’t sound right to me? Granted, historical Hawaii is probably exceptionally difficult to model in a game like Victoria II.

      My understanding is that native Hawaiians mostly got a comparatively good deal – they got to be the second rung in society. White Americans ended up on top, although as a substantial numerical minority, similar to Chinese in Malaysia. Native Hawaiians got middle class-ish respectable jobs – merchants, government officials, land owners, and so on. The lowest rung were immigrants from Asia – waves of Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, and other immigrants who would work the pineapple plantations for a time, then leave once another money was stored up or they could no longer physically handle the (horrible) job. Each wave of immigrants was poorer than the previous and thus an even lower status, so that the plantation owners could play them off each other and prevent unionization (they spoke different languages after all, at least at first). Now, this was far from perfect, and certainly plenty of native Hawaiians got screwed (the conversion of the land to American-style property plots didn’t go their way, or their neighbors up-water sold to someone else who redirected their water supply, etc.). But it wasn’t all bad; plenty of Hawaiians got decent jobs, especially government jobs, a decent educational system with lots of Hawaiian input, and plenty did actually keep their land in a way that is totally alien to, say, African colonies where the locals had their land stolen and didn’t get anything at all – no education, no participation in the economy, no government jobs, etc.

      Basically, while native Hawaiians no doubt were poorer and less represented in politics than the white population in 1900, only ~10% of the population would have been white anyway, and the 40% that were Hawaiians would have been richer and better represented in politics, the economy, etc. than the ~50% of the population that were Asian laborers stuck on plantations. I suppose the Hawaiians might have less “legal” powers compared to other indigenous populations in the US that have tribal land and the like, but they have more political & economic power than your average continental Native American tribe.

      1. You are VERY mistaken. Some of the Hawaiian Nobility (the Ali’i class) maintained significant property rights, but for the most part even before the fall of the Kingdom of Hawaii, the majority of the utilizable land had been acquired through various means by non-Hawaiians (mostly white people, though some early Chinese immigrants were able to get in on the land purchases), dispossessing the Hawaiian people of their own home even before the later overthrow and annexation.

        Ethnic Hawaiians had been badly ravaged by introduced diseases and were a minority within their own country even before the overthrow of the kingdom. After the overthrow, the new White-Dominated Republic of Hawaii most certainly did not make the natives a “middle class”. They discouraged native culture and language and forced the schools to all switch to teaching English, from which crashed the literacy rate (remarkably high for the time; anywhere from 66 to 90% depending on which estimates you go by) of Native Hawaiians.

        Some mixed ethnicity people with Hawaiian ancestry are quite wealthy today, but as the person before you noted, on average, Native Hawaiians lag behind in socioeconomic status and educational achievement. This is especially tragic given how the Kingdom of Hawaii was noted by white commentators of the time as being exceptionally literate.

        1. You’re entirely correct about the good work the Kingdom of Hawaii did, as well as that white (and to a lesser extent Chinese) landowners had already bought a decent amount of land for the plantations in the 1800s. I don’t think that affects the issue though? To be clear, when I say “comparatively good deal”, the word “comparatively” is doing a *lot* of work. By the time of independence of Portuguese Angola in the 1970s, the Portuguese had trained basically no Angolan professors, administrators, government officials, etc. for example. So I’m grading on an imperialism curve, less bad is still bad, just better than horrible. Which getting back to the original point, does make cases like Hawaii or New Zealand, if not exceptional, at least a different kind of imperialism than the kind practiced in Africa or Australia, and possibly worth simulating differently.

          I’m not saying that poor native Hawaiians don’t exist – they do, right now today, and it’s a crime. I’m just also saying that there were also successful (both in becoming actually wealthy, and in just staying middle class) native Hawaiians even post-annexation, and my impression was that this extended beyond just the old nobles. (Bias warning: Part of my family married into the landholding native Hawaiian upper class, so my perspective might be skewed here as to how common this was.) It’s definitely tricky to talk about because this can verge into imperialism apologia – see, we Americans did it right, the rightful white masters did a good job. But flip side, native Hawaiians had opportunities in the Territory of Hawaii pre-1950 in a way that did not exist for, say, Australian indigenous people during the same time period, who were truly shut out of even the middle class almost entirely. Native Hawaiians were numerous enough to at least be a voting bloc worth courting in Territory of Hawaii politics; the old Republican Party, tool of the sugar plantations & white minority, scored a major coup in getting Prince Kuhio to stand for them, for example. I don’t believe there’s much similar in, say, French West Africa – there weren’t democratic elections where the French sought out a popular local African leader to stand for their favored party, say. Imperialism in Africa was more what the European government says, goes, in the 1900-1930 period, and no need to offer patronage even to the local elite.

          1. Comparative does indeed carry a lot here. but my objection was primarily to “middle class”.

            Prior to contact with the west “middle class” really wasn’t applicable to any Hawaiians. After contact some did find professions, especially as mariners, though the degree to which they could be called middle class is debatable. The Mahele of 1848 did manage to establish a relatively small number of maka’aina as something akin to the “yeoman farmers” the architects of it envisioned, but these small claims often were less than sufficient for subsistence, and the bulk of the good agricultural land was snapped up by wealthy white guys looking to grow sugarcane as a cash crop.

            It is fairly telling that Land Reform was a major political issue (that went nowhere because, well, capitalism) in the 1950’s, when Hawaii had become on state. The Big 5 (companies) controlled most of the land.

            So uhm, unless you have a very very generous definition of middle class, or are talking about an absolutely tiny number/proportion of the Hawaiians, no I don’t think that holds up.

  23. Loved this series. Has there been any indication that anyone from the development team at Paradox have read these posts?

    1. Yes, actually! Both Johan Andersson (lead developer on Victoria II and now a studio manager at Paradox) and Martin Anward (the current game developer for Victoria III) have commented on the series on twitter.

  24. “In the end the state-ification mechanic is in most instances a counter-factual: none of the great imperial powers did simply decide to embrace pluralism and incorporate their colonial possessions as full core elements of the state except for a handful of relatively small islands. ”

    How could they? Turning, say, 19th century Indians into “core Britons” could hardly be any easier than turning modern Palestinians into “core Israelis”. If anyone in this comment thread knows how to do that, I’m sure a lot of diplomats flocking around the Middle East would love to be told.

    A country is a pattern of mutual loyalties between people. Ripping apart the existing pattern in India, and creating a new pattern centred on Britain, would seem to require mind-control rather than statecraft. (And if “embracing pluralism” means forming a country without such mutual loyalties, it must soon cease to be a country, or soon cease to be pluralistic.)

    1. It rather brings the point when using israel as an example that settler coloniest just dont have any incentive to transform their subjects into “core populations”, the subjection or expulsion is the entire point of a settler colony.

      This is distinctfrom the (admitteld itself fairly coercive) state-formation process that turned “peasants into frenchmen”. (itslef only partially successful, see basque, corsican and breton separatism)

      Israeli identity insofar as it is a jewish-state identity is fundamentally exclusionary: Even if legal equality would be granted (which it, for obvious reasons, isnt) the very core definition of israel as a state for a and especailly tied to only a portion of the population makes that kindof thing impossible.

      1. Oh, I don’t know. All that would be required is for the Palestinians to convert to Judaism. I don’t know enough about Judaism to say if that is possible. But even if it is, it is not a decision within the power of the Israeli state to make. Only actual Palestinians could decide to do that. That sort of thing takes centuries, not decades.

        “Peasants into Frenchman” was a process of centuries, not decades.

        1. You do not convert to Judaism. Unlike Islam or Christianity, it is not open to new believers. Becoming jewish involves quite a lot of convincing on your part.
          Also, Israel has a weird social dynamic, with white, jewish Israelis at the top, followed by local jewish Israelis, followed by POC Israelis, and then Palestinians at the very bottom.
          So, it would be almost impossible to convert the Palestinians into Israelis. That is part of the reason why the situation is so difficult

      1. He did indeed, and you will recall that the process took many lifetimes. As Vicky II unfolds over a period of just over a single lifetime, it just does not last long enough for such a process to finish. There is just not time enough in the game to convert Filipinos into Americans, especially with the Philippines so far from America, and so much closer to other countries.

        Extending citizenship to someone is not the same thing as changing his loyalties.

      2. One of Brett’s points was that, for Romans, to be Roman was to have a certain legal status (Roman citizen). This brought with it rights and privileges, and obligations, but no requirement to change your culture dramatically. Greeks kept on speaking Greek and reading Homer, Syrians spoke Aramaic, Egyptians Coptic. The army was homogeneous – probably the major homogenising force – but not much else at the bottom level.

    2. The French did try something of the sort in Indo-China, but it was a last-gasp effort. One obvious issue for all the European powers was that imperial subjects greatly outnumbered the rulers – any scheme of representation would see Britain ruled from Delhi, Paris from somewhere in Africa and The Hague from Batavia.

      1. The french had this notion that at least theoretically the colonies would at some point in the far-distant future become equal parts of France, no different than any other department. In practice access was incredibly limited and assimilated status granted to only a few (and even then they were treated with horrific racism) but the french DID have a few elected african representatives from their african colonies bythe early 20th century, and by WWII a few of the governors were black africans.

        (there is an interestin discussion about how the British tended to privilegie “traditional elites” , Indian princess, “african chiefs”, etc. (even if these “traditional structures” were often created by the colonial administration) and drawthem into the political/dynastic system of the Empire. (there were acouple of Indian nobles in the House of Lords) while the french prioritized “educated natives” in the bureaucracy.

        1. Being less obnoxious than the previous rulers is sufficient for many conquerors.

          As far back as the Crusades we’ve got a 12th C Saracen writer who was shocked to find that Moslem peasants preferred living under Frankish rule. Being a medieval European peasant wasn’t great by our standards, but at the time it had some advantages.

          The Spanish conquest of Mexico in the 16th C would have been impossible without allies such as the Texcalans/Tlaxcalans, who committed early to the Spanish side and stayed allied even after the initial Spanish attempt at conquering the capital was defeated. Again, not so much the Spanish being wonderful, but at least they didn’t do industrial scale human sacrifice.

          The French and then USA were thrown out of Vietnam by the Vietnamese advocates of a different Western ideology and system of government, communism, not by restorationists.

  25. As of my reading, here are (more than) a few proofreading points you could consider:

    revolution the game reproduced -> [a comma following revolution would improve readability]
    wealthy, power and secure was -> powerful
    imperialism for the perspective -> from the
    that value judgement -> judgment
    And area where -> An area
    either nation-wide or -> nationwide
    led the South to sucede -> secede
    I think some unique…revolt -> Is there a verb missing here?
    wishing both that this system was more flexible -> were
    against Malaria to colonize -> malaria [or, if this is a game term, set inside single quote marks…at least this first time it is mentioned?]
    a life-rating above the minimum life rating -> [presumably this game terminology appears in only one form: is it hyphenated or not? do search and replace?]
    The Tools of Empire: Technology and European Imperialism in the Nineteenth Century -> [italicize]
    in the period period to -> delete one instance of the word period
    exposing one ‘remote’ (to Europe) places -> once
    who would be loathe to share -> loath
    and in deed apart from -> indeed
    be better represents -> represented
    noises from the develops -> developers

    Also there are these 3, which need consistency–either with game terminology or with EN usage guidelines:
    has an ‘upper-house’ which
    your upper house structure
    percentage of the upper house

    1. Sorry to answer my own post. Once again, I have not figured out why WordPress does not recognize my request to notify me of new comments.

        1. I agree!

          But in this case, I finally figured out how to locate my “subscriptions” and reset (again) my election to receive all posts and comments.

  26. Good stuff. Out of curiosity, what do you imagine will be the next entry in this “Teaching Paradox” series? HoI4, CK2/CK3, maybe I:R? I imagine it’ll be a while before then, but I am curious nevertheless.

  27. I would push back on the mission to civilize.

    The Spanish and Portuguese definitely operated this way, but the British did not until the 19th century.

    Before then, they were ruthlessly money focused. If you read “the Anarchy” by William dalrymple about the East India takeover of India or the Raffles and the British Invasion of Java by Tim Hannigan, one of the things that comes out of those is how much the colonial officers did not see their impetus as “civilizing the natives”.

    In the case of the British east India company, the “civilizing the natives” justification was essentially a cover story that was concocted to justify why so many British government resources had been used to facilitate the money making enterprises and seizure of land by a quasi private corporation.

    Stamford Raffles was an officer in the east India company. He essentially masterminded the seizure of Java from the now French occupied Dutch during the Napoleonic wars using the sepoy forces of the east India company and tried to finagle it so Britain wouldn’t have to give it back when Napoleon was defeated.

    He also did a whole lot of “modernist” reforms of Java during the 5 years that Britain occupied the island. His reforms actually crushed the money making potential of the island relative to the older Dutch system and Raffles expended a lot of expensive East India Company military resources to crush one of the native Javanese kingdoms that hadn’t attacked the British.

    The East India Company was actually super upset with him because Raffles had sold the Java occupation as being a way for the british to deprive the French of revenue while the East India Company made a quick buck off of the Netherlands most lucrative colony. Instead, Raffles messed up the finances, spent east India resources like water, and justified it on an idea that he was modernizing the island which would benefit both the British and the natives. He was also publicly anti slavery and worked to fight it in Java, but while keeping slaves himself. He wrote a book called the history of Java and was very fascinated by cataloguing both the natural and archaeological history of Java.

    He would ultimately be removed from his post because the colony was bleeding money and the east India company would have to hand it back to the Dutch a year later. Raffles would be in the dog house with his bosses for a few years until the creation of Singapore.

    He would then be knighted in 1817 based partly on his friendship with the kings daughter. He would be a founder of the zoological society in 1826 and then die that same year deeply in debt to the east India ompany and the zoological society

    However, his second wife would write a hagiographic biography about her forward looking polymath husband.

    In the USA, it’s revealing that most of the statues of Confederate officers went up in the 1880’s and 1950’s. These were periods where the southern whites wanted to emphasize the racial hierarchy of the society.

    Similarly, Raffles founded Singapore in 1815, but all the stuff named after him and the statues happened in the 1870’s.

    The British empire during the Victorian era (essentially the games time frame) was doing a great rebranding. It was not an empire built for money…. No, no, it was for civilization!

    To prove it, look at this administrator from the early 1800’s who was a polymath, botanist, zoologist, historian, abolitionist, a bringer of civilization! Never mind that he was actually demoted for losing money at the time. So that was why statues went up of this guy in the latter half of the 19th century.

    The British empire was rebranded as an empire bringing civilization in the 1840s. But the actual empire was explicitly built for money and the east India company and its shareholders had little patience for any civilizing mission.

    I guess my point is that the Victorian era “civilizing mission” should be seen as fundamentally different from the more religious based civilizing mission of the Catholic powers previously.

    1. The East India Company explicitly forbade its officials from proselytising. It depended heavily on Indians as soldiers, merchants and traders and could not afford to alienate them. The civilising mission is more a late Victorian thing.

  28. “The statues targeted included those of abolitionists and memorials for black Union Civil War soldiers.”

    Which statues were those, specifically?

    And what are *you* doing to fight modern slavery Mary, as you berate people via your slave-made computer?

    If tearing down statues to slavers is ineffectual, criticizing it on the Internet is even more so.

    1. I can’t post links, but a very brief google search will find reports of the vandalism of the status of the abolitionist Hans Christian Heg in Madison, Wisconsin, and the Gaudens memorial to the 54th Massachusetts in Boston. As they say, you’re entitled to you own opinions, but not to you own facts.

      1. Facts are that the vandalisms happened — and that the Shaw Memorial had been vandalized multiple times before. *Why* any particular vandalism happened is not such an easily discernable fact. And Mary’s comment that

        “Any advantage achieved by any removal of any statue is clearly and obviously dwarfed by the encouragement given to a hate-filled lust to destroy without distinction.”

        is most definitely not an established fact, not even close.

        1. They publicly state their motives. Why would it be difficult?

          And your opinions on the value of the act are also not established facts.

          1. “They publicly state their motives. Why would it be difficult?”

            So you can point to someone who vandalized the Heg or Shaw memorials, publicly stating their motivation in doing so?

        2. Your comment questioned whether such vandalisms had happened. I take it you are conceding that they did? As I said, you are entitled to your own opinion as to the value of such acts, so if you want to believe that every black person in America is measurably better off as a result of the vandalism which you now concede to have happened, go ahead.

          1. Sure, the vandalisms happened. That they were done for the reasons Mary claims is another matter. And you’re putting words in my mouth falsely: I said nothing about black people being better off for the vandalism of an abolitionist statue.

  29. Thanks for the great post, as usual. I think especially your discussion of technology in the game made it obvious to me that in the end, Victoria II is only able to simulate history so that it looks similar to the way it actually happened. As such, »uncivs« are not only that way in order to secure European dominance, but also to assure that any succeeding empire does so by adopting European technology and policy. And that makes sense, because implementing non-European technology trees would amount to speculation – not least since we killed and suppressed anyone who would know better. Victoria II and EU4 are no games to play out anti-colonial, anti-imperialist or anti-capitalist fantasies, because they – like all of our society – are deeply rooted in our colonial, imperialist and capitalist past and present. I for one would love to play a grand strategy game that allows the victory of those (peoples and ideas) that are not invested in the accumulation of power.

    1. It would be hard in the sweep of history to find any organized human society no largely invested in the accumulation of power.

      1. I agree, they are hard to find given that history and language is written by the victors. I’m pretty sure there has always been people not trying to get power over others. I’m not sure we would recognize them, particularly as organized or society.

        1. The Moriori have been mentioned on this blog a couple of times, most recently in the previous part II of this current series.

          Certainly recognisable as a society organised around principles of pacifism and non-imperialism. Didn’t end well for them.

          When you write “we killed and suppressed anyone who would know better”, you are (regrettably) describing just about the entirety of humanity throughout history and pre-history, not just Europeans in the colonial era.

          For a grand strategy game that isn’t invested in accumulation of power, a science fiction setting would seem to be the best bet. The Ekumen in Ursula Le Guin’s “Hainish” (?) setting, or The Culture in Iain M. Banks.

          1. Or you could have a game in which the winners achieve eternal salvation by dying for their faith in the arena, while the losers sit in the stands and cheer. Maybe that is actually the game we are in.

          2. A game where you play as the Ekumen sounds very interesting! But if the aim were to develop an interstellar civilization without ever using violence or coercion of any kind, it would be more similar to a city builder than to a traditional grand strategy game, I think.

        2. I believe James C Scott (The Art of Not Being Governed) argued the case that the highland peoples of Asia from Vietnam to Afghanistan have employed a range of strategies to avoid being incorporated into the various lowland states around them.

          1. Theres been some criticism of him overdrawing the point, IIRC; largely in that the lowland states could extend power into the highlands intermittently, and it was more a matter of priorities.

            And of course, that kinda come to an end wiht the modern state anyways.

        3. If they are not an organized society, then they simply lack the ability to project power over their neighbors. Practically every human culture that could accumulate and exert power did so and continues to do so, a pattern that will no doubt continue. Whatever one thinks of capitalism and colonialism, imperialism is much older and pervasive.

          The romanticization of “those people and ideas that are not invested in the accumulation of power” strikes me as twenty-first century Noble Savage rhetoric. The world is so rarely how you wish it would be and, whether humans as a whole tends towards decent or domineering behavior, it only takes a few rotten apples to spoil the whole batch.

          1. Hence my suggestion of a science fiction setting. The Culture books by Banks in particular are built on the idea that a post-scarcity society will, finally, be one where accumulating power over others is no longer pervasive. There’s always a chicken or egg first problem if deciding whether science fiction inspires real world thought or vice versa, but acquaintances and colleagues who are more into economics seem to consider post-scarcity society a valid thought experiment / goal.

            The more realistic science fiction authors expect that there will still be a few rotten apples, but now they won’t be able to spoil the whole batch.

          2. Eh, you can’t legally run a homeless shelter nowadays without providing luxuries that would convince any pagan Roman emperor that those living there are gods.

            This is why I do not believe in “post-scarcity,” because if it were possible, we would be discussing when it started.

          3. Well, you *could* have a society oriented not around projecting power but around being highly defensible and hard to rule. I think James Scott’s description of highland Asian ‘tribes’ is just that. In medieval/early Modern Europe, you seemed to get more independence where geography favored it: wetland Venice and Netherlands, mountainous Switzerland. (Not that Venice and Dutch avoided force projection…) But you need some geographical or other defensive advantage, just being committed to pacifism won’t cut it. In the modern world, being more valuable as a free trading partner than a bombed out subject may help, plus being able to buy a lot of destructive retaliation power with the proceeds of living nicely.

            The Culture is highly mobile *and* self-sufficient on the scale of ships, and thus can run away from just about anything. But that’s sci-fi magic at work.

          4. “The Culture books by Banks in particular are built on the idea that a post-scarcity society”

            The Culture books cheat heavily, though. They’re so post-scarcity they basically break the laws of thermodynamics, being able to tap energy from the energy grids between universes. And having been able to scrape up a lot of un-owned matter despite living in an old galaxy. And of course human or superhuman level ‘automation’ that is happy to spend lots of time coddling their human parent-cousins. Plus FTL, with senses and ‘effector fields’ that can stretch between star systems. And for all that, societal operation is basically a big handwave.

          5. I don’t think this is necessarily a question of ability, and I haven’t seen anything yet to convince me otherwise. The fact that a lot of people who could accumulate power did so doesn’t imply that everyone who could tried to. On the contrary, modern society relies heavily on the fact that a huge proportion of its subjects does not try to accumulate power. Given this, I don’t think I’ve completely fallen for Noble Savage rhetoric but instead see hints in my everyday life. I’m somewhat inspired by the democratic modernity idea, btw.

    2. A grand strategy game sort of implies accumulation of power. Even if there is no mechanism for conquest, and the focus is trading for resources and research, The goal of acquiring resources could be considered accumlation of power.

  30. This is based on the estimate that the Americas imported roughly 10.5 million enslaved persons and India roughly 17 million, from Africa. To be fair the Indian number isn’t totally uncontroversial and occurred over a much longer period, but in any case the total was higher. You can find a popular treatment of this in this BBC article; Googling around will get you the academic sources but they’re in French.

    https://web.archive.org/web/20170525101036/http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/1523100.stm

    1. The article actually says

      “Muslim traders also exported as many as 17 million slaves to the coast of the Indian Ocean, the Middle East, and North Africa.”

      That’s not India alone importing 17 million.

    2. The linked article actually says “Some historians say that between the years 1500 and 1900, five million African slaves were transported via the Red Sea, the Sahara and East Africa to other parts of the world.”

      Slave were taken from Africa earlier (there was a major slave uprising in southern Iraq in the late 9th century, and African slaves laboured in Sicilian and southern Spanish agriculture in the 10th century), but then we get into periods where the major sources of slaves were eastern and southern Europe or, earlier, north-western Europe, and the slavers primarily Scandinavian, Germanic or Italian. So any direct comparison has to be of the relevant period.

      Note also the resolution of the Zanj Rebellion included generous terms for surrender as well as the usual massacres: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zanj_Rebellion#Revolt

    3. Thats not India alone, thats for the entire trans-saharan and east-african slave routes over almost 2000 years (there was trans-saharan slave trade already in the roman era)

    1. “Well, you *could* have a society oriented not around projecting power but around being highly defensible and hard to rule.”

      I would argue that is still projecting power, you are just turning the projector onto a very narrow area (IE: You are largely projecting power over the core area)

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