Great Fire of 1666
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Great Fire of London recreated in Minecraft, complete with blaze

Header image: © Museum of London, created by Blockworks. /// The history of a city is littered with fires. Smaller ones that take down neighborhoods and large-scale disasters that change the landscape. The Great Fire of London in 1666 was such a fire. It destroyed the medieval City of London, incinerating the homes of 70,000 of the City’s 80,000 inhabitants. The fire was so bad, one of the factors credited to its quenching was the Tower of London garrison using gunpowder to halt the spread east. Your fire has gotten out of hand when you have to fight it with gunpowder.…

“A Different Kind of Dreamer”
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Videogames and the end of sleep

In 2005, following the public outrage over the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, the research group Gallup organized a survey to gauge Americans’ attitudes towards the “enhanced interrogation techniques” employed by intelligence services in the War on Terror. When presented with descriptions of such methods, including waterboarding, mock executions, religious violation, and the threat of attack dogs, the overwhelming majority of those polled rejected them as morally impermissible torture. But a single practice, sleep deprivation, was deemed acceptable by half of all respondents on the basis that it doesn’t constitute torture, per se, but “psychological persuasion.”…

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Civilization is coming to classrooms, and that’s a bad idea

If you wanted to find a small, distilled encapsulation of the Civilization series of grand-scale strategy games, you need go no farther than the musical trailer for Civilization IV’s (2005) original game and its theme song, “Baba Yetu.” The trailer depicts—as only Civilization can—the vast scope of human history, from the construction of the pyramids to the eventual exploration of Alpha Centauri. The song itself was the first piece of videogame music to win a Grammy. But even as the video portrays Civilization’s ambitions, it also demonstrates the series’ handicaps—namely, a kind of Western parochialism through which the series understands…

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Democracy 3: Electioneering is a misguided publicity stunt

In his 1989 essay “The End of History?,” the political scientist Francis Fukuyama, engorged by the collapse of the Soviet Union, claimed that human civilization had reached the conclusion of its sociopolitical development. “What we may be witnessing,” he writes in summary,“is the endpoint of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.” When later pressed for examples of what post-historical governance might look like, Fukuyama generally pointed to the example of the European Union, a supranational entity inspired (in his view) by an attempt to transcend national sovereignty, a defining…

egyptian revolution
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The videogame that dares to tackle African politics

Videogames have a problem with how they portray Africa—the continent often appears as nothing more than a stereotypical warzone. The most egregious example is 2009’s Resident Evil 5, which included an unnamed African locale with a conspicuously incensed mob united under an unconvincing explanation of undeadness as an excuse for white protagonist Chris Redfield to shoot every local he sees. A more recent slight was the Call of Duty: Black Ops II (2012) mission” Pyrrhic Victory”, where combatants of the Angolan Civil War are portrayed as machete-wielding maniacs charging at each other in a dusty battlefield. The portrayal was so…

A Machine for Pigs
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The Aztec pessimism of A Machine for Pigs

“When, for instance, a man had fallen into one of the rendering tanks and had been made into pure leaf lard and peerless fertilizer, there was no use letting the fact out and making his family unhappy.” —The Jungle, Upton Sinclair We are familiar with Aztec myth only insofar as it is a byword for cruelty and human sacrifice. The image of the reluctant offering climbing the stone steps of the pyramids at Tenochtitlan only to have their chest cut open and their beating heart plucked out is repulsive to both the value we place in human life and our…

game of the goose 1
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The insightful history of one of the first modern board games

Though many people might think that board games are a relatively modern phenomenon, the likes of Trouble (1965) and The Game of Life (1960) were actually preceded by years and years of table-based entertainment, flung as far and wide as Egypt, India, and ancient China. A brief glimpse into this long and storied history is provided by the Grolier Club in New York and their exhibition The Royal Game of the Goose: Four Hundred Years of Printed Board Games. Curated by Adrian Seville, this exhibit interrogates the many different forms of “The Game of the Goose”—one of the first modern-style…

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You can visit an historically accurate 1920s Berlin in Second Life

In 2007, Jo Yardely visited Second Life (2003) for the first time. She looked around, took in the view, and left immediately. “[Second Life] was a place where weird people spent all their time chatting about uninteresting things,” she said on her blog, “pretending they were having virtual hanky panky or spending real money on virtual rubbish.” You risked being griefed. Most of the simulations looked “horrendous.” Everyone’s fashion sense was terrible. Nine years later, Yardley runs one of the most successful historical simulations in Second Life. Her version of 1920s Berlin has over 100 tenants and regularly hosts events that…

Dark Souls 3
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Dark Souls III and the color purple

You first encounter them in the Undead Settlement. It’s a moment of incongruous reprieve: having rolled and dashed your way through a hail of human-sized arrows and swarms of rake-wielding peasants, you come up a hill and into a dark, somber cathedral that all but invites you to stop and smell its flowers. With their violet hue and soft yellow centers, these delicate beauties scattered around the building seem more unlikely than any of the monstrosities you’ve been busy butchering. Dark Souls III’s kingdom of Lothric has, up to this point, largely displayed the same taste for earth tones favored…