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The Crusader Kings II mod capble of generating huge, alternate histories

Like the procedural culture experiments currently going on in Ultima Ratio Regum, a recent mod for the grand strategy game Crusader Kings II (2012) is trying its hand at procedurally generating a whole world. The mod, created by user Yemmlie, manufactures history “from its first exodus from Africa” onward, creating religion, language, legal systems, and more, all from scratch. Nothing from the base game remains except for the map, which can be randomized if desired, while new factions and cultures struggle for control of land and resources. entire dynasties are developed Even though the simulation isn’t as detailed as the vanilla game,…

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In Calm Down Stalin, great vodka comes with great responsibility

The Cold War was as much a war of personality as it was a war between nations. For more than 60 years, everyday tensions for U.S. and Soviet leaders risked boiling over into nuclear war. It took hordes of advisors on both sides to talk down leaders like Reagan and Gorbachev when faulty intel or empty threats threatened to wipe humanity off the map. In hindsight, it was as much coddling as it was diplomacy. Calm Down, Stalin is a darkly humorous look at just how close humanity can get to offing itself. Quite literally, your only job is to…

Return of the Obra Dinn
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Stare upon the ghostly faces of Return of the Obra Dinn

One could almost consider exploring history a form of puzzle solving. Extrapolating facts and events through ruins and artifacts and documents, putting together a cohesive story through the remnants of times. Lucas Pope’s upcoming Return of the Obra Dinn, his narrative-driven follow-up to Paper’s Please (2013), is a game that encompasses that process. A mystery of a lost ship pieced together by discovered documents and flashbacks triggered by the remains on board. In Pope’s latest updates in his TIGSource devlog, those documents and artifacts are slowly taking shape. Recent GIFs show the lengthy manifest, revealing the crew names, their roles, and…

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…

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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…