Cultural Assimilation in Civilization III

One of the new features added to Civ III (way back in 2001) and refined in Civ IV was culture. Prior to Civ III, once the world had been settled, the only way to expand your borders and power was through military conquest. That's still a popular strategy in current Civ iterations, but with culture, if one of your border towns has enough culture, there's a chance a neighboring civilization's border town will defect and join your own empire. You'll even be notified with a message along the lines of, "The heathens of the Aztec empire have overthrown their government and pledged their loyalty to you." Of course, the same can also happen to your outlying cities if you don't manage their cultural growth. In Civ IV, you can even drop a "culture bomb" into one of your cities, greatly increasing its cultural score and also raising the chance of defection to your side.

Besides the fact that increasing your culture and stealing enemy cities is very enjoyably, I'm really intrigued by the developers' approach to this mechanic. First, this is viewed as a good alternative to war. Normally, once the world map has been completely settled by the various civilizations, the only way to expand your empire is through force. But culture provides you with a nice, clean alternative. While declaring war to secure a few more cities enrages at least one civilization (and possibly more depending on alliances), gaining another city through the strength of your culture has very few negatives.

This cultural acquisition is viewed as a positive development. No one declares war on you, your empire is bigger, and if you keep increasing culture you can possibly entice further cities. But what I was reminded of is how resistant some countries are to outside cultural influences. In countries like France and Canada, laws are in place to try to preserve their respective cultures. I believe that a certain percentage of songs on the radio must be by artists native to that country, for example. What I think Civ III brings up is the issue of how do people try to preserve their own culture, while also being open and friendly to things from foreign cultures?

The Civilization games are all about conquest and domination, but that's a post for another time. Even the 'peaceful' cultural alternative is just a different, non-violent form of conquest. But in the real world, culture is much more complicated than a numerical value. It includes vastly different things, such as food, religion, music, McDonald's, and even language. The balancing act between preserving your own heritage and growing through the inclusion of others is a delicate, controversial issue. And I wish Civ III's implementation of it was a little more complex.

That being said, stealing city's through culture does demonstrate some ideas about assimilation. Assimilation is simply the idea that a minority group will eventually be absorbed into the dominant group, although it's a very complex issue. When you obtain a new city by cultural means, the citizens within that city retain their original nationality. However, over time, as new generations of citizens take over, their nationality begins to change to that of your civilization. This is a rough approximation of the sociological idea about immigration that "what the son wishes to forget, the grandson wishes to remember."

The sociologist in me was surprised and delighted to find this little, pared down touch of reality. But I do wish there were more negative reactions to a strong culture in the game. Maybe an uber-powerful culture could lead to some civilizations being hostile towards you, because they see your culture as a threat. It's also important to remember that culture is not a one-way street. Even the dominant culture absorbs some aspects of the smaller culture.

Oh yeah. And if you declare war on someone in Civ III, don't be surprised if the rest of the world declares war on you in return. It happens.

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