Ihave been playing video games for as long as I can remember and, in the same way, I have been able to experience all kinds of adventures, worlds, and stories. I’ve fought giants across vast terrains and wandered through Tokyo planning how to steal hearts. But I never expected to be able to appreciate my own country in a game.
For a Latin American, cultural representation in video games means seeing the same 2 or 3 countries mentioned over and over again. And, while across the continent we share a certain sense of brotherhood, we also have very clear and quite interesting differences.
I already know the Día de Muertos festivities in Mexico as if they were part of my own life (although they never have been) and the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro is a point of interest that I would recognize anywhere, but nothing had prepared me for the moment when the name of my hometown appeared in Civilization VI.
Sid Meier’s Civilization VI is the latest installment in the series of strategy games that puts you in control of a great historical figure as they work towards the development of their own culture. I heard about them for quite some time, but what led me to finally take the plunge was the announcement of the Gran Colombia DLC Pack.
This DLC introduced Simón Bolívar as the new great leader, and Ejército Patriota as the new civilization ability. These names are familiar to me, as I learned about them at school and through stories that my grandparents told me about when I was little.
The day I bought the game, DLC included, I was expecting a similar treatment from many other games and films: portraying Colombia as mostly jungle and using dialects that don’t really exist here. But when I started it, the first thing that greeted me was a musical piece that felt so close to home I couldn’t believe it. Many details touched my heart from thereon. There is a combat unit called Llaneros, which is the way we call people from the Eastern Plains (Llanos meaning plains in Spanish). There’s also a new building in-game called Hacienda based on a real house-like structure that I’ve been to many times in my life.
There are many ways you can win a game of Civilization, either you can exercise your domination and take down all your enemy capitals or maybe become the best touristic nation in the whole world, but my favorite way to achieve victory is by pursuing science.
To get this victory you develop your nation to its finest. You start with ancient structures and keep working towards modern ones, once you achieve a certain point where you’ll be able to study and explore outer space. When you expand your civilization to the stars, that’s when you reach the goal.
It’s no secret that many South and Central American countries have had a technology gap for centuries compared to other regions. I can’t control that process in real life, but by playing this game I get a hold of my country’s development and growth for a few minutes (or hours, rather), witnessing a simulation of a better future in my own eyes. It somehow reassures me that I can work towards something good for the place I was born.
Unexpectedly, Civilization VI has given me hope that more games can do such an amazing job at representation like it. This way, it opens up the possibility for more people to find themselves being able to see a part of themselves in a media they’ve loved for a big part of their life.
I never had any issues with cultural representation – I grew used to not having any actual way to relate with my culture in video game worlds. But once I did, it showed me something. Seeing your traditions portrayed in a game doesn’t make for just a fun and passing moment, it gives you hope that you can also make a difference, even outside the most famous cities. It gives you hope that you’re not forgotten by the rest of the world.