For about two weeks now, ever since one of my friends found it for a fairly inexpensive price on Amazon, I’ve been playing the computer game Civilization IV religiously. For anyone who doesn’t know about it, essentially you take command of an historical civilization and try to rise to world dominance. One of the very interesting aspects of the game is that you can spread your civilization’s culture into the border regions of your Empire, and occasionally even take control of a rival civilization’s empire by spreading your culture into it.
This was one of the things that naturally popped into my mind today while Ethan was discussing the Egyptian Third Intermediate Period. In Civ IV, when you militarily take control of an opponent’s city, the population of that city tends to not like it very much and often revolts against foreign rule. When the Assyrian Empire took over most of Egypt during the Third Intermediate Period, it clearly met resistance, especially from the Kingdom of Kush in Nubia.
Kush by this point had been essentially enculturated into Egyptian culture, and as the Nubians saw themselves in this light, they undertook a campaign to take back the lands of the god Amun. Much the same occurs in Civ IV. As your culture spreads to adjacent lands, and area that once saw itself as English, for example, comes to see itself as being a part of your culture, and therefore will be more likely to rise up in defense of your culture.
I have several reasons for bringing this up. The first is that it is interesting how aspects of our popular culture, like my playing video games, can have an affect on how we view the world and the past. If I didn’t play Civilization, I may have had a totally different outlook on these topics. How we interpret the past is therefore very much dependant upon what we know and do on a daily basis.
My second point is that it would be very neat if anthropologists, archaeologists, and historians used things like video games and other more recently developed media in order to teach their subjects. There are plenty of games and movies (Indiana Jones, Tomb Raider, Stargate, and Inglourious Basterds to name a few) that reinforce misnomers about the past and humanity as a whole, and since people find them entertaining, these ideas become more prevalent than those of academics. If academics would use these forms of media more, and for example, made more games like Civilization (which is by no means perfect as far as not spreading false or incorrect information), then the overall knowledge base of people would increase in these areas because they would actually want to learn more about them. By doing these things, it would not only increase the popular knowledge of the past, but make learning about it much more fun and enjoyable.