Civilization almost seems kind of like an educational Trojan Horse: it's fantastically fun, but it might accidentally teach you something about world history or government systems along the way. Was an educational aspect to Civilization ever your intention at all?
Sid: No, not really, we distinguished between education and learning. The intent was never really to educate people, but we do think that part of the fun of playing a game is some element of learning. Even if you are playing a first person shooter, you learn where the good places to hide or what weapons are good. Part of the fun is learning something; feeling that "I'm better at this game than I was yesterday, and if I play a little more I'm going to get even better."
With Civilization, the things that you're learning about are history, different technologies, how government works, the importance of exploration, and things that are historical. We really think that learning adds to the fun of a game. Civilization provides enough interesting decisions that you have to think about; you try things out, and I think that makes the game more fun.
I read an interesting article recently about how some teachers actually use Civilization III in their classes as a teaching tool. Would you endorse or recommend the use of Civilization III as an educational product?
Sid: There's certainly nothing in the game that's just totally, flat-out wrong. I think Civilization is a good place to learn some basic ideas about history, and to be a part of it; to make the decisions. The great thing about a game is that you're the star of it. You're actually there making the decisions. Yes, it's been used in a lot of different educational situations, and if you can get a kid interested in history through a game, that's...We certainly lead them through the Civilopedia. We let them know that there's more out there if you want to explore it.
I've heard about a lot of people who played games as a kid and have gained a lot of useful knowledge that they were able to use later in life. So I certainly encourage people to use Civilization as a way to introduce them to history and make it exciting.
Have you ever heard from any political or world leaders that might be fans of Civilization?
Sid: [laughs] Not any world leaders, no. I remember getting a call from the Wall Street Journal a couple of years back, and they where fascinated about how Civilization illustrated taxation policy, something I had no... It's amazing what people read into the game. So I think it's great; people play the game and get involved with it, and people start to imagine and find all this stuff in the game that they find interesting.
Speaking of reading things into it, I've read some criticism of Civilization that accuses the game of being Western-centric, or American biased. What do you think about that?
Sid: I think that's probably true. In those days, there was a little bit of a Cold War mentality about the game. The world was divided between the West and the Communist worlds, and we were trying to present the most familiar leaders, the most familiar technologies, and the most familiar ideas. And the game-playing world was much more an American world in those days; today it's much more of a global audience. PC games were played mostly in Western countries. So I think Civilization had somewhat of a Western-centric view of the world. Just the whole idea that technology drives progress might not be so much of an Eastern concept as it is a Western one, so I think it's true.
Have you tried to address some of those concerns with newer versions of Civilization, like with Civilization III?
Sid: We have. There have been a couple directions we've gone with the later versions of Civilization. One of the criticisms was that the game was too militaristic, that it was basically a military game. We tried to create different victory conditions, but the military aspect of the game was in many ways the most interesting and the most fun to play. So it often become a military game, which, I think, is not necessarily a bad thing.
But in later Civilizations, we tried to flesh out, and make more interesting, some of the other victory paths. We tried to include more female leaders in later games. We tried to include more third world, Eastern, or less familiar leaders in other games, and to include more civilizations from around the world. We did include a bigger variety of civilizations and peoples as we expanded it.