What is a big question in video game design? I like to think of them as questions that, if answered, move forward the medium in a meaningful way. I view them as questions that, when answered, help people imagine the future of what games can be.
This involves space to build from. Countless games followed in the vein of DOOM or of Minecraft and this style of advancement has a lot to be said for it, but what if we tried something different, something more conceptual?
With Syphilisation, I ask and try to answer the question of what is an ideological game? Every game reproduces ideology to some degree, whether greater or lesser, but most do it uncritically. What does it look like to start with an ideology and work through existing paradigms with that lens?
What is Syphilisation?
Syphilisation is a postcolonial 4X game. In it, you play one of a group of students doing a group report on Gandhi, Churchill and the Raj.
The many ways in which the standard patterns of 4X games reproduce colonial ideologies is close to a solved problem. There is a plethora of writing on exactly this topic from a variety of writers and the ways that features ranging from the treatment of empire to the tech trees to choices of great people. With Syphilisation, I go through Civilization feature by feature and attempt to design postcolonial alternatives to existing mechanics in order to see how a postcolonial 4X game would emerge.
By going through Civilization feature by feature and implementing postcolonial alternatives, my hope is that players can compare between what Syphilisation implements and the standard practices of the genre. These comparisons help show players the unexplored space in 4X games and imagine what can come next.
Furthermore, postcolonialism is a personal choice for me. It’s just nice to be able to reproduce personal beliefs in the games that I make.
What Comes Next?
Firstly, between this game and this collection of essays, it should be trivial for a game designer to make other postcolonial alternatives. I believe that there are a number of general principles that have surfaced through this work and they provide a great starting point for other interventions of this sort.
Secondly, I think that making new ideological 4X games is now trivial. Syphilisation highlights a number of flex points in the formula and inserting features that manifest a different ideology becomes simple.
Finally, I think this provides a roadmap for how to remake any game in accordance with any ideology. By breaking a game down into features and designing alternatives in line with your beliefs, it’s possible to make any kind of alternative game that you want and hopefully Syphilisation will show you some part of the way.