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Games & Simulations for Historians

"My gun is bigger than yours"

“My gun is bigger than yours”

Technological determinism! What in tarnation does that mean? How does that relate to good ol’ Bugs?

First, a journey my friends:

1. If  you like the colour blue, skip to paragraph 1.

2. If you like the colour red, skip to paragraph 2.

3. If you like any other colour, skip to paragraph 3.


Paragraph 1: The Blues. You survive only on flimflams and gootbols: a meagre existance. It is difficult work, collecting the two daily. It has been tradition, passed down from generation to generation. Only their meat can sustain your small population. You wonder what lies across the shimmering waters, but you know you yourself shall never set eyes on it. link to Paragraph 6

Paragraph 2: The Reds. The vast array of kilnspurns, maddock, jitwoes and loipers feed your small village. No one can remember the last time your people was forced to collect flimflams. Due to the high yield of maddock crops and loipers, you have more time on your hands, enabling you to spend time outside of daily food collection. link to Paragraph 4

Paragraph 3: The Others. Living in the grassy plains of Rijnecki is a difficult life. With little food and water, the plains force your kind to live on what little you can find. If it weren’t for the Timens, your source of transportation and nutrition (in times of despair), you wonder how your people would even survive. link to Paragraph 5


Paragraph 4: The Reds. Your father talks of how important the discovery of ignus was. He speaks of how it allows word to be recorded on ubus! You do not care, as you only wish to run wild through the streets with the other children. You cherish your time here, as you hear of how the others leave to find bounty elsewhere. The elders talk of monsters, yet no one has yet to encounter anything other than your own people. link to Paragraph 9.

Paragraph 5: The Others. You ride, day and night. You were born on the back of a Timen and will spend your life on one. Your children ride with greater skill each day. This year, there has been little to hunt and you contemplate passing over the Sky Mountains. No one has ever crossed. Do you dare take your people into the unknown? But what choice do you have… link to Paragraph 8.

Paragraph 6: The Blues. Little has changed since your childhood. Although you are feeble and old, you still watch your people catch the flimflams by the water each day. You watch as the two-woman akama flips, sending them splashing into the river. It has been a good life. link to Paragraph 7


Paragraph 7: The Blues. When they first landed, coming from the waters on giant akama, you feared. Your people fled their homes, running from the foreign devils who wear strange things on their bodies. You hear of how the townspeople who stayed sprouted green blouches on their faces and found the Akama spirit within days. You know not what to do. link to Paragraph 10.

Paragraph 8: The Others. You watched in sadness as the last of the Timens were killed for their meat. Although a few escaped, the rest were butchered to feed your starving people. The mountains were like a maze, never leading to an exit. Your forefathers had sought to find new land, a new lifestyle. Instead, you find yourself trapped and dying within the mountains. Your family has passed and as the cold sets in, you feel your spirits begin to join them. Game over.

Paragraph 9: The Reds. When you found them, they lived simple lives, without such things as ignus or balgark. They fled from you when your diseases began to kill their people. You wished to help, and even helped many sick to recover. Those that ran you wish to pursue in hope of explaining your intentions, but you understand so little of their people as it is. You wish to speak with them, learn their ways and develop friendship. You have yet to decide whether or not to chase them and help them, or avoid them and spare their kind the diseases. link to Paragraph 11.


Paragraph 10: The Blues. Your grandmother speaks of how there was fear at first, and even violence. She speaks of how the diseases spread and killed, leaving few left of your kind. But the bringers of the disease, they brought both their disease and their kindness. As they helped, using foreign ways, your people began to recover. Slowly, over time, your two peoples learned much from each other. Now, your kind lives in harmony with the foreigners. Your grandmother wonders why they did not hunt your people, as you do the flimflams. The end.

Paragraph 11: The Reds. They may speak of how the diseases killed the originals of this place, but they will also speak of the bond that developed. There had never been any intention of inflicting harm, and both your people and the originals have come to understand a friendship. Maybe in time, your peoples will become one. The end.


All right! So, what does this story full of odd words/gibberish have to do with this week’s topic? Well, the point of it was simple: to demonstrate that technology, and the advancements as a result, are not the product of the superiority of one civilization over another, but rather the sheer environment those civilizations find themselves surrounded with in the beginning. If this concept seems familiar to you, that’s because Jared Diamond in Guns, Germs, and Steel, explains how something as simple as being stuck with one agricultural product as opposed to two can alter the course of history.

Now, what’s up with the random words? I wanted you to put yourself in the shoes of someone in history. Consider this, for a moment: every major invention in history is generally known to you. Gunpowder, the printing press, the button, the compass…whatever it is, you know the word for it and what it does. You understand that it altered history. Now, what if tomorrow, something called “Mass Effect” was invented? You’d have absolutely no idea what it was or how it would change your future. You would have no idea in which direction it would lead the people of this world. This would obviously apply to everyone in history when dealing with the above examples.

So, if you are Jack in the 14th century, an omnipotent God (like in Civilization, AoE, etc., etc.), ruling a nation from above, how would you have any idea how to: 1) Invent a technology, and 2) Understand further technologies that path would help you “unlock”?

Think about it for a second: in Civilization, you can “research” or “unlock” a technology. How the h*ll is that even possible? Imagine what the world would be like if you could click a button and bam, hyperdrive research unlocked. Yeah, it cost you a TON of stone and food, but it was definitely worth it.

Even more absurd is the ability to know that by researching hyperdrive, you could eventually get photon torpedoes.

When grounded in a historical game, this ability to control technologies seems to be a combination of cheating, and 20/20 hindsight. The reading, Technology Trees: Freedom and Determinism in Historical Strategy Games, discusses how 4 different games apply technology trees in order to advance the problem space. Essentially, by following certain sets of strategical research paths, you are able to get the upper hand over your enemies in order to crush them.

What is wrong with that? Well, like I said above – it’s technically impossible. Secondly, although a game may take into account the fact that nations developed different technologies, it doesn’t take into account what enabled them. No discussion of agriculture, flora/fauna, geography, etc. Some nations just had coinage between 300 B.C. and 400 A.D. and others didn’t.

This use of technological determinism (technology=the driving force of civilization) is definitely one way of creating a problem space, but can it be done differently? Why not make a game where instead of having the player decide the technologies, the game does? If your people collect food through hunting, your civilization would naturally invent tools to help it increase hunting productivity. If you were constantly at war, new weapon types would naturally be developed – and would reflect the type of enemy you were fighting. This is how history “developed”. You could say that tools are essentially a set of progressive adaptations. The scene above with Elmer Fudd and Bugs Bunny reflects this.

Sure, you could argue that current R&D is the ability of a nation to control the type of technologies it will develop in the future, but R&D itself is a relatively new concept. When did centralized government begin having the ability to fund research teams? Probably not in the middle ages…

To wrap this all up, we’ve seen throughout this course how different games use different concepts to progress the problem space. Age of Empires, Civilization, Rise of Nations…they are the back and forth of Bugs and Fudd. By taking societal, agricultural and military “technologies” and using them as the focal point in achieving victory, we lose the history behind their original innovation. The fact that “researching” the printing press yields different effects in each of the above games (excluding AoE) demonstrates that inventions changed society in a multitude of ways. Each game uses it to provide the player with a different bonus (although at times, they can be the same). Yet, what allowed the nation (or more appropriately, an individual in that nation) to invent it in the first place? Why are the ancient Chinese credited with thousands of inventions, while the Aboriginal Australians have few?

In a nutshell, Guns, Germs, and Steel demonstrates that a civilization’s success is not independent from it’s environment. If this is truly the case – that we are shaped by our geography, climate, available crops, etc. – why do games reflect the opposite? Why does each nation start off on the same footing but can’t research the same technologies? Doesn’t this idea unintentionally suggest that some nations were inferior to others?

Wouldn’t it be different to have a strategy game where each player starts with different resources available and has to evolve using those resources? That, my friends, would perhaps pinpoint the true fallacy of our historical thought – that all nations were created equally.


By: Chris Tucciarone


P.S. Thanks to Mackie Tucciarone for assistance with the anchor tool.