This is a really interesting question. I can't put a full answer to the question on twitter (but it has been on the blog's to-do list for a while), but I can discuss it in a little depth and give at least some idea for folks unfamiliar and seeing it show up w/ students. 1/xx
So the quickly: Europa Universalis IV is a grand strategy game where the player plays as a state (note: not a ruler, but the state itself. Rulers come and go) between c. 1450 and c. 1800.

It is, as the name suggests, the fourth such game from Swedish developer Paradox. 2/xx
As compared to other popular historical war games like Total War or Civilization, Paradox's games (including EU4) tend to trade a lot more heavily on historical accuracy and so present at least the *idea* of being a historical simulation as much as a game. 3/xx
Of course in practice that means there are a LOT of assumptions (we'll get to them) which influence the 'simulation' but that emphasis leads players to take more of EU4's content as 'history' rather than 'made up stuff for a game' sometimes correctly, sometimes not. 4/xx
In particular, in comparison to other games, the EU4 map is carefully constructed to reflect actual political divisions and Paradox has the stated objective of representing practically every state in a given period, from the mighty Ottomans down to tiny Mainz. 5/xx
I think that map - where almost every state in the world c. 1450 is represented on more-or-less their actual borders - is precisely what leads many students to regard Eu4 as more 'historical' than other games.

Again, it speaks to that effort to make a 'simulation.' 6/xx
Now the historians in the audience are probably already sounding alarm bells, because of course a 'simulation' like this can never be a real simulation, but instead it is going to be shaped by the assumptions and preconceptions of the developers.

So what are they? 7/xx
First off, Europa Universalis is about states. Only states are meaningful actors with agency in the game. Non-state people exist as land areas with population but no government who can be 'colonized' (we'll come back to this), but have no real agency themselves. 8/xx
Moreover, while the game features social change, religious change, revolution and upheaval, it features all of this from the perspective of the state - the player plays not as a ruler but as the state itself, persisting from one ruler to the next. 9/xx
Now the game has no stated 'win conditions' for those states, but in practice the game mechanics tend to reward expansion and economic development. There is a 'score' and 'ranking' of powers which assesses them based on their military, diplomatic and economic power. 10/xx
(Caveat: It is technically 'military' 'diplomatic' and 'administrative' but much of the diplomatic rating is determined by trade dominance and much of the administrative rating is determined by tax revenue and territorial extent - which is to say agriculture dominance). 11/xx
Consequently, while some players play 'tall' (that is try to maximize power without territorial expansion), the game is really about maximizing the power of the state through expansion, colonization, conquest and internal development. 12/xx
Success is measured not by the living standards of people but by the state power that development and expansion produces. Culture, religion and language exist, but are primarily viewed in terms of their impact on the state (where, for the most part, homogeneity is better) 13/xx
Previous versions of the EU series were *very* Euro-centric in outlook (the game, which features the entire globe, is called *Europa*Universalis after all). EU4 has tried to avoid this trend, with mixed success. 14/xx
So the good news is that the game accurately reflects Europe's status in 1450 as something of a backwater. The bad news is that the game's mechanics pretty much ensure that the 'rise of Europe' is pre-determined in each game, presented as a consequence of technology. 15/xx
While a skilled player playing outside Europe can 'hold off' the wave of European colonialism, that wave is going to occur in every game, as the innovation system allows Europe to steadily pull ahead and the AI (which controls all of the non-player states) tries to expand. 16/xx
Part of this is a consequence of EU4's quite brutal realist political model ( I discuss this a bit here:…). To be quick about it, apart from two unusual areas, states in EU4 exist in a state of militarized interstate anarchy... 17/xx
...and consequently the player (and the AI) has to constantly prepare to fend off aggressive war. Since the primary way to build military strength is to expand, player (and the AI) generally has to expand to survive ('get fat or die'). 18/xx
Consequently, EU4 presents European colonialism in some sense as the inevitable consequence of military competition within Europe - deciding *not* to do colonialism or military expansion means handicapping yourself in an all-or-nothing game of military power. 19/xx
That conclusion - European states had no choice BUT to expand militarily in order to survive - is essentially smuggled in by the game mechanics rather than stated outright, but it is a clear conclusion players will draw from playing the game, consciously or no. 20/xx
To be fair, that conclusion is not outside the history mainstream, G. Parker *The Military Revolution* (1996) and W. McNeill *The Pursuit of Power* (1982) both suggest European military competition drove these processes. 21/xx
But EU4, because of it's 'simulation' presentation presents that conclusion as an actual fact, rather than one of a number of theories.

And its solution - the way to 'beat' colonialism - is generally for the non-European powers to become imperial masters themselves. 22/xx
Which, again, is not entirely outside of scholarly discourse - it fits well with the Poli-Sci thinking on interstate anarchy (see K. Waltz, "The Origins of War in Neorealist Theory" JIH 18.4 (1988)), but the persuasive power of a simulation model is intense. 23/xx
Because the game is focused on states, the human impact of all of this violent expansion is abstracted away into little floating numbers - the player is never made to really face the butcher's bill of their desperate efforts to survive in an anarchic world. 24/xx
That's not unusual for strategy games, but it seems really relevant here when players are encouraged to start opportunistic wars that may kill thousands to gain increased tax revenue or strategic advantage. 25/more
The game attempts a dispassionate, non-moralizing view on all of this. Slavery exists (though the slave trade isn't as clearly represented as it might be) and while the player is given the option to abolish it in their state, the game doesn't pass judgement either way. 26/46
Likewise, the game has no moral judgement to lay on violent imperial expansion or war-mongering.

Consequences are always expressed in terms of their impact to the state - too rapid expansion can cause instability, but it doesn't cause you to lose your soul. 27/46
Because this is a game about states, most of the player's tools are coercive in nature and the overall model of power is zero-sum - for the player to become powerful and secure, other states must be rendered less so and defeated when they resist. 28/46
You can see this clearly in how the game models trade - trade exists as a flow of goods through trade nodes which can be redirected by either dominating the territory around those nodes, or the sea-lanes near them or both. 29/46
Successful trade policy redirects the trade flows back towards the home port of your country, thereby gaining that revenue and denying it to others. For you to get rich in trade, others must get poor. 30/46
I should note that the trade network is one part of the game that remains solidly Eurocentric; trade moves in a predicable direction and while it can be diverted this way or that in small ways, trade lanes begin in the Americas or Asia and end in Europe. 31/46
Consequently, building a trade empire from places that aren't Europe is usually impossible, restricting non-European states to large territorial empires (generally you either run a small state on trade or a big state on land taxes in the game). 32/46
All of that said, EU4 still does have some interesting bits of historical lessons. As noted, the map is fairly scrupulous and EU4 players are more likely to know where Prussia (or Mali, etc) is from playing. 33/46
As a 'Realist Political Dynamics Simulator' it is almost peerless. The value of that depends on how accurately you think Neorealism describes international systems. I think it is a useful lens, which lends EU4 some value in presenting that. 34/46
Historical events are trickier. The game is free-form, so events after the start date will not unfold in perfect historical order, though some major events (Printing Press, Reformation, etc) are encouraged by game mechanics to happen around the right time. 35/46
The big issue is the degree to which, without serious player intervention, European dominance by 1800 is inevitable.

Now of course European colonial empires did happen, so it seems odd to fault the game for regularly producing historical outcomes... 36/46
...but the degree to which those outcomes are presented as mechanistic and inevitable, rather than contingent is troublesome and may lead some careless players down a fairly dark path of historical thinking. 37/46
The game is great for stimulating informative 'wiki-walks' as players want to find out what the heck the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was, or what Maurician Infantry is, or investigate the printing press.

In that sense, the historical rootedness has real value. 38/46
For the teacher working with students whose history is heavily informed by EU4 (and other paradox games - they have Crusader Kings 3 for the Middle Ages, Imperator for the ancient period, Victoria II for industrial revolution and Hearts of Iron for WWII)...39/46 are likely to want to try to foreground the human impacts of those state-centered policies (because they game doesn't) - present students with what it means*for*people* that France is grabbing islands to plant sugar in order to raise revenue to fight England...40/46
...(mostly misery, in the event) and what it means that state-on-state competition in the premodern and early modern world more or less everywhere led to frequent warfare (mostly misery, in the event). 41/46
And second, you are likely going to want to spend more time and effort stressing the contingency of the 'rise of Europe' in the early modern period, noting how this outcome wasn't necessarily inevitable or desirable. 42/46
And second, you are likely going to want to spend more time and effort stressing the contingency of the 'rise of Europe' in the early modern period, noting how this outcome wasn't necessarily inevitable or desirable. 42/46
And I should note here at the end that this isn't one big bash on EU4. Of the strategy games that treat this period, I actually think EU4 is more responsible than most - you can play minor powers, you can end up on the business end of colonialism...43/46
...slavery is acknowledged, as are the uglier parts of the wars of religion.

And the folks at Paradox have pushed the game with each numbered release (that is, EUI, II, III, IV) and each expansion to IV to be a bit less eurocentric... 44/46
...though the 'view from Sweden' is still pretty apparent in how the game presents some things, particularly colonialism in the Americas and transatlantic slavery, things which loom rather larger in the Anglophone classroom, perhaps, than in the Swedish game studoio. 45/46
That is my overlong take on the historical benefits and pitfalls of EU4. I suspect one day I'll write this up in a full essay-blog-post style, but for now, this is what I've got.

Useful (and can be fun!) but also perilous if accepted uncritically. Like most pop history. end/46

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More from @BretDevereaux

1 Mar
Pet peeve of mine, but there are many 'history facts' twitter feeds (good) and they often include images with the facts (also good) but sometimes don't the dates of the images.

Always differentiate 1 Period artwork, 2 scholarly reconstruction or 3 random early-modern painting.
Lay readers often cannot tell the different between period artwork/scholarly reconstruction and Renaissance of early modern (or modern) interpolation.

They tend to assume, quite reasonably, if you are showing a picture, it's because 'that's what it looked like.'
Now there's value too in showing, say, a Renaissance painting of a classical scene with some history facts about the event as a way to say 'look, this remained relevant an interesting, here's another take on it.'

But you've gotta date that painting!
Read 4 tweets
10 Feb
It is really tricky to explain and even trickier to prove to readers who have perhaps not so much experience with different languages that just because a word X in foreign language is translated to word Y in English does not mean they represent precisely the same concept. 1/8
This apropos of arguing that English 'courage' isn't quite the same as Latin's fortis or virtus, or Greek's ἀνδρεία (or any other number of similarly translatable words), despite the fact that in a translation you will, of course, read 'courage' for those words. 2/8
So you end up arguing in circles because the retort comes back, "but these are all forms of courage."

But they're not! The Greeks didn't have modern English 'courage' in mind forming ἀνδρεία and senses of courage are non-overlapping. 3/8
Read 8 tweets
9 Feb

So, 1) there was no 'Greek republic' because 2) there was no united ancient Greek state and 3) Greek self government ended because of outside (Macedonian) conquest.

Also, 4) the Romans had a Senate too, famously...that doesn't seem to have helped...
...because 5) the reason the Roman Republic collapsed (in part, welcome to 'it's complicated') was that the Senate proved sometimes unable and frequently unwilling to rein in power magistrates or to hold them accountable for their dangerous and illegal actions.
Are there warnings from ancient history about excessive polarization? Absolutely.

But there are also lots of warnings about the dangers posed by ambitious men seeking power and by cowardly politicians too scared to restrain them.
Read 5 tweets
8 Feb
This is a good thread that I think nails the lottery nature of academia as a result of marketization, but as always I think it is then necessary to ask 'marketization in contrast to what?'

'System is bad' is true but alternatives must be considered to be useful. 1/25
So briefly, while organized university-like training existed first in East Asia and the Islamic world, the modern university's organization comes through the European tradition, where the universities were founded - often by kings - mostly to train priests. 2/25
(I am gliding over some complexity here, of course).

Moving into the early modern period, emergent European states (and later, their colonies) expand that model substantially. The model gets exported and adopted, even outside of the cultural context of its origin. 3/25
Read 25 tweets
8 Feb
Sometimes going back to writing or editing a formal piece of writing after working on the blog, I am really struck by how much of a useful crutch it can be to be able to drop into an informal, conversational register.
It just makes managing flow and sentence length so much easier if you can follow up a technical sentence by dropping into that conversational register where you can sum up the big complex idea with a few quick words and a joke.
By way of example, this long chunk would have been hard to write in an entirely formal register especially if I wanted it to be reasonably digestible.

So I have some big complex sentences (especially in the first paragraph), which are then summed up conversationally at the end. Image
Read 4 tweets
24 Jan
An interesting article over at @AncientWorldMag on the idea of 'states' in the ancient world:…

I think it both presents an interesting argument and a solid summation of scholarly perspectives on the question, but I don't quite buy the argument. 1/21
Hall's main point: that 'state'-ness is necessarily a fuzzy set is valid and well made. Was Rome a 'state' in 477 when the Fabii fell against Veii? Probably not.

The state is defined as an entity with a monopoly on the legitimate use of force... 2/21
...for the Fabii to fight this way suggests that the Roman Republic itself didn't yet have that monopoly.

And of course even in the modern period we have developed terms to express some of the fuzziness of the 'state' set. We thus talk about 'failed states' for... 3/21
Read 21 tweets

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