Sunday, May 06, 2007

The Fall of Santiago

Musings on a game of Sid Meier's Pirates! Live the Lfe.

(note: I updated twice today. Don't miss Drains of Value 5, below)

Not long ago I acquired a copy of Pirates! for my XBox (actually, I have a 360; the game works fine except for the Live leaderboard... the game won't connect). In this game you take on the role of a pirate, plying the Carribean and the Spanish Main for treasure, prestige, and, when working for one of the great powers of the day (England, Spain, France, and the Netherlands), rank. You capture ships, raid towns, and, if your force is large enough, you can capture them, installing a governor from a rival power. In a recent game, I did just this, replacing the Spanish governor of Santiago with an English one.

Santiago is one of two major settlements on the island of Cuba, the other being Havana, on the north coast. At the time. I had a large and unruly crew... I needed plunder. Santiago was described as being a "wealthy Spanish capitol." What that meant is that there was a lot of booty to be had by taking Santiago, but also a lot of soldiers to beat to get to it. Even with my three-hundred and fifty men or so, I wasn't going to be able to take it.

So I partnered up with another band from a nearby pirate haven. I allowed them to fall on Santiago's defences, weakening it, and then I and my men invaded, claiming the prize. They had been weakened to the point where I was able to take total posession of the town, and installed an English governor. The city went from being a wealthy Spanish capitol to a poor English outpost overnight.

The town deteriorated further under English rule, until finally England declined to defend it at all (it was defended by no soldiers at one point), and the Spanish finally retook it. It began to recover a bit at that point, but for the remainder of the game. Santiago was never the same. It made me think about similar incidents in actual human history.

Let us consider the circumstances. First off, the justification is that somehow, all that individual prosperity that happened under the Spanish flag was somehow an affront to English security. My personal motivations, while partially motivated by a desire to advance military rank (at that point, I think I was working up through titles of nobility), was mostly motivated by a personal problem: too many men, not enough money. Attacking Santiago was a cynical attempt to reverse that calculation: eliminate some of my men while increasing our gold stores. Yes, my primary goal involved killing not Spaniards, but my own men! The people of Santiago suffered greatly because of my black hearted avarice.

It reminds me of Kiev. Kiev was a Russian city on the Black Sea (I think) and was, and one point, the cutural and commercial center of Russia. It was a prosperous and commercial city, a relatively free city. Under Kiev's leadership, Russian might have become something admirable, but it was not to be. Mongols destroyed the city, and took tribute from the rest. Kiev never fully recovered, and when Russia finally did develop some kind of central identity, it wasn't a commercial center that won that honor, but rather the most productive collector of tribute for the Mongols: Moscow.

The Mongols also ruined Islamic civilization. Prior to the Mongol invasion, Islamic areas were well known for philosophy, mathamatics, engineering, commerce, even some novel and forward thinking ideas. The success of the Mongol invasion left them grasping for the answer to a question: Why? The conclusion they came to, as it so often is for religiously centered civilizations that are conquered from without, is that God was punishing them for being insufficiently rigid and intolerant. The Islamic world was never the same.

A similar thing happend in Iran. A revolution overthew the Shah, and a democratic government elected. With American backing, the Shah returned. Why, do you suppose, did that decent government fall so quickly? Well, of course, it was because Americans are infidels, and Iranians were insufficiently rigid and intolerant to oppse them. :-\

War is a horrible thing, and not just because lots of people die. It's because it destroys the hopes and aspirations of humankind, often leading an entire people into a culture of despair. I found myself wondering: What form would it have taken in the future history of my game? What happened to the people of eastern Cuba?

Nevertheless, virtual war against digital enemies is still fun, so I will return to the Spanish Main. This time, I will not stop at one city. All America will live under the... how about the Dutch flag? ;)

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