Content of the article: "“Greedfall”, a game about colonialism by people who don’t understand colonialism."
Greedfall is an Eurojank RPG that dares to ask “what if instead of setting the game in a generic Medieval Europe with magic we set the game in a generic New World European colony with magic”. Honestly, not a bad idea, the standard fantasy setting is so tiresome at this point that I welcome any divergence from the formula.
Now, due to its Eurojank nature the game comes with some serious holes. Regular glitches, unbalanced combat, having only like 2 old man faces that get used for every male character over the age of 40. All of these things can be understood as inevitable when working with a limited budget. There is however one thing that is not the result of lack of funds but clumsiness on the part of the creators, and that’s it’s mediocre handling of story and worldbuilding.
Part 1: Why was colonialism bad anyway?
In real life colonialism was a horrifying institution that certainly caused a lot of suffering all over the world. In particular, the New World colonial projects that inspired Greedfall’s setting came with a pile of what could be described as crimes against humanity.
Most of which are completely absent from the game. The colonies in the island of Teer Fradee don’t have any equivalent to the Trail of Tears or the Encomienda system, slavery is explicitly agains the law in all the colonies and those who try to engage with it are promtly prosecuted by concerned autorities.
Greedfall has managed to completely remove the fundamental aspects of exploitation that made the colonization of the New World a horrifying process. Instead it frames the entire thing as a series of competing colonial powers trying to take control of the island of Teer Fradee (totally-not-America) in the search for a cure to the plague that has decimated their homelands.
And I know what the obvious rebuttal to this observation is “This is a fantasy game, they don’t have to replicate real world history”. And to be honest, that is true. Greedfall is a game about managing your loyalties in various factions, an approach that more or less demands a “nothing is black and white” setting. Real world colonialism has a very unambiguous bad guy and that would hurt the game. So it makes sense to make a fictional world that superficially resembles colonial America but doesn’t have a true evil faction. But that’s not what they did.
Part 2: In this moment, I am euphoric. Not because of any phony Dev's blessing.
It turns out the colonists are still super evil, but for the dumbest reasons.
First less go with the nation of Thélème, a theocratic government of christians. Well, fantasy christians, in some weird aesthetic mix of the catholic church and puritan pilgrims. Their entire identity revolves around being an evil religion of evil who does evil because they are christians and christians are evil.
It's actually hilarious how cartoonishly evil they are, your first introduction to the faith in the colony itself is an evil priest literally strangling a native in the middle of a public square as he demands he converts, which the native can’t do anyway because he is being strangled.
Thélème has no other defining cultural elements as a nation, they are an evil cult and that’s about it. Which makes their proselytism in the colony an absurd comedy. Every Thélème related mission in the game is going to be related one way or another with their attempts of converting the natives, and the hilarious thing is that in the entire game you will not find a single native that has actually converted.
At one point the game stumbles by accident into what could have been an interesting conflict by presenting a native town of converts that has been divided because certain members became intolerant to the converts. This could be the setup for an interesting dilemma, about whether the freedom of religion and expression that allows religious proselytism to happen is worth the potential tension that it may generate in native communities, this is a dilemma that is very relevant to the world even today. And then the game shoots itself in the foot by making it clear that none of the natives actually believe in the religion at all and they only “converted” because the evil religion of evil was doing evil things to them and only stopped once they accepted the forced baptisms. The devs actually wrote an entire religion so absolutely evil that it’s impossible for them to imagine anybody actually converting to it.
The entire thing feels like some clumsy adaptation of the worst parts of the Spanish Black Legend as seen by a teenager posting in r/atheism . For a moment you may even believe that the game is anti-religion. But no, it’s only anti-christian. We will get into it, but first.
Part 3: Science is evil, Roger Bacon is Satan
The Bridge Alliance is the other evil faction of evil, which is defined entirely by the most evil invention in the history of mankind… the scientific method. It’s pretty much that one Futurama joke, but unironically.
The Bridge Alliance is in constant conflict with the natives, not because of clashing economic interests in the management of land or anything logical like that, but because they can’t stop kidnapping random people for their evil experiments.
This could be seen as the begining of a handfisted but at least somewhat curious conflict about the limits of experimentations. “Do the results justify the means?” and all that baby’s first philosophical dilemmas. But the game can’t even offer that because there are no results, the human experimentation doesn’t produce a single useful thing and it all boils down to scientists are evil.
The game also has a bizarre anti-civilization view, as it presents (SPOILERS) the process of urbanization in the colonizer nations as the cause of the plague. It’s a FernGully approach in which if you do the industrial thing an evil environmental spirit will show up and kill you.
Except there are no industrialized nations in the setting of the game. We are explicitly told by in-game dialogue that all the manufacturing in the game is done in workshops and there is no sign of an industrial revolution anywhere. Greedfall managed to stumble into writing so Luddite that it would make Ted Kaczynski blush.
Part 4: Reject Modernity, return to monke
Name one stereotype about Amerindians, literally any, we got them all. The Natives of Teer Fradee are a bunch of hunter gatherers, with no understanding of metallurgy, cattle herding or agriculture (but also a sedentary culture… somehow?). They are a bunch of three hugging hippies that dress in animal pelts and wood. They are also superior to everybody else by any measure.
The writing around the Natives beats the Noble savage idea so hard that somewhere in the netherworld Rousseau’s ghost must be walking with a boner. I don’t know if the game is purposely primitivist, but it’s at least an unintentionally primitivist bit, which is very bizarre for a videogame.
See, since the Natives operate purely on noble savage stereotypes they are automatically better than everybody else by virtue of living like cavemen. Their medicine is superior to the actual science users because… they have ancient wisdom or something. Their religion is also better than the totally-not-christians. In fact their religion is so superior that (SPOILERS) they literally managed to convert the founder of totally-not-christianity.
The way their culture works is also baffling, they seem to have some strong sense of ethnonationalism and a literal magical blood and soil guiding principle (which the game seems to think is actually a good thing), any inter-native clash is presented as a result of the evil christians or evil scientists introducing their evil ways and ruining the peace loving hippy natives. The natives of Teer Fradee have somehow managed to reach 1940 Italy levels of nationalism and utopian levels of pacifism even though they are literally an analphabet society of people living with stone age tools.
The game tries really hard to make you like these guys as an entire culture of Disney’s Pocahontas that are pure and perfect. Which in my personal case made me hate them, by the end of the game I had gone full Winston Churchill out of nothing but spite. I can’t feel any empathy for the natives because they don’t act like an actual human society, they act like an outlandish luddite morality lecture.
Part 5: A spectre is haunting Eurojank
Greedfall doesn’t care about real colonialism, it has no interest in portraying the colonization of the new world in a way that would make the player understand the historical process. Because there is one thing that Greedfall loves even more than rambling about the the Industrial Revolution and its consequences, and that something is capitalism, or as the game would put it “trade”. While the evil christians and the evil scientists spread their evils of Jesus and penicillin, one faction of colonizers remains pure and noble: The Congregation of Merchants, because these colonizers are motivated only by trade.
Now, if you know something about colonialism you may recognize trade as the entire engine of the horrors that would spread from Europe to the world since the beginning of modernity. It was “trade” that motivated all the worst parts of the colonial project, from slavery, to encomiendas to the East Indian Company privatizing the colonial project itself. But to Greedall, colonial trade is good actually, and it brings no negative consequences whatsoever.
And I think it is here that we find the root of Greedfall’s hot takes on colonialism. Imperialism is the highest stage of capitalism, but the writers seem to be in love with capitalism. So how do you reconcile your deep devotion to the almighty power of the invisible hand while simultaneously engaging in platitudes about “colonialism bad” ? Well, by ignoring the actual roots of the colonial evils and just engaging in silly and infantile takes on christianity and positivism. Greedfall is a game about colonialism by people who don’t understand colonialism nor want to.
- Greedfall is such a fun experience I wish it got more attention.
- A “false” monotheistic religion versus the Faerûnian pantheon.
- Just finished the game for my first time… I’m not okay
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