World History Colonialism and Imperialism in Games: Champion of the Raj

Champion of the Raj is a turn-based strategy game that is set during British colonization of India. At the start of the game you have the option to either be a British or a French trader. The historical framework that this falls within depicts a rosy narrative of the invasion of the English in India.  This friction between the British and French for control translates into your avatar being taken to jail once landing in India. The game is a constant struggle between the financial benefits of imperialism, but the geopolitical ramifications of this colonialism is a prevalent theme throughout the game. The game begins in 1800, when the Mogul empire lost control of India. “The majority of the game is presented through an in-game headquarters screen which displays a map of India, a book detailing information of individual Indian states, and a group of icons which allows the player to issue commands.”(GamePlay manual)

One of the main critiques I had was that the narrative seemed incomplete, that was due in large part to the fact that what the white colonists or ethnic invaders from land-lock lands did with the plundering and suppression of the native population. I would most compare this game to Oregon Trail because you are constantly thinking about your next move, and really trying to stay alive.

The game adheres to traditional ideals of colonialism since no matter who your character is, whether it is British, French, Mogul, Sikhs, Gurkhas or Marathas there is a constant struggle for power. The British focus on India was to regain their power and benefit from the prosperity of India and the warm water port in which they could export massive amounts of riches from the land. The French did not colonize India but sought to do business with and use the resources, and the focus of the ethnic groups like Mogul, Sikh, Gurkhas or Marathas was an economic gain through pillaging rather than attempting to establish a true nation state. The players in the game that the narrative goes into great detail about are the British and the French. This is in large part due to the fact that they were major players in the region at the time and the majority of historical accounts available come from European settlers.

The game emphasizes the important role of diplomacy which is usually lost in the narrative when it comes to colonialism. When taking over a territory the player can engage with the local leader through diplomatic means.  If the player is very popular locally, the local leader invites them to a sporting event, such as elephant race or a game hunting session. If your character is not that popular but has a bit of an approval rating you can attempt to bribe the local leader. Usually diplomacy fails and then the goal is to take the territory by force. With diplomacy continuing to fail, attempting to bribe the local tribe leaders and then taking the territory by force the game attempts to portray a counter narrative to historical evidence about colonialism. The diplomacy did not happen, what did happen were English or other Europeans coming to nations like India, Africa, and parts of southeast Asia and telling the local population that we are superior and we are your rulers now. I find that this game really takes out the theme of racial superiority that was prevalent throughout the colonial age. If someone was looking to this game as a teaching tool for teaching about British colonialism and the other players who were involved in the overall colonialism, they would have to explain that this is not the full picture.

While this game may not depict the grim picture that of colonialism and imperialism, it is one that makes you constantly think. The game primarily follows the framework of the norms for colonialism games aspects such as Exploration is a noble cause, and at times it is acceptable to kill anyone who is not you. That really provides a gameplay experience where the fight or flight mentality is constantly depicted. The game provides counter colonialism ideals as well, ideas such as, not everyone is out to get you. Most likely, the different people are afraid of you. This is shown through the ability to engage in colonialism through diplomacy, essentially this idea provides a foil to colonialism and attempts to change the narrative.

In conclusion, Champion of the Raj is a fun game that provides a superficial level of insight into European imperialism in India. It does not provide the full story and wholes are found in the overall narrative. These wholes are necessary since no one would really be interested in a game that is centered on raping, pillaging, and widespread disease wiping out large chunks of the population. I found the game to be fun to play since I do love historical games, it always kept me thinking and took the monotony that I usually find in games out of it.

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