Civilisation VI: A Musicologist’s View

Civilisation VI: The Ancient Era

Civilisation VI is the latest (2016) video game under the series of Sid Meier’s Civilisation, a set of 4X turn based games where the player can become a variety of empires, countries and famous leaders. What is interesting about the civilisations used, their leaders and musical representations, is that they are all placed in the ancient era and begin at 4000 BC, yet these civilisations vary considerably between Pericles of Greece to Teddy Roosevelt of America, to the myth Gilgamesh of Babylon. Looking only at the beginning music of the game, the civilisations are represented by traditional songs which begin in a simple form, consisting of mostly one or two instruments with a basic melody, when starting the game and identify with instrumentation found in the culture of that early civilisation. This ranges from the use of the viol in England to Egyptian flutes (Ney) to a Banjo and fiddle melody for America.

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The musical representations of these civilisations are not authentically originating from what the game describes as the ‘ancient era’. England is represented by the folk song Scarborough Fair, which became popular in the 18th century and continues to be a popular song to this day. The same occurs with America, with the use of the song Hard Times Come Again No More (Stephen Foster, 1854) which was popular during the American Civil War and the Romantic period.

At the beginning of the game, these songs are covered with the use of early instruments to give an “ancient” feel to the game’s atmosphere. For example, England’s song is played on a viol, an early instrument which would not have been originally used to play the folk song. On top of this, folk music is not considered early music, possibly causing issues amongst musicologists as to why this has been used for England when there are many other authentic early works to consider and use. To put it simply, these works have been gamified for the player, allowing both the musically educated and those who have no musical education, especially in early music, to understand that the civilisation chosen is England; by taking a popular folk song known to all and recreating it on a viol. The game will likely be exposed to players from all across the world, with different background and cultures, therefore it would make more sense for popular traditional and folk songs to be used in order for the environment to feel correct for that civilisation.

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