Age of Empires 3: Definitive Edition Addresses Indigenous Representation

The game's new edition seeks to rectify the original's problematic depictions of Native American peoples and cultures.

Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition has received attention for a note that appears at the start of the game. This note exists to address the original game’s harmful representation of Indigenous peoples and cultures — as well as the Definitive Edition’s intention to rectify the issue.

The note in the screenshot reads:

To learn from the power of our own stories is uniquely human. At World’s Edge, we value authenticity and respectful representations grounded in truth. The original release of Age of Empires III took liberties with the depiction of Indigenous civilizations, as well as the depiction of events and personages from American history. As we developed the Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition, we collaborated with Native American and First Nations consultants to correct those errors. We are immensely grateful for the time, patience, and faith shown to us by the members of the Lakota and Haudenosaunee Nations. We have replaced inaccurate or stereotypical depictions, created new voiceover using authentic speakers, and addressed problematic and harmful mechanics and storylines. We hope that you, the Age III DE player, will join us in celebrating the rich and vibrant cultures represented in the game. We have increased our resolve going forward to live out the values of “Gaming for Everyone” — a commitment to a journey, not a destination.

A month before the game’s launch on Oct. 15, the development team posted an extensive interview with consultant Anthony Brave, a Sicangu Oyate (Rosebud Sioux Tribe) and Chippewa-Cree descendant. The interview is the first piece of discussion among several planned interviews “with the individuals that helped guide us throughout the process” that are meant to provide “insight into the changes, why they were made, and how we worked with our tribal consultants.”

Brave was the lead cultural expert for the Indigenous peoples portrayed in the game, as well as the writer of the new Shadow storyline “Act II of The War Chiefs.” As a cultural consultant, his work consisted of reviewing and reporting on the game’s handling of Native American and Indigenous peoples.

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“Although it is certainly not everything to a game, representation means a great deal to me: not just on an intellectual level, but on an emotional level,” Brave says. “Playing full-on Indigenous-made games like Elizabeth LaPenseé’s 2D adventure game, When Rivers Were Trails, gives me the chance to see myself and my people in a good way—which up until this point has been a rare case in video games.”

While the script was adjusted, so were some gameplay aspects. For example, having Indigenous North Americans mining in the original game was nonsensical. “Mining is pretty antithetical to Native values in general,” Brave explains. “We are taught to respect the land as our mother and be in good relations with it. Mining is a form of exploitation of the land, and we would never treat our mother like that.” As a result, the Mining mechanic was changed to the Tribal Marketplace, which provides an alternative method for the player to gather coin.

You can read the interview for more insight from Brave on a variety of topics related to Indigenous representation in Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition, such as why the original’s Fire Pit was so offensive (it is now the Community Plaza), the removal of the heavily stereotypical “Nature Friendship” ability, and the replacement of Crazy Horse with a Lakota elder, Uncle Warbonnet.

In their review of the game, Ty Galiz-Rowe welcomed the clear display of effort to do better, especially in comparison to games like Civilization VI. However, they also wrote, “the core conceit of this game is still conquering the Americas. Ultimately I’m kind of at a loss… It’s cool the developers tried to address past mistakes with how they handled these cultures, but I’m not sure a strategy game grounded in their colonization getting a fresh coat of paint is something I want — even to complete the set.”

Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition is now available on Steam and the Microsoft Store.

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Natalie Flores

Natalie is Fanbyte's Featured Contributor, with bylines at places like VICE, Polygon, PC Gamer, Paste Magazine, and more.

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