When Paradox announced Victoria III earlier this year, I was very excited, but also a little wary. Simulating the comedic excesses of medieval rulers is one thing, but how was a game coming out in 2022 (?) going to handle depictions of very real and lingering issues like the exploitation of workers and, on even shakier ground—especially in the United States—slavery?
Turns out they’re just gonna do it. Rather than try to tip-toe around the practice, or even more embarrassingly pretend it didn’t happen at all, Paradox is planning to fully implement slavery in the game, setting some nations—like the US—to have it operating by default, but also simply allowing adopting (or abolishing) it as an in-game decision as well.
Is this new?
Slaves were in previous Victoria games as well, but as Paradox no doubt anticipated by making this announcement in the first place, the company’s higher profile in 2021, coupled with increasing historical and political awareness among its fanbase, has made it a trickier system to implement this time around.
Slavery is, obviously, a horrific crime against humanity and precisely for this reason, many games that have a slavery-related setting or mechanics will either leave it out of the game or abstract it into something that’s less ‘on the nose’ (for example by simply applying some form of economic bonus at the expense of decreased stability). For Victoria 3, we don’t think these options work for us for two main reasons.
The first reason is that as I mentioned before, it was an important political issue of the day and was a major catalyst for several significant conflicts, most notably the American Civil War which would be bizarrely contextless if slavery did not play a significant role in the game. The other, and most important reason, is that through our Pop system we are trying to represent every individual human on the planet from 1836, so what statement would we be making if we simply wrote all enslaved individuals out of history, or reduced them into an abstract set of modifiers?
Instead, our aim is to try and represent the institution, systems and causes of slavery, as well as the people who lived under and fought against it, as close to history as we can get it. We simply believe this to be the most respectful way for us to handle this topic, as well as the way that’s most true to the game Victoria 3 aspires to be.
As far as how they’ll work in the game, the pros and cons work out to be pretty much what you’d expect from a strategy video game: certain sections of the population of nations adopting (or retaining) slavery will enjoy economic bonuses, at the cost of a number of factors, some of them relying on the player’s own conscience, most being continual and growing resistance from both the slaves and outside forces as well:
So what of that resistance? Well, given that slavery is founded entirely on human misery, slaves are naturally not going to be content with their lot in life, and will attempt to resist by whatever means are available to them. Mechanically this translates into a steady stream of radicalized slaves and the threat of turmoil and slave uprisings. This threat to a slave society can usually be averted with sufficiently repressive measures, but fear and violence is not a good foundation for a completely stable country.
Of course, resistance to slavery doesn’t just come from the slaves themselves, but also from Abolitionists, both internally in your country (in the form of characters and Interest Groups with the Abolitionist ideology) and externally in the form of Abolitionist-led countries that may hinder or put pressure on slave regimes that aren’t strong enough to resist them. The most notable historical example here being Britain and its naval efforts to stamp out the trans-atlantic slave trade in the 19th century.
The big caveat here is that like every other Paradox grand strategy game, the point isn’t in recreating the politics and events of the 19th century, but in giving players the tools to create their own story. That’s where Victoria III’s implementation of slavery is going to really be tested, and while the team’s intentions here are clear, we’ll have to wait to see the finished game to find out just how successfully (and more importantly, respectfully) it all comes together.