This is an archive of the former website of the Maoist Internationalist Movement, which was run by the now defunct Maoist Internationalist Party - Amerika. The MIM now consists of many independent cells, many of which have their own indendendent organs both online and off. MIM(Prisons) serves these documents as a service to and reference for the anti-imperialist movement worldwide.

Maoist Internationalist Movement

Emperor: Rise of the Middle Kingdom


reviewed May 11, 2005

This is a Chinese version of the game "Civilization." The box says "The Least You Could Do is Conquer the World" in reference to the adoring citizens who work hard for the emperor in the thousands of years of imperial Chinese history. Throughout the game, if the emperor does even moderately well, the citizens will say complimentary things to the emperor. One can dominate someone who in turn is grateful, something Catharine MacKinnon wrote on at length. Obviously "Emperor" is teaching people to love power and find enjoyment in it, so the game is pornography, which is no surprise to MIM in the current situation: there is no individual escape before revolution.

Comparing "Emperor" with other games available

For this review, we went out to do some investigation along the lines of other reviews. In general, persynal computer games are losing shelf space rapidly. They continue to hold ground in the chain stores Circuit City, Best Buy, Office Max and Staples. However, in Office Max types of stores the variety may be less than in other game stores.

The really important trend is that in 2005 the stores specializing in video games removed wall space for persynal computer games completely. On those walls are the TV related games that are usually easier to play (except for perhaps dexterous handling of a joystick). For example, we counted for the Microsoft games on the wall. Out of 80 games on the wall shelf, 55 Microsoft XBox titles are militarist or individual mass murder related. The next most common category was sports.

The TV-related games give one the sensation of driving a tank or a race car or manipulating basketball players. Obviously the original history of computer games has gone by the wayside as a by-gone era of computer geeks.

As a whole, the persynal computer games are still more intellectual, just with a shrinking proportion of shelf space. On the little stand for persynal computer games in the TV dominated chain store, the ratio of militarist games is even higher than for TV-related games--90% of the games being military or individual mass-murder related. The exceptions are the peaceful sex or exploration games.

When it is so easy to characterize a particular phenomenon, we can also reason in reverse. The question becomes what else do these militarist customers like and we should suspect that it all derives from the same tainted place. Despite the high proportion of wimmin supposedly playing video games--over 40% of players--the industry is quite male in outlook. For example, for one TV-related title for racing cars, there is no racing car on the cover. Instead, we have just a womyn in a bikini. That is saying a lot--that the industry sees all of these phenomena linked together. The original theory may come from Engels, MacKinnon or Foucault, but the facts of the overall situation are part of the knowledge of advertisers. MIM is only reporting what the advertising industry knows inside-out.

There may be a temptation in saying that some of the fighter-plane games are politically neutral, because in some cases they do not name a side one is fighting for. So games without historical or political props or background may appear at first to be neutral, but like all art, that is not so. Mindless enjoyment of flying fighter planes or manipulating other military vehicles encourages people to join the imperialist armed forces for fun. If revolutionary forces were easily available to join, the question might be different. Even MIM gets some people who try not just to work with us but outright join us for the wrong reasons. So the "Emperor" game may appear to be neutral, but it always occurs in a context where it benefits one side of a conflict more than another. That is why Mao said art is a direct part of class struggle.

Benefits of "Emperor"

When we look at a game like "Emperor," instead of fantasizing that the other games are politically neutral, we should see what we get out of it. The most important benefit is the sense of accomplishment in Chinese history thousands of years ago. The fact that Chinese civilization was in various centuries the most advanced civilization shoots down many racist pseudo-theories spread in the West. A well-known English-speaking writer on the subject was Joseph Needham. So it's a huge topic and people can start with him for some details.

One of the great mysteries of humyn history is how the Chinese became so advanced and did not develop capitalist imperialism. There is a whole historical argument about whether and how Confucianism squelched capitalism. (Unfortunately there are now idealists on both sides of the question, with some saying Confucianism squelched capitalism and others emphasizing East Asia is doing well now economically, because of a thousands of years belated impact of Confucianism.) In "Emperor," there are many aspects similar to state capitalism.

In the context of another great civilization based in Latin America called the Mayan, MIM has hypothesized that it and others disappeared because of militarism, that in fact, nuclear or similar warfares are not the first time when war has threatened civilization. It's just that the accomplishments wiped out by war were wiped out in only one or two great civilizations at a time in the past.

In China's case, the Liberals tend to argue that China rejected both militarism and contact with the outside world. That is why China's civilization collapsed according to the Liberals. We're not going to settle that here.

At the beginning of the game, the citizens will tell the emperor if citizens are starving. If trade is not available, the emperor must set up both the farms and food distribution center to get anywhere, and this is something MIM has stressed on the nature of the productive sector. Also on the plus side, the game tells the player how fertile the land is and how long the food supply will last. The player does not get a totally perfect sense that agriculture could be so inefficient that there can be no jade carvers in society, because everybody has to work farming. Nonetheless, the game simply informs the player of the accomplishments of agriculture and all the rest of civilization stems from that.

So it is possible from just following the course of events in the game, to escape today's bourgeois economics, in which there is only the all-mighty dollar and consumer preferences simultaneously jumbled together. Not only do customers have individual preferences in this game, but on the whole, the "Emperor" describes those preferences as systematic by social groups and occurring in stages. At first the citizens demand a wider variety of food. Next comes fiber for clothing, textiles , ceramics and tea etc. Eventually citizens demand silk clothing. It goes in an order in development and on this we agree with the Sierra game designers. There are also three classes in the game.

The bourgeois Liberals try to say that the individual and his or her subjectivity is the center of the universe that we Marxists squelch. From playing "Emperor," it's not hard to see that historically, certain subjective opinions do need to be squelched. For example, somewhere people may starve to death if any credence is given to the subjectivity of an individual who wants to set up music schools instead of farms. Make the wrong decisions in "Emperor" instead of following what is objectively necessary and the citizens will starve and the game may come to an end one way or another.

In one game the reviewer played, simply by virtue of having too many sectors in the economy open or "choices," the economy spiralled downward and out of control--and that was well before half the sectors were an option. People left the city, because it went into debt, because it was mismanaged in a Liberal way--too many choices for the workers and no definitive progress in the key link sectors of that moment. For example, the sectors to export silk and start an accumulation dynamic were open, but not enough workers were in them, because the people had an illusion of "choice" that led to economic crisis and demographic collapse. This also occurs in other strategy games including "Tropico."

So the truth is that even in the situation where our heads are just above water, the complexity is even more dangerous and Liberalism even more likely to lead to problems if there are laws in economic history as "Emperor" suggests. Later, by using the labor allocation window and prioritizing where labor should go--not in the military and entertainment sectors above the others for example--the reviewer proved it is possible to have a smoother running economy.

Game programming and history/the future are very favorable ground for Marxism. In coming up with what would happen to citizens if there were no farms, the programmers came up with what we Marxists sometimes call the "laws of history." Likewise, historians and people looking at economic development tend to come to Marxist conclusions.

Along these lines is the resulting exploitation in an in-between situation of being neither occupied nor totally independent as a city/province/nation. When a neighbor attacked the reviewer's city, the enemy won sufficiently to require "tribute." Paying "tribute" can even be whitewashed as a "choice" to pay for military protection, not unlike what we see in many lumpenesque economies in the world, Russia's being only the latest.

In tributary relationships, the exploiter does not take in a region politically and the exploiter does not even leave behind a colonial administration. Yet, the reviewer city was supposed to send bronze bars, fish, millet or other products or face more trouble from failing the tributary relationship. In a bad enough military situation, the game is over and the player loses. One good thing is that the player learns to appreciate how tribute is exploitation, but also not the end of the world/game.

Tribute is exploitation part of the old sense of "empire." When MIM uses the word "imperialism," tributary exploitation is not the question. For Lenin, imperialism is something very historically specific and existing only since the late 1800s.

Something that causes much confusion in the Third World is that the historical fight against tributary relationships--say among Tibetans, Mongols and Han peoples--is historical background to u.$. imperialism, but it is not the same thing as the fight against u.$. and other imperialisms today. We followers of Lenin say that the tribute game is small compared with what imperialism does through domination of financial institutions today. Imperialism in the Leninist sense is not what occurs in the "Emperor" game when one city goes to attack or take over another.

MIM does not organize in the Third World, but we do organize in the imperialist countries and the flipside of overemphasis on tributary exploitation relative to imperialist exploitation in Lenin's sense is an underestimation of the labor aristocracy in the imperialist countries. Neighboring ethnicities in the Third World often get caught up in a cycle of revenge with the somewhat real historical material roots of land-grabbing and tributary exploitation. Inevitably something current sparks animosity already built up through history. It's not uncommon in the Third World to see people wrongly link the struggle against u.$. imperialism to the struggle against non-imperialist neighbor X, Y or Z.

Except for the organizations fraternal to MIM, the so-called Marxists in the imperialist countries constantly underestimate the benefits from imperialism's dominance of global financial institutions, not just the IMF and World Bank, but also Wall Street, government banks and individual banks. The phony Marxists come up with some excuse for why construction workers make 10, 20 or 50 times more money in the West than in the Third World. Yet it is these construction workers and other seemingly ordinary people who can be another source of confusion in the Third World. At the vanguard of spreading this confusion are the phony Marxists saying Western construction workers are harder working and more technically advanced than construction workers in other countries. Such talk results in copying of Western ways, an unfounded cultural and lifestyle movement instead of a revolutionary class struggle. Globally, false consciousness of this nature is the important or principal form of false consciousness connected to liberating oppressed nations. So-called Marxists contributing to this type of false consciousness are the true theorists of fascism, including social-fascism and social-imperialism.

When we point out the proliferation of the unproductive sector workers as more than 75%, the phony Marxists vulgarize as Marx predicted to say that unproductive sector workers in an exploiter country are exploited and even productive. These phony Marxists contribute to the false consciousness of the world's majority of exploited and oppressed located in the Third World.

In "Emperor," if one can set up enough tributary relationships, it's not hard to see how one could do away with one's own agricultural and industrial sectors. Then the employees of one's own city could be soldiers, music school artists, acrobats and diviners of ancestral shrines. Yet historically, no tributary relationships have ever created the kind of privileged ordinary citizens in the hundreds of millions that u.$. imperialism has created through its domination of financial institutions (in addition to older mechanisms of exploitation). So we stress that there is no chance of straightening out the global situation of oppression and exploitation without dealing with u.$. imperialism as first priority. U.$. imperialism is the cornerstone of oppression and exploitation.

In the first stage of revolution, as in the first stage of the "Emperor" game, we will still be in a situation where the productive sector matters to most of the world. (Under socialism, the productive sector will no longer produce surplus-value and thus will eventually lose its name in strictly Marxist terminology.) Unlike the countless social-chauvinists calling themselves Marxist, we are not going to skip that reality for the benefit of flattering the parasitic majority of the united $tates and similar countries. In order to achieve that first stage of revolution in the West, we also have to aim our united front at achieving what is in the interests of the international proletariat, not what is in the interests of parasites--so we are allied with oppressed and exploited people globally, and occasionally with the exploiters competing with our own at home.

We do not want to encourage a more intellectually subtle appreciation of pornography. People playing "Emperor" should not kid themselves that they are rising above the oppressive culture. Yet it is in the nature of dialectical reality that there must be something that gives rise to new things. If this were not true, history would have been circular. Playing the "Emperor" is not the revolution, but it may contribute somewhat to revolutionizing people.

Go to Amazon to buy "Emperor: Rise of the Middle Kingdom"