IN anticipation of this week’s Total War: Rome 2 release, Gamer Thumb probed the mind of Monash University’s political scientist Dr Zareh Ghazarian to learn more about Roman politics and whether or not knowing about this topic could make you a better Total Warrior.
THUMB: Firstly, tell us about yourself and what it means to be a political scientist?
GHAZARIAN: Political science is one of the oldest fields of human study, dating back some 2,500 years.
It is a very broad field, but is generally concerned with the organisation and operation of governments and nations.
It analyses the relationships that exist in human society by looking at the allocation of resources, decision making and power struggles.
Political science intersects with many other fields of study such as law and economics. My particular field of interest is looking at national governance and the competition between political parties as they compete to win executive power.
THUMB: Do you play games? What do you enjoy about them in general, and how do you think they can help people learn compared to other mediums?
GHAZARIAN: I have played video games for a very long time, starting off with the Atari 2600.
The enjoyment of games can be on many different levels, such as their aesthetics, story, gameplay or music.
The wide variety of games from outrageously silly (such as Saints Row) to more thought provoking titles (such as strategy games) ensures that games can be enjoyed by a wide variety of people.
The interactive nature of games encourages players to think about their decisions and put themselves in positions they would not often be in.
For example, in strategy games players must think about the impact of their actions and highlights how difficult allocating resources can be, especially for governments, in daily life.
This element makes games a unique medium through which people can learn and grow.
THUMB: With Total War: Rome 2 set to launch, it marks the latest in a long line of games that deal with period politics. Tell us what it was like to be a Roman politician, and how their system differed to what we have today.
GHAZARIAN: The Roman politician arguably had much more freedom to act in ways they believed were best.
They were always on the lookout for ways to expand their powers as well as provide a sense of security and stability for the people.
Roman politicians were also unencumbered by the rigid party system that modern democracies now have.
They were still, however, always wary of those who had supported them in the past and the need to return favours.
Politicians in liberal democracies today have a greater range of checks and balances confronting them, such as the media. Roman politicians did not confront such systems.
THUMB: What influences did Roman politics have on current political systems, especially the US presidential and Australian parliamentary ones?
GHAZARIAN: Roman politics had a significant role in shaping the modern political systems found in today’s liberal democracies such as the USA and Australia.
If we consider the Roman Empire, then we can think of it as the precursor to the modern nation-state.
It was large, diverse and constantly seeking ways to expand and protect itself.
It developed systems of governance and laws to help it function such as using a constitution to create checks and balances on the powerful.
THUMB: Do you believe that reading up on Roman politics would give a gamer an advantage in Total War?
GHAZARIAN: Having some knowledge on Roman politics would enhance the enjoyment of a gamer as they would be more familiar with the key issues and problems they were experiencing.
It would also heighten players’ feelings of empathy as they would be more understanding of the context which they found themselves in.
THUMB: Have you ever thought to use political games to illustrate any aspect of your coursework to students?
GHAZARIAN: In the past, we’ve used Sim City to demonstrate the complexities political actors face in allocating resources and making decisions.
While it is still a game, it highlights how public policy and planning issues need to be balanced between the often competing priorities of industry and residents.
It also tests the player’s strategy in terms of how they can construct policy settings that allow their city to grow.
THUMB: If they were to make a game based on Australian politics, what do you think the most interesting era would be to cover? And what type of game would suit it best?
GHAZARIAN: Unlike other countries, Australia was created without a revolution or war. Rather, Australia’s federation in 1901 came about after a series of meetings where the colonies agreed to give some powers to a new level of national government while retaining many other powers.
This prosaic approach would probably not be the most inspirational backdrop for a game.
If there was to be a game I’d imagine it to look like a hybrid of Sim City and Civilisation where the goal is to maintain territory while trying to expand economic and cultural elements in addition to deciding on where to allocate resources.
Managing the vast expanse of the continent would also be a challenge.
THUMB: Modern politics can be quite a turn off to some people, yet games based on political decision making – such as Total War, Sim City and Civ – are quite popular. Do you have any explanation for this?
GHAZARIAN: Everyone is engaged in politics at some level because everyone is involved in the competition for resources and power or, at the very least, have views on how political actors should behave.
These games are popular because they tap into this strategic mind-set that we all have where we are required to make decisions and shape societies as we’d like them to be.
There’s a sense of satisfaction that these games give, whether it’s constructing a tough, authoritarian regime or an open and democratic state. Watching your empire grow is also a very satisfying experience.