Civilization V Tesla

Editors’ Choice: Re-entangling Science and Technology

Technoscience is a term I’ve used occasionally on this site, particularly in reference to the kinds of knowledge represented in tech trees, though without delving too deeply into its implications. As noted in the preceding article, the model of science and technology as two complementary and inexorably linked pieces of the military-industrial complex does a poor job of representing actual scientific and technological developments prior to the twentieth century. Technoscience, then, according to Donna Haraway (1997), is a “mutation in historical narrative.” For Haraway, the concept of technoscience underscores the implosion of the supposedly stable categories that structure the modern world. Technoscience rejects modernity’s rigid distinctions between the scientific and the social, the technical and the political.

Other scholars have further developed the concept of technoscience. Karen Barad (2007) notes that human practices are not the only ones that matter in technoscientific networks. In order for new knowledge to be constructed, a vast infrastructure must be created both materially and rhetorically (Latour, 1987). Thus, scientific work isn’t just the actions of scientists in white lab coats. Knowledge production requires that the work of countless other non-scientists be brought into the network. It requires the work of engineers and technicians building equipment, as well as administrators and support staff securing resources. The network also must be able to enroll material elements. This includes not only basic resources and scientific instruments, but also natural phenomena as objects of study. Their inclusion isn’t trivial or guaranteed. Scientists often discover, as Barad would say, “the world kicks back” (Barad, 2007).

Just as videogames often struggle to conceptualize science and technology in nuanced ways, they also struggle to represent the intersections of science and technology which, besides just being complex, have changed drastically over the past 150 years. This is not a shortcoming of the medium. Indeed, with their ability to model complex systems for players to interact with, videogames are perhaps uniquely suited to portraying complex ideas like technoscience in a way that players can understand. Some games, of course, come closer to this aspirational goal than others. Once again, the Civilization series provides some excellent examples of both ends of the spectrum.


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This content was selected for Digital Humanities Now by Editor-in-Chief Corinne Wilkinson based on nominations by Editors-at-Large: