‘Timeline’ is a game that I’ve been pushing to non-gamers lately. The premise is very simple – everyone has a (public) hand of several historical events, inventions, artistic creations, discoveries, etc.; anything notable and dated. The flip-side of every card has the corresponding date. One event starts the timeline date-side up. Players must then choose one of their cards and make an educated (or not, I suppose) guess as to where it goes in the timeline relative to the other events. Place it, flip it, leave it in place if correct or pull a new card if not. Gameplay is simple, fast, and almost educational. There are a whole bunch of sets, and they can be freely mixed-and-matched.
One of these sets is ‘Science and Discoveries’. Something always felt a little off about this set, and the last time I played it, I think I figured it out. There are 110 cards in a given set, and I have (to the best of my ability) narrowed this one down to a handful of categories:
- Sort of general mathematic and scientific theories and discoveries (16 cards)
- The theory of microbes
- The theory of evolution
- The theory of probability
- Things that can physically be discovered – and are not specifically noted as being discovered ‘by Europeans’ (36 cards)
- The discovery of microscopic life
- The discovery of the Sphinx of Gaza
- The discovery of the ruins of Troy
- As above, but specifically things that were ‘discovered’ by Europeans (24 cards)
- The discovery of Easter Island (by Europeans)
- The discovery of Angkor (by Europeans)
- The discovery of Greenland (by Europeans)
- The discovery of Pygmies (by Europeans)
- As above, but just ‘the Discovery of the potato (by Andeans)’ which seemed out of place elsewhere (1 card)
- Inventions, things that humanity specifically created or opted to do and the creation or doing of which is a matter of historical record (33 cards)
- The invention of the vaccination
- The discovery of anesthesia
- The invention of the = sign
- Construction started on the tower of pisa
- The abolition of slavery
- The invasion of Normandy
I had to make a few executive decisions so that I could neatly categorize things, and if I did this categorical exercise again right now, everything would likely be give or take a couple cards. But the heart of the matter is that the creators (rightfully) marked 22% of the cards as having been discovered (by Europeans). If my categorization is even remotely accurate, that’s 40% of the physical/corporeal ‘discovery’ cards.
Now, that ‘rightfully’ up there is important – I am glad that Asmodee opted to point out that these peoples and places were only ‘discovered’ in a very surface manner – the pygmies already knew that the pygmies existed. And this isn’t a very deep thought, hopefully it’s immediately obvious to any given American or European that their history textbooks are written with a bias and to a purpose. But I guess what fascinated me were those percentages.
This is by no means representative of a history textbook, nor the average person’s understanding of history. But I can’t imagine it’s terribly far off, either. Coming from a colonialist sort of viewpoint, a lot of our ‘big moments in history’ come from finding this or that ‘savage’ population and treating them not as humankind, but as a scientific subject. And here we have a truly trivial history game telling us that >20% of the notable achievements the creators could come up with are, in fact, just stuff we’ve decided we can claim as having discovered. Despite either it (for lack of a better phrasing) having discovered itself, or other (‘lesser’) civilizations having beaten us to the punch. I suppose there is far more important stuff to worry about right now, even in the context of colonialism, but I still find it to be an intriguing glimpse into our historical ownership.