This post is inspired by a very brief interchange about colonialism in games. u/ithayla very rightly called colonialism gross. I certainly don't want to come across as defending colonialism, or nazism, or war, or..... But, he did touch a bit of a hobby horse of mine in regards to theme in boardgames. And, u/ithayla, I am not calling you out. I don't think what you said is wrong. I am merely using it as a springboard.
I furthermore recognize that this is a sensitive topic. I don't really want to offend anyone, and if you think I am wrong I am happy to engage in civil discourse with you. Also, in terms of themes, I will mostly discuss it in light of colonialism. There are many many other themes that are potentially objectionable that we could discuss. For instance.... Pirates, Slavery, Viking pillaging, Playing the wrong side in a war simulation......
The first thing that I think we need to realize is that there is bound to be a fair amount of subjectivity in regards to theme. I find certain themes gross, zombies for instance, so I never seek out games that have that theme. I have even avoided games because of that theme. I don't think that zombies are wrong per se, I just don't personally enjoy imagining or playing with/against them. This is a subjective opinion, much much different than the atrocities which were commited in the name of colonialism, much evil was done in the name of progress. People sometimes want to say themes they don't like are bad. That is not my what I am writing about here. My question is, "Is it bad to have themes based on regrettable parts of history?"
The thing about many of these things is that they happened. Colonialism did happen, and I have no desire to deny or justify it. Real people did really bad stuff to real people. But here is the thing with colonialism in particular. Real people did it. It wasn't some sort of ga'ould inhabiting the minds of men that took control and made them do what they did do. It wasn't like there was a Darth Vader directing the forces of colinialism against the poor rebels. No, these were real people who did awful things. I think that even the most abstracted Euro with colonialism as it's theme, even if it "glorifies" it is a profound reminder of the human condition. You might say that these themes are problematic because they justify atrocities. Here is the deal, the atrocities were justified, just the way they are in the games. When I play Puerto Rico I can see that the driving force of colonialism can be expressed in a formula.
Selfishness+Belief system that justified Selfishnes+Power to do what you wanted to= Colonialism
And, at the risk of sounding political, the reminder of the atrocities that followed this, is profoundly relevant for those of us who are citizens in a first world country.
Furthermore, while I don't want to justify colonialism, I don't think that the colonialists arrived to native peacefulness in most cases. I live in El Salvador, a country profoundly, and mostly negatively, impacted by old colonialism, and new ways colonialism is working today. One thing I enjoy doing if I have some time off is visiting Mayan ruins in Central America. I see the beautiful pyramids, they are a wonder. I see the alters for human sacrifice, I reflect on how these wondrous pyramids were built without the assistence of domesticated animals. In fact, they were built with slave labor, for human sacrifice. Is that better than the conquistidors? I don't know that it is, nor do I think it is worse than what the conquistidors did.
Maybe most people are different. When I play a game, or read a book that is even loosely based in a historical time I must look into that time period more. So, I appreciate when a designer or offer engages with a historical period, even in the loosest possible sense. If he "approves" of slavery, or genocide, or other horrible things in his design, it is a reminder of how depraved ordinary humans can be, if he judges it harshly, it is still a teaching opportunity.
So, I want mister Pfister to continue pumping out games about colonialism, It is great that we have games about Robbery, or Piracy, or...... It is a continual teaching opportunity for me and for those that I play with. Furthermore, I appreciate these things taking place in the "real world" the world that we recognize when we look at a globe. Far, far, to often designers are justly afraid of putting objectionable themes in their games, so they hide their genocide, not in colonialism but in space etc..... This, frequently, neuters the teaching opportunities inherent with building the theme in a world where we can see the results of the mistakes that the people in the game made.