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Political Simulations and Gaming 2011
The purpose of this essay is to compare and contrast the various games, while identifying political practices within the game itself. According to Hannah Arendt, politics is created through our interactions with others, identifying political practices requires games with multiple players. The essay will be structured, beginning with an initial introduction to the module by an analysis of monopoly. The chosen games within which political practices would be analyzed include, WWII,' Kingmaker’ and Red Guard.' The initial game which we were subject to dissect was monopoly. A game which the majority of people are familiar with. My previous experience of playing the game did two things, firstly it dismissed all political relevance and secondly made me identify the game as a ‘fun.' Playing the game under critical circumstances I developed two concepts. The concept of ‘gaming the game’ and the concept of ‘strategic movement which is a political contract.' Gaming the game within monopoly involved an understanding of the game itself. With limited number of houses available in the bank, buying them all without converting to hotels or buying as many as possible before anyone else, has several significances to the other players. Their development is halted, as they cannot buy houses or landing on a street with several houses could potentially bankrupt them therefore rendering them out of the game. Strategic movement involves calculated risks; the presence of chance over strategy is unfavorable in politics. Monopoly, based on the ‘Landlords game’ by Elizabeth Maggie, was based on a resentment of capitalism. Playing monopoly there is no initial political reference but careful analysis after the game allows for political enlightenment. Guy Debord a situationist and Marxist based his ‘Game of War on Prussian general Carl von Clausewitz’s. A fascination and in-depth strategy as to how a relatively small Prussian army was able to defeat a much more reputable French army. The Game of War is able to capture certain aspects of realism during battle through the movement of game pieces on the board. It incorporates the politics of war and strategic placement, based on calculated risks and limited movement. However, in attempting to create a sense of realism, the Game of War constrains a player’s ability to make instant decisions. In a battle-like scenario, the ability to react or act fast often leads to victory. The Game of War does however take on a realist perspective and leaves little down to luck, seemingly your advantage down to your understanding of the rules, or rather you opponents lack of understanding.
Kingmaker refers to the medieval war of roses, and the meddling of power by influential Baron’s in their attempt to crown a favorable Royal Family. With a prevalent political connotation, politics within Kingmaker is more visible within the game. The individuals within the game attempt to gain political legitimacy first, in the crowning of their chosen Royal house, which also provides the house with a monopoly of power. Andrew McNeil, in the mechanics of the game, provides the ability for players to increase influence through military power and tittles. The historical reference of the game places power within the land owned by Barons, the dispute within the Baronial factions acted not as a conquest for land but rather influence and untimely power over the chosen royal. Equality is promoted regardless of affiliation, and the game becomes a race to establish a ‘first among equals’. Realistic practices within the game was further promoted by assention through offices, at the base a nobleman , with opportunities to become, Dukes, Earls, Chancellors and gain control over the church. The assention through offices for the players, established a self awareness of positions held, with more offices comes more power, the players also were limited from holding conflicting offices, in prevention of a monopoly of power which would lead to simplification of objectives due to offices held.
Historically, the Kingmakers role involves a support for a chosen leader. McNeil’s Kingmaker was replicated a struggle between Baronial factions rather than the Houses themselves. The use of cards promoted an accurate version of the War of Roses. The cards acted an Achilles heels and provided the element of luck to the game. ‘The fall of the dice may signify and determine the divine workings; by it we may move the gods as efficiently as by any other form of contest’ (Huizinga 2002). However the element of luck present throughout the game can act as distraction from the objectives and lead to the concept of ‘Gaming the game’. Through memory, a player is able to establish and control their chances at luck, I.e. events such as plagues and uprisings only take place once in each of the towns, with memory of where these have taken place, a player is then able to strategically move to that position and has an advantage in the game. These information and reasoning were not available during the war.
Origins of WWII followed. The game was presented, with a game board and game pieces. The most simplified game as of yet. Playing as either, France, Britain, the USA, Germany, or the USSR. Like the game of war, and kingmaker, moves were made on the board using the individuals given pieces. Avalon hill, attempt to recreate the 1935-39 international diplomacy, which led up to WW11. It attempts to simulate real life situations through transparency of state strengths and weaknesses which lead up to formation of Alliances, usually alliances to Stop Germany. Geographically accurate, the game succeeds as a political educational tool in its allocation of points. Germany had far more political factors then any other player and could win the game within the second of 6 rounds and alone, the USA stood no chance of winning, not even gaining control over a territory. Without prior knowledge of the crisis, a player is able to take up a historically proportionate position within the game. I.e. the USA has very little in the way of political factions due to their lack of interest and unwillingness to commit within Europe.
Eventually the game presents itself as everyone Vs Germany; alliances are formed to prevent a European domination. The opportunity to ‘appease like Neville Chamberlin’ was also incorporated into the game. Political factors were able to be placed within states and with enough opposing factions, the state was able to displace the factors and therefore break alliances formed, which is historically accurate. However without involvement from Austria or Italy it was less realistic. While shifting the object of the game to ‘stop Germany’ focuses drift and the opportunity emerges for another player to win. The ability to move blind, added a sense of realism to the game, with appropriate appeasement and diplomacy, a player is able to convince or deceive another about their influence within a certain territory.
Origins of WWII compared to the previous games, involved more of the political. Decisions, Movement, appeasement through diplomacy, creating and breaking alliances, are all within a player’s control. While focusing on self interest, players through a desire for victory or Stooping Germany are able to negotiate and create strategic blockades. With a sense of the not too distant history and universal knowledge of the conflict prompted individuals to take a stand as to what state they represent before the game began. The game, forced players to create alliances, without alliances no other player stand an adequate chance of victory, when compared to Germany. In creating alliances, players were forced to make politically beneficial moves by putting aside their initial ambitions for victory. With proper understanding of the rules, the accuracy of the game is also politically beneficial to the play, in recreating WWII. Germany is limited from establishing peace with certain states. The number of rounds also, adds to the politicalization of the game, with 6 rounds, players have to negotiate from the get go and Germany was left to make the last move. With alliances formed from the start, Germany's chances of success are decreased. Similar to the game of war, there is no element of luck. Every move potentially counts even the negotiations; negotiations were best established with players who possessed significant numbers of political factors able to stand a chance at defeating or deceiving Germany.
Finally ‘Red Guard'. General Mao’s revolution depicted into aboard game by Brian Train, attempts to recreate the Cultural Revolution through collective up to 6 players attempting to lead the Chinese Cultural Revolution. General Mao, the much loved Chinese revolutionary is the key to influence “Whatever policy originated from Chairman Mao, we must continue to support," and "Whatever directions were given to us from Chairman Mao, we must continue to follow”. With Mao, presenting the game, the faction which possessed Mao’s influence was unable to be eliminated. The Red Guards, sought out to defend Mao as their supreme leader, dysfunction’s within factions as to who truly represented Mao, is the mechanics in which the game basis itself on.
The game is represented by cards, a die, objective pieces and small cardboard pieces to represent you military might. Players have secret objectives in which they could claim victory. The objectives were motivation for attacks on other players in order to gain necessary institutions to satisfy victory. With no previous in-depth understanding of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, the game provided basic background of the period in concern. However the game failed in its attempt to create a realistic environment. The secret objectives allow for inconsistencies and provide no real room for political leverage. Negotiations and alliances can be formed, but a lack of trust and skepticism present no middle ground for the any player as victory is achievable by any player and is the only means of ending the game. The political aspect of the game represents the realist conception of valuing individual goals over goals of others. Alliances could be forms but the knowledge that they could be broken at any point drove players to pursue self interests as primary.
The mechanics of the game differ significantly. In the game of war, the players were limited to moving accordingly to the capabilities of their pieces, the movement was strictly between the pieces and the board. The mechanics within origins of WWII involve simple and easy placements of the political factors within the chosen country. Kingmaker, was unique in as in every move, a player was entitles 5 moves, and as to where they placed those moves was all within the players control. The final game Red Guard was shown through the movement of combat pieces. When attacking or purging, a player had to separate allocated combat pieces from defense pieces. The movement was theoretical and the combat results were decided by the role of a die. The stronger the attacking force the more likely victory was guaranteed. The very idea of politics is a compromise between individuals. For politics to occur, more than one individual has to be present. The process of establishing individual ideals, discussing them in order to influence or come to a common good is politics. Playing the game alone has no political implication.
In delivering the various political messages, the games differ. The Game of War, as a game failed to present itself as ‘interesting’. The manner in which it was laid out and the fact that the pieces have to be self made, limits the audience it could reach out to. Its historical and political relevance is not initially inferable by way of presentation. It is in during play that the player is able to ‘make political decisions’. Debord succeeds in placing power in the hands of the individual but due to the limitations of accessibility, the aspect of political relevance is reduces to one of nostalgic historical interests. Andrew McNeil’s Kingmaker, by way of mechanics, promotes the political. He incorporates accurately the aims of the game with historically relevant events. Without knowledge of the War on Roses, players are able to grasp the objective connotation of the game aims. Kingmaker’s design and availability make it an accurate political educational tool, however the historical period in which it is relevant presents the game as a historical tool, rather than a political, although the political is at play during the game.
Origins of WWII for the subject of politics, presents compared to Kingmaker or The Game of War, presents the most accurate and realistic political educational tool. It fuses, history, with state interest (through victory objectives), with history and it promotes alliances, in the desire to create a balance of power. Players have limited abilities within their grasp, due to historical simulation, to maximise abilities in order to satisfy victory, the players must negotiate to prevent Germany’s domination by either diplomatically appeasement with Germany or form ‘realist’(self interested) alliances with others. The strategy is signified in the alliances, the interests are what drives the need for alliances and the allocation of political factors (although exaggerated) attempts to replicate historical strength. The simplistic nature of the game, promotes diplomacy on the subject of politics. Diplomacy is central to international politics and states ability to promote diplomatic alliances, can determines its standing within the international community. Avalon Hill’s game succeeds in promoting the political, in game form, where ‘The Game of War’ failed. Red Guard bears similarities between Kingmaker and Origins of WWII. However the possibility at winning is unequal as each player has different victory points. The element of luck, in way of a die and a random selection of reinforcements after each round takes away from historical accuracy. As a political instrument, it models the Cultural Revolution through a separation of factions. The emphasis on the element of luck however is the game is limited in the political. The Game of War had no element of luck and therefore little opportunity in being able to ‘game the game’. Kingmaker on the other hand, presented the element of luck, but luck which was mathematically reversible and appropriately fused strategy with game aims. Similarly to The Game of War, Origins of WWII presented little, in the way of luck but placed great emphasis on player’s negotiation skills. ‘Politics is a game of minds’ and to be political is to understand how to ‘play the game’.
All the above games bar ‘The Game of War’ encourage socialising, the Game of war, demands concentration. The rules on the whole, for all the games were east to follow after a test round; Origins of WWII presented the easiest rules, as the rules were printed on the game packaging. An improvement is needed for the game of war as there are not enough instructions available, the single a4 sheet simply demonstrated the point’s value of the game and for a beginner he rules were not clear. All the games attempted to promote realistic environments for the various aims, Origins of WWII succeed in promoting these while The Game of War presented the most abstract scenario. With no background, similar to a chess board, the game is simply a game of minds, with players reacting to each other’s movements. All games placed different levels of power in the hand of players. Origins of WWII placed the least amount of power into reach of the players, due to the unfavourable point system. Players were forced in alliances. The Game of War placed the most power into within players as the element of luck was inexistent. Simply a two sided game, there was no opportunity for alliances and each player possessed the same abilities, the power of the players was within their decisions. And due to this the decision making process is accurately replicated. Kingmaker presented the most inaccurate opportunity at decision making. A mathematical strategy, entails taking calculated risks which for the most part, are not decisions made through desire. The game subject to the most improvement would be The Game of War. A lack of understanding of the games purpose, due to limited rules and no universal game design, make the game more of a ‘hobby’. Marking are also needed to make it aesthetically appealing, even a board of chess looks interesting. Upon first glance, the Game of War resembles contemporary art and not a game. The game needs to be made to look like a game. I would improve the game by creating a universally accepted game board, ratify all the rules, state clear aims in the rules and make it more available. In improving Kingmaker, the board and playing pieces need to be more legible. Origins of WWII is in need of inclusion of Countries such as Italy and Austria need to be included as active players in the game, to increase the realistic representation of the game. To improve Red Guard, the playing pieces need to be made larger or simply replaces with figures and the allocation of pieces at the end of each round needs to be made equal to all players. A reduction in the way of luck will aid in the games political replication.
As an insight to politics, the various games present a non-traditional approach to the study of ideology. Traditional materials such as textbooks and articles are able to provide an insight into politics but games present ways in which theories can be tested and perfected. Games have been used increasingly in the simulation of real life situations and understanding the purpose of ideology is best demonstrated by games.
- Huizinga, Johan. Homo Ludens, Routledge.2002
- In, Qiu (1999). The Culture of Power: Lin Biao and the Cultural
- Revolution. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press
- Jiaqi Yan, Gao Gao, Danny Wynn Ye Kwok, Turbulent decade: a history of the cultural revolution, Honolulu Univ. of Hawai'i Press
- Ladwig, E (2006). Cycle of Life and development in Beijing.
- Kathleen Bawn. Politics, Strategy and Game Theory. UCLA lecture
The acronym BRIC is derived from Jim O’Neill’s, Chairman of Goldman Sachs Global Assets Management, document entitled ‘Building Better Global Economic BRICS’. In this paper he explores the rapid socio-economic rise of: Brazil, Russia, India and China; all seemingly in competition to exert their regional dominance through trade and politics. It was from this hierarchy of international states that the idea to develop a game based on socio-economic gain came about. What remains a vital factor in winning the game is the necessary need for multilateral trade, as is with global situation. Although each BRIC nation is rich in its specific natural or social resource; becoming a highly advanced country is founded on a level of interdependence.
Each player will receive one of the four developing states card: Brazil, Russia, India or China detailing a specific key attribute e.g.: Brazil-Natural resources. At the beginning of the game each player will start with 200 points. The points received are used to negotiate trading resources needed in achieving infrastructure objectives. Once the required resources have been reached they are deposited into the bank, in return, the corresponding infrastructure piece is received. In developing this game out initial inspiration was drawn from the property-developing game Monopoly. Just as is with Monopoly there is the possibility to trade, bribe or manipulate a player(s) in order to obstruct the goal(s) of another. For example, should a player choose to over-price a commodity then other players have the opportunity to under-cut the market price. It was not until later in the module that it became apparent that our trading process strongly resembled Catan, in that trading natural resources was fundamental to reaching one’s objective. Where BRIC differs from Catan is in returning the resources back to their states after achieving the matching infrastructure piece.
As with Catan the mechanics of the game focus in trade; where the players exchange their natural resource for an agreed upon price. For every infrastructural improvement gained the state becomes stronger, an essential factor in order to protect themselves from chance cars. Upon understanding the basic mechanisms integral to BRIC very little play-testing was initially required. Nonetheless, it soon became apparent that the numerial aspect would prove difficult in over-coming. By limiting the number of points, natural resources and requirements for infrastructure objectives it simplified the mathematical process, by working within a defined boundary.