News Paper Games

… is the not-quite-as-bad-as-last-year title I picked for the short talk I am giving at the national conference of the American Popular Culture Association in San Diego next week.

Here is my abstract:

Ian Bogost’s 2011 book Newsgames: Journalism At Play described the growing use of videogames distributed via the Internet to fulfill the basic objectives of journalism: to inform, educate, criticize and persuade. Manual games (also called board games) distributed or published through magazines or newspapers were long used for the same purposes prior to the creation of the Internet, and the practice continues to this day. Manual games are more permissive of remixing/ reskinning for these objectives than video games, by a wider range of people. As physical and tactile objects, they demand and offer a different form of engagement with the material, on the ludic and informational level. They also particularly lend themselves to parody and satire, leading to a greater consciousness of “critical play” (Flanagan, 2009).

 This paper will focus on past and current examples of how manual games, as inclusions or features in print journalism products, have portrayed and “covered” (in the journalistic sense) contemporary issues and episodes of social, political and actual armed conflict. It will also discuss and present examples, including ones from my own work, of use of the Internet to disseminate manual games with critical and analytic content on current topics, as a form of citizen journalism.

Surprisingly, Bogost’s book does not mention paper games at all (or manual, or board, or analog, or tabletop, whatever term you want to use for games not played on a computer), except for a chapter on crosswords and other word puzzles with some news content in them appearing in newspapers.

Actually, nothing surprising about that… hardly anyone in the field of game studies writes anything about tabletop games. Last year’s conference had nearly 100 presentations in the game studies area, and three of them were not about some aspect of computer, video, digital games generally … two guys talking about people who play tabletop RPGs, and me.

Bored of War…          Back from Seattle

This year there are only about 50 presentations – it seems to be a smaller conference overall, though there will still be a couple of thousand people there – and still only three on non-digital games: one person presenting about narrative in Pandemic: Legacy (still can’t get used to the idea of a game that you scribble on, without first having made it yourself) and one person talking about “Policing Responsible Citizens: The Gamification of Crime Resistance in Children’s Table-Top Games” (seems interesting), and again me.

The fact remains, the practice of producing manual “newsgames”, under most of these genres, has been going on for some time. They remain as uncommon but clear acts of citizen-based social criticism and analytic journalism. And through DTP software, the PDF file, and the Internet for production, storage and distribution they carry on, in ever-greater numbers of PnP designs from ever-greater numbers of people.

Before there were video games there were manual games. But no one talks about it, at least not at an event like this. My talk is not even an argument, really, which I guess is fine because this seems to be a field profoundly ignorant of its origins.

Am I the skeleton at the feast?

Or does this just not have anything to do with elephants, in the room or out of it?

Anyway, there will be a game night like they had the year before, so I am bringing a few PnP items along for show, tell and play.


About brtrain
This blog is mostly devoted to posts, work and resources on "serious" conflict simulation games.

5 Responses to News Paper Games

  1. Brian, I suspect that there is no elephant in the room, but rather you will be, like Marco Polo, describing a fabulous creature to people who have never seen one. Given what I recall of pop culture from academia, I suspect your paper will be a traveller’s tale of a foreign land, but all the better I say. I imagine there will be some engagement on how wargames became civilian entertainment. Is it a subset of popular military history or a desire by news junkies to want to understand the news or near future news (I think of your games or the GMT Next War series).
    Something I would ask, if I were there, is what is the intersection between miniatures games (think Games Workshop) and classical boardgames. Are minis games more “popular” in that there are artifacts that players must produce (Scenery, painted minis, etc) which are akin to, say, folk art? I sometimes think that the artifact factor is why board war gamers often seen snooty about mini war gamers, because they are somehow less serious, but anyway …
    Looking forward to hearing how it goes.

    • brtrain says:

      Hi Michael, thank you for dropping by!

      Certainly I am getting that Marco Polo impression, from the last couple of events I have spoken at: last year’s conference, and last November when I talked about game design to a class of students in “The History of Video Games”.
      For that reason, there may not be a heck of a lot of engagement.
      As I said in some discussion on last year’s conference, “I think as long as I have reminded people that these things even exist, I’ve done my job.”

      In my talk I’m not going to go into why wargaming became civilian entertainment, but I will talk about their value, past and present, in exploring and evaluating current and near future news… here I talk specifically about my designs Battle of Seattle (created 2 weeks after the riots) and Ukrainian Crisis (created during the weekend of the referendum crisis itself).
      I suppose I could also mention Third Lebanon War, which is not as implausible as the “Putin Strikes All Points of the Compass” games which are popping up, and hasn’t been overtaken by events.

      Meanwhile, miniatures. The resurgence of Euros and the cheapness of things manufactured in China have given us board wargames with a great toy factor.
      When he was little my son and I had a lot of fun with Attack! and War! Age of Imperialism from Eagle Games, and Battle Cry from Avalon Hill.
      These were simpler games of course, but they were not completely childish.
      Then you have minis wargames, and minis wargamers.
      I have lots of miniatures I’ve collected over the years, rule sets too (from which I have stolen a number of good ideas) but have never actually gotten them to the table.
      The amount of effort that minis people put into the scenery, painting, and so forth is impressive but I’ve never gotten it together to make a go of it.

      As for one set being snooty about the other, I think this is perhaps just the unfortunate inclination of people to see someone else having fun and feeling obligated to deride it… you’re the Padre, you know more about the hyoo-mans than I do.

  2. Steve Davis says:

    Having worked with computer game people for a number of years, it is stunning their ignorance of boardgames.

    However, it is also surprising how many boardgamers don’t seem to think authored boardgames existed before Settlers of Catan.

    • alsandor says:

      “Having worked with computer game people for a number of years, it is stunning their ignorance of boardgames.” Nowadays, ignorance of board games seems like a sine qua non for game “developers” (I put the game in quotes because it does not have the same meaning in the boardgame community and the video/computer game community). One fellow who has experience on both sides is Arnold Hendrick who designed among others Barbarian Prince (Dwarfstar) and the truly epic Darklands (Microprose).,978/

      The developer biography at the end is something I put together to show his credentials as a contribution to the Darklands FAQ.

      The FAQ even has an e-mail to and a reply from Arnold Hendrick.

      P.S.: I am sure there are others out there, but none come to mind at this time.

  3. Pingback: Zones of Connection: 21-22 May 2021 | brtrain

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