Back From San Diego

Well, it was a pretty good conference!

This time, people seemed to have a slightly better idea of what I was talking about… here are my slides and text:

NPG body 8 apr (text)

News Paper Games 6 apr (slides)

I went to a number of interesting presentations too. There seemed to be not as many as the conference in Seattle last year, generally. This might be due to the time of year – someone on the panel I presented with came in the day before, and left the day after to get back to his classes – or due to geographical distances.

The game night was fun, and even catered (though I had already had a big dinner). I taught four people how to play Guerrilla Checkers, and sent them off with copies of their own.

We had pretty good weather too, a few degrees warmer than here but the sunlight was much more direct. Unfortunately, no time for touristy things except that we did get to the USS Midway museum just up the road from the hotel, and clambered around in the guts of an aircraft carrier for three hours. It was fun, I had never been in such a large ship, and the capper was the talking robot in the Captain’s cabin, in the likeness of Captain Larry Ernst, the last Captain of the Midway before it was finally decommissioned in 1991. Spooky video above.

I do regret not being able to get to Balboa Park, where all the museums are. The San Diego Museum of Man had an exhibit on the history of cannibalism, and just a few hundred yards away was the Marie Hitchcock Puppet Theatre! Two of my favourite topics… one would weep bitter tears at missing the combination of the two. Anyway, an excuse to go back to San Diego one day. (Image: the All Puppet Players, of Phoenix AZ)

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.

http://pcaaca.org/national-conference/

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.

 

“Who controls the present controls the past.”

orwell_1984

An old Ingsoc slogan.

An interesting question raised below, though it’s as old a question as museums themselves… who gets to remember the past, and how?

Court allows Polish government to take over WWII museum

 VANESSA GERA / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS JANUARY 24, 2017 08:09 AM

WARSAW, Poland – A Polish court ruled Tuesday in favour of the government in its standoff with a major new World War II museum fighting for its survival.

The conflict revolves around the Museum of the Second World War in Gdansk, which has been under creation since 2008 and was scheduled to open within weeks.

The decision by the Supreme Administrative Court is a victory for the populist and nationalistic Law and Justice ruling party, allowing it to take control of one of the last public institutions that had remained independent following the party’s rise to power in 2015.

“This is very bad,” the museum’s director, Pawel Machcewicz, said. “This ruling means that the Museum of the Second World War will be liquidated on the last day of January. It means that I will be gone and that the new director can try to change the exhibition or delay the opening.”

The ruling party opposed the museum because it takes an international approach to telling the story of the war, focusing on the civilian suffering of the many nations caught up in the global conflict. Party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski had for years vowed that if he ever had power he would change the institution to focus it exclusively on Polish suffering and military heroism.

The move is in line with what the ruling party calls its “historical policy” of harnessing the state’s power to create a stronger sense of national identity and pride.

After assuming power in late 2015 Culture Minister Piotr Glinski moved to try to take control of the museum by merging it with another museum that exists only on paper, the Museum of Westerplatte and the War of 1939 — a legal manoeuvre aimed at pushing Machcewicz out.

That sparked months of legal wrangling as Machcewicz resisted the merger.

After the court’s decision Tuesday, the Culture Ministry issued a statement saying that it would move ahead with its merger and that on Feb. 1 “a new cultural institution will be created — the Museum of the Second World War in Gdansk. The combination of both Gdansk institutions with a similar business profile will optimize costs … and strengthen their positions on the museum map of Poland and the world.”

Machcewicz says that even though he is losing his job he still plans to keep fighting for the survival of the exhibition, one created with the help of some of the world’s most renowned war historians.

“The culture minister can come with heavy equipment and destroy an exhibition that cost 50 million zlotys ($12 million). But he can’t just change some elements, because the exhibition is like a book that is protected by copyright laws,” Machcewicz said. “And I am ready to sue the minister if he tries to change the exhibition.”

On Monday the museum was presented to a group of reporters, historians and others to let the world get a glimpse of the nearly finished museum before it is too late.

 

John Kula 1947 – 2016

chop

The old masthead for John’s magazine Simulacrum, featuring his chop.

John’s wife Fresca called me this morning to tell me that John died at 0525 today. He had a major brain bleed during the night and was taken to hospital, but he did not recover consciousness and died peacefully and painlessly.

John was a good man, smart and funny. He was a good friend, a talented artist and a conscientious ludographer. He dedicated almost an entire issue of Simulacrum (#30) to my games, which was one of the most touching gifts anyone has ever given me. No one could ask for a better gesture of friendship and esteem.

We will all miss him.

3amigos

Kerry Anderson, John and me, taken during one of Kerry’s infrequent business visits to Victoria. The crutches date this at anywhere between 1999 and 2002.

Home from BottosCon 2016!

bottoscon-ct-testll

Playing the short scenario with Lyman Leong. Photo: David Rice.

Like most cons, I spent most of my time talking to old friends I often see only once a year, catching up and discussing new projects and thoughts on game design generally. Though this time I met someone who I hadn’t seen in 35 years – we used to play matches of Richthofen’s War during lunch hour in high school! He’s a bit taller now…. And I met some interesting new people too.

w-afghan

Multiple games of A Distant Plain were played. Photo:Boaz Joseph, from the story that appeared in the Surrey Leader

I did get a bit of gaming in too, just one play-through of the short scenario of Colonial Twilight. And I did introduce Guerrilla Checkers to a fellow who brought his 12 year old daughter to the con… and she promptly kicked the stuffing out of him, twice!

bottoscon-ct-test-bt

Another great photo by David Rice… though as usual I am frozen in indecision and fatal distraction… I never said I was any good at actually playing these things.

 

Playing the Recent Past: presentation to UVic class

benno

Today: a  presentation to a class at the University of Victoria – AHVS311, “History of Video Games” – on board wargames as tools for exploring history, the narratives they generate, and the problems (and value) of wargames in portraying recent conflicts, with particular mention of A Distant Plain.

Somewhat like the talk I gave at the University of Montreal game designers’ class, but taken back a step and sideways as the students are not designers (and may never even have seen a board wargame before).

Script and slides are here:

AHVS311 script

AHVS311 slides

Guerrilla Checkers at Sandhurst!

image-1

“You’re probably wondering why I’ve called us here together…”

Captain Ed Farrell, a platoon commander at Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, recently used Guerrilla Checkers to teach a group of officer cadets some lessons about asymmetric warfare in preparation for the phase in their training when they learn about insurgencies.

image-2

Still looks a bit linear to me. Lawrence, wake up!

He reported that it went over well, but as so often happens with this sort of thing a lot of time is spent in explaining the game to people who are unfamiliar with manual games (even though this one has extremely short rules, and the mechanics are derived from two existing ones, it is different) and getting them to play it less gingerly. In this case they played the game in teams of two or three each side, and discussed each move, which slowed things down further but I can see the value of explaining your reasoning in syndicates.

image-12

All photos by Ed Farrell.

He had A Distant Plain out for display purposes as well, to show what could be done with manual games, but there was no time to do more than show the bits. Still and all, he may have planted some ideas in young officers’ heads for future training aids!

I’m very grateful to Captain Farrell for using my game, and I hope he will try it again if the opportunity permits!

By the way, if you are interested in the game shown, here are the rules – I also have a basic version that works on Android devices and can send you the .apk file if you ask:

rules in Word with Maoist hints on play

rules in PDF with board to play on