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.

 

RB @ DSTL

20160701_ukranian-crisis-01_web_o

(photo of Ukrainian Crisis in play, from Paxsims website)

Over at the Paxsims blog, Rex Brynen tells about a recent and very busy week spent at the UK’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL):

https://paxsims.wordpress.com/2016/08/02/dstl-wargaming-trip-report-or-i-visited-portsdown-west-and-all-i-got-was-this-lousy-mug/

Among many other things, people played a series of games to explore “hybrid warfare”, including LCOL Dave Barsness’ Kaliningrad 2017, Volko Ruhnke’s Labyrinth, and my own Ukrainian Crisis.

Rex concludes matrix games FTW for analyzing this form of warfare, at least for the broad strokes, and I would tend to agree. But here’s the typical Brynen wit:

Ironically, one of the problems of a matrix game approach is that it does not require a great deal of preparation, nor need it involve a great deal of materials and complexity. This makes it an unattractive proposition for defence contractors and consultants since product creation and delivery generates relatively few billable hours. Similarly, a sponsor may feel that it does not seem enough of a tangible product compared with a more complex, traditional wargame.

Hm! Words to live by, I guess… though a poorly prepared and executed matrix game is just as much a failure as a poorly done game of another type.

Busy week ahead

thebattleofalgiers

I take off Saturday for a busy week of gaming and talking, and more gaming!

On Monday I will be at the US Army War College at Carlisle Barracks, PA to cover another event in their Strategic Wargame Program. See https://paxsims.wordpress.com/2016/04/01/us-army-war-college-strategic-wargame-program/ for a full description by its director, COL Jerry Hall. So far they have done events using Fire in the Lake and Game of Thrones.

We’ll start with a screening of the Pontecorvo film The Battle of Algiers, maybe a bit of discussion about it, then onto guided play of Colonial Twilight. Should be great fun!

After that I am heading to Montreal for Stack Academie, the gaming convention organized by Marc Guenette.

Marc is also a student in the “DESS en Design de jeux”, a one-year post-degree program in game design run by the University of Montreal. (https://admission.umontreal.ca/programmes/dess-en-design-de-jeux/). Marc has asked me to conduct a “master class” in the design of games on modern irregular warfare, with particular attention to the COIN system. So, I will largely be amplifying my remarks from the PCA conference, with more emphasis on the potential of these games to enlarge and modify wargame design as a whole. Luckily, Volko Ruhnke will be in the audience to correct any egregious errors I commit. I will post my script and slide deck later, as usual.

That’s on Thursday; from then until early Sunday it’s going to be more playtesting of Colonial Twilight and some other games I am bringing – the revised versions of Algeria and War Plan Crimson coming soon from Tiny Battle Publishing, Chile ’73 (new mini-game on the coup against Allende, multiplayer), The Little War (new mini-game on the March 1939 border war between Slovakia and Hungary), and for the very brave, District Commander: Binh Dinh. And the usual Guerrilla Checkers giveaways, of course, unless the officers at the Army War College grab them all first…

“It’s going to be fun, Dryden.”

“It is recognized that you have a funny sense of fun.”

Bored of War…

… is the in-retrospect,-not-very-good title I picked for the short talk I am giving at the national conference of the American Popular Culture Association in Seattle next week.

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

Here is my abstract:

Board wargames, or manual military simulation games, are a form of civilian entertainment that peaked commercially in the 1980s but continue today as a small press, near-DIY activity. They remain one of Western culture’s most complex analog artifacts, rich in their ability to generate narrative and explore historical possibilities.

 However, only a very small number of published civilian wargames address the dominant modes of actual post-World War Two conflict: irregular war and counterinsurgency. This paper will explore the cultural reasons for this absent focus, explain the social and political utility of these games as a means of interrogating and critiquing contemporary conflicts, and present specific games in this field as examples of “critical play” (Flanagan, 2009).

The point I am trying to make is that there are few of these games not just because they are on an icky uncomfortable subject. It’s also because they are subversive – not only of the contextless and fragmented stream of simplified media interpretation of current conflicts, but also of how most board wargames are played.

I find it quite hard to articulate things like this, though I think about them a lot. I want to acknowledge Jeremy Antley, Matt Kirschenbaum and Mary Flanagan for the thoughts and inspiration.

The point may also be lost on the audience – this is a large conference, with a couple of thousand presentations to be made, and the Game Studies area is responsible for about 100 of them. Only a very small number of these are not about video games: a few about tabletop RPGs, someone talking about how the The Game of Life (Milton Bradley 1960) reflected the American Dream, and my thing.

I think they’re going to look at me like I have bugs in my eyebrows.  But it will be experience, and that is cheap at any price, as they say.

arts_feature1-1

Mmm… yeah, probably as illustrated.

MORS Workshop on Professional Gaming, 28 September – 1 October

Hopefully not as illustrated.

Week after next I am heading out for a few days in Fairfax, Virginia, to co-facilitate a working group at the Military Operations Research Society’s (MORS) Workshop on Professional Gaming.

http://www.mors.org/Events/Special-Meetings/Professional-Gaming-Workshop

Wargames used for analytic purposes have been around almost as long as operations research, maybe even longer if you are flexible about the word “analysis”. Many of the members of MORS are military, or civilians working for the military, with backgrounds in math, computer science or engineering so the games they produce and use tend to be quite technical and numbers-based, with results to a specific question validated by data. But there are also others in the organization, often with social science backgrounds, who struggle with the more qualitative side of contemporary problems and questions. More and different methods of looking at these problems through games are being used, and I think that’s where my contribution to this workshop will lie… games for analysis are a bit out of my line of country, but they still have to work as games, which in this case are a particular kind of model I have some experience building. It’s all in how you frame the problem, right….

The workshop will have eight working groups, and I will be working in the “Quick-Turnaround Game Development” one – plan is to take the participants from idea to (at least partially) playtested design, on a topic of their choice, within 36 hours. The inestimable Rex Brynen of Paxsims will be there too!

We’ll also have a chance to show and demonstrate some new game designs. I will be bringing demo copies of

  • Algeria (140-counter rework of first design on Algeria, for OSS Games’ Folio line)
  • Binh Dinh 69 (Vietnam 1969, for OSS Games as well)
  • Caudillo
  • Colonial Twilight
  • District Commander Kandahar
  • Guerrilla Checkers (free copies to give away)
  • Third Lebanon War
  • Ukrainian Crisis (have made some changes to the design recently, will post later)

I hope there’ll be room for all that lot, and clothes too… otherwise I’ll have to bring some binder clips, and use the hotel sheets and blankets instead.

Also, Rex will be demonstrating his very clever humanitarian aid/ disaster relief game Aftershock, and possibly ISIS Crisis as well, to introduce people to the idea of matrix games.

Will be a busy but fun week!

RBM bnr of ADP re SFWkly-MS

ADPrbmsandoval

Thanks Rodger!