Each generation gets the games they deserve – Offside report by Nick Luft
Recently I went to the British Museum to see a small free exhibition – “Playing with Money.” It is about how money, coins and bank notes are used in boardgames and also how boardgames have broadly changed over the last two centuries.
In the 19th Century boardgames were for children and their moral admonishment and educational enlightenment. For example there was the edifying game “The Noble Game of the Swan.” A game which seems to be a bit like Snakes and Ladders, where the player rolls a dice, moves and then follows the instructions on the area landed on. In one case there is a “Sluggard” area; the adult playing the game with the children, then reads out a message about the perils of lying in bed, and being lazy and applies the relevant sanction or reward. This was the method – an adult plays the boardgame to instruct and direct their child and not have any frivolous, unproductive fun! Very Victorian.
The curator of the exhibition notes that there was a change in the twentieth century in which the players compete to earn the most victory points or cash by beating the other players – games like Acquire, Black Friday etc. The curator notes that these games are more financial in nature, no longer with explicit moral lessons, though with an implicit “dog eat dog” or “only the best survive” moral codes.
Does each generation get the games they deserve?
This question must have been in my mind at my next CLWG session in June because I was surprised by my reaction to Jim Wallman’s game – “The Day After: Post Apocalyptic Community-Building”.
As you might imagine the game is about scavenging, acquiring resources, building, and surviving. Soon into the game some of our civilian members of our community – “The Blues and Royals” – were wounded. I argued that if we were truly about building a community we should look after them and seek medical aid. And so we prioritised building a Medical Centre as the first development beyond pure survival. Other teams were only to quick to leave their wounded where they lay, as they would not be able to work and would still require food and shelter.
And I remembered the exhibition. Our boardgames give players complete control over kingdoms, tribes, businesses etc. A control that they would never really have in real life. We rapidly deploy our resources to where they are most effective and don’t do much to build a community based on moral principles – equality, humanity and building and sustaining a commonweal. OK, I know that some games like Fallout Shelter do promote the creation of leisure facilities to promote “morale” but this is regarded by the “bean counter” players as yet another resource to manage. How many of these games promote conversations between players about what sort of community do we want to build and live in?
This was discussed in the post-game washup. It was interesting to note that the so called “Theocracy” had decided to run a scavenging community based on acquiring many members. It had an interesting morality – it abandoned wounded members, and replaced them with fresh volunteers – and yet was giving their members days off, which in games terms meant not using all the workers to work. Stick and carrot. The other group the “Cezchs” had invested in a Training Centre to increase the number of technicians to enhance its building of tech and elected to avoid dangerous scavenging to avoid injuring their members.
So we had started our own narratives around the aims and policies of our communities outside of the game engine parameters.