This is a bit of a break from my regular miniature wargaming writing, but it’s still technically gaming-related so I wanted to share it here.
This semester I’m teaching a course on Game of Thrones and Political Theory at the University where I am an instructor. The course explores the way that creative texts transmit ideas about political concepts, focused on the Song of Fire and Ice series by George R.R. Martin. We’re into the midst of the semester, and we’ve moved to looking at a few historical political theorists (Machiavelli, Hobbes, Locke, Montesquieu, and Arendt) and how their ideas are explored/challenged/transmitted in the text of the series–as Martin himself has said that he drew ideas from events like the Wars of the Roses (which partially shaped Hobbes’ thinking) and Machiavelli’s writings.
At this point, you’re probably wondering: “Um… where’s the gaming?”
Well, in discussing Machiavelli, I did an exercise where the students had to plan a course for a small Italian province (Fivizzano) to claw its way to glory during the fragmented city-states period of history. After we did that exercise, I remarked that the problem was that they were making decisions based in abstract–the qualities of the states around them were just given as part of the scenario. I’ve included a screenshot of the background/details I made up for the exercise below:
While the students enjoyed doing the exercise (I hope), the “static” nature of the opponents meant that we didn’t really get to explore Machiavelli. Someone mentioned the board game Diplomacy, and I realized that it allowed us to explore a different set of notions when it came to Machiavelli (and Hobbes and Game of Thrones). So, I invited those students who wanted to join in to spend an evening clashing over the fate of Europe in the early 1900’s–Diplomacy style. Two tables worth of students decided to join in the endeavor.
Group one, clustered around the table writing their orders.
I played as well, and had a great time both times. For the first time through, I got France as my nation. And I was thoroughly stomped, finishing the game only with some sea forces and a land force in Liverpool.
Even leaving fake “France’s Plan” notes around with my supposed intentions didn’t help.
For the second game, I got randomized as Russia. This time I ended up tying for most stars with Turkey, as we kept a relatively strong truce throughout the game and both spread due eastward. Again, my troops found themselves on the British Isles, though this time as decidedly safe conquerors.
Group Two. Smiling faces not knowing the might of the winter bear of Russia that was about to roll down upon them.
The best part was that during and after the games, and in the next class, the students really made a lot of connections between what was going on and the stuff we’ve been reading about. The unanimous position seemed to be that it’s not so easy to be Machiavellian. One student made an especially great point when she mentioned that it was hard to imagine how to be Machiavellian if people’s lives were actually being affected. Machiavelli’s amoral trajectory (in The Prince at least) can be enticing at first read but then hard to operationalize–as if he intended it to be bad advice (which many scholars think might have been the case).
In any case, it was more gaming fun so I figured it was a good change to share about on my erstwhile blog about the academic side of gaming (I need to do more of that sort of thinking).