Peter Shulman’s War

Peter Shulman's War
Photograph by Peter Shulman. 

. . . the story of an outdoor war game that artist Peter Shulman has been playing for more than forty years. It has some very unusual aspects to it that make it totally unique. It is in fact a huge installation type work of art. At the present time the war contains over 60,000 hand sculpted soldiers and more than 4,400 scale models, vehicles in 1/35 and 1/32 scale aircraft in 1/48 scale that cover over 20 acres.

Read all about it at Peter Shulman’s War; see also an interview with Shulman.

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ZOI was away for a little while. Now it’s back. (Thanks Jason R.)

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Peter Leonteos and Bryan McCutcheon, two razor sharp students from Steve Jones’s Video Games and Textual Studies course, recently interviewed me over Skype. They did a great job preparing questions (Charlie Rose, eat your heart out). So, if you want to hear me natter on about academic game studies, digital preservation, formal materiality, and tabletop gaming, go grab the MP3 (~20 minutes, 22 MB).

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War on Terror: The Boardgame

War on Terror

The goal of War on Terror, the boardgame is to liberate the world, ridding it of fear and terrorism forever. Naturally, only the biggest and strongest Empires are up to this task and so a certain amount of dominance needs to be shown. Alternatively, you can play as the terrorists, fighting for a world without empires.

Read all about it here.

This is actually the second game I know of to bear this title. Lightning War on Terror (Decision Games) offers a rather more earnest take on the subject (the “lightning” refers to the speed of game play, not the blitzkrieg).

Via Boing Boing.

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Tai Hai Feng Yun (Mainland Chinese Wargame)

Photographs of what is apparently a hobbyist/entertainment wargame published in mainland China entitled Tai Hai Feng Yun, The Changes of the Taiwan Strait, depicting a near-future conflict between the Republic of Taiwan and the PRC.

The rules are dated October 2006.

It may be an unauthorized copy of the 2001 When Dragons Fight, published by Ty Bomba’s XTR.

Tai Hai Feng Yun

Tai Hai Feng Yun

Tai Hai Feng Yun

Thanks to joserizal on CSW for posting these.

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Holding Action

Busy time at the office, and I’m doing some traveling later in the week. I’ve got several ZOI posts in the hopper, though, so check back soon. Meanwhile, there’s been a minor dust-up over a proposed list of ten video games to preserve for the ages. It’s an important conversation for game studies to have.

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Learning (Not Much) from Board Games

Steve Meretzky, who once upon a time wrote interactive fiction for a little company called Infocom, weighs in on “What We Can Learn From Board Games.”

The “we” here are electronic game designers, and while the sentiment—that board games are relevant—is much appreciated here at ZOI, the article mostly irks me.

Meretzky seems content to wallow in a kind of ludic pastoral. Board games offer “innocent delights,” in contrast to the loud, bellicose, heavy metal pixel monsters that stomp across the virtual landscape. Reading a little further, we learn that the “innocent delights” include stepping into the shoes of “a modern art dealer, a Mesopotamian king, a colonial-era governor, a 19th-century railroad magnate, a bean farmer, a Vegas casino mogul, and an Egyptian deity.”

Meretzky, in other words, is a Euro gamer. He has no stomach for hex and counter wargames—which is fine, each to their own—but he’s apparently willing to forgive the Euro market its ongoing obsession with Orientalism, capitalist fantasy, and colonialism. He wants to insist that Euro games are “wildly original” despite the fact that most hew to a handful of well worn genres and conventions, with similar underlying mechanics lurking just beneath the near-infinite variety of themes skinned on top. He also thinks that board games transcend market forces and material economies—a good board game “can still be created by one or two people at a cost of next to nothing.”

I appreciate that neither Euros nor wargames enjoy the kind of budgets that are the coin of the realm in commercial computer game development, but in fact board games rely on volunteerism and gift economies where hobby enthusiasts donate their time as play-testers, developers, proofers, even artists, for no compensation other than a gratis copy of the game.

It’s pleasing and ironic to find that it’s the virtual economies that are now seen as laden with the baggage of materialism, but by romanticizing board games (we are in their “golden age”) Meretzky risks reinforcing a schism that is already being actively exploited in other quarters, perhaps by those with baser intentions (see below).

[Thanks to Dennis Jerz for this.]

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Remediation: Playing Games in Second Life

Second Life has become a venue for board games. Part of a genre of so-called “*ingo” games (sort of souped up Bingo, fast playing and very addictive), the latest, Zingo, is typical of the lot: “you comprehend it instantly, can play it reasonably well right away, and soon discover layers of strategy.” Game play involves transactions of Linden dollars, and thus becomes part of Second Life’s economy, to such an extent that according to one write-up the games have “dramatically changed the landscape.”

Of interest to me here is the recursion and overt remediation: Zingo is apparently derived (ripped) from the 1994 board game Take It Easy!.

[Thanks to Mike Siggins on Perfidious Albion for this.]

Zingo in Second Life      Take It Easy

Zingo in Second Life and Take It Easy! in real life.

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Robert Louis Stevenson at Play

A surprising number of literary figures played “wagames” of one sort or another. H. G. Wells, of course, but also the Bronte sisters (who made up elaborate games with their brother’s toy soldiers). Fletcher Pratt, the fantasyist who was also an amateur naval historian. Hans Christian Anderson. And, as we see here, Robert Louis Stevenson. This is a nice facsimile reproduction of an 1898 Scribner’s article that describes Stevenson’s campaigns with a set of Napoleonic wargame rules.

Stevenson at Play

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Your Author in Action

With the DC Conscripts last weekend (left).

Author in Action

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