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Sunday, May 18, 2008

Political Online Games: A Few Picks (PeaceMaker, Kriegspiel, Play the News, etc.)

It has been awhile since I've posted on serious games and online educational games. Here are a few that focus on politics, political strategy, and media.


Kriegspiel (
This game has inspired me in ways that very few do. It's based on a board game created by Guy DeBord, the filmmaker and leader of the Situationist International (1957-1972). DeBord's book, Society of the Spectacle (1967) gives an alternative perspective to what is presented to us, the media-consuming public, and gives us new strategies for decoding the messages, largely from a consumer culture standpoint. In a time of hypermedia, DeBord's classic is more relevant than ever. While DeBord was writing seminal work in cultural theory, he was also developing a strategy game to be played by two players who seek to maneuver their armies and progress to victory.

This Kriegspiel, or war game, brings into play the operations of two armies of equal strength, each seeking, through manœuvre and battle, the destruction of its adversary. Each is at the same time obliged to protect, within the territory it occupies, the resources needed for effective campaigning, and to keep its lines of communication open." — Guy Debord

Combined with classics such as Machiavelli's The Prince and Sun Tzu's The Art of War, as well as conceptual backgrounds in dialectical materialism, playing the game against an opponent can be heady stuff. Debord intended the game to be for all individuals to learn learning strategic thought in the face of real antagonists. The game was first designed in 1977. In 1987, it was the game was mass-produced on cardboard with wood tiles. DeBord and his wife also published a companion book, Le Jeu de la Guerre : Relevé des positions successives de toutes les forces au cours d'une partie, translated into English in 2007 (

One can't help but think of the Jeux sans Frontieres Europe-wide television series (goofy competitions) and the Peter Gabriel song (1980). DeBord's board game is nothing like either of them. DeBord believed that his war game would, in the end, be his legacy, and more importance would be attributed to it than to his work as a filmmaker and thinker. The board game is fascinating, but it's best when combined with his ideas about strategies for manipulating belief and behavior by means of creating images and spectacles.

The game itself has fresh graphics that set it apart from other games. The board and the pieces are based on line drawings that resemble cartographers' maps from the 17th and 18th centuries. Mousing over the pieces on the gameboard gives insight into the capabilities of the pieces. It may remind one of chess, but that comparison quickly evaporates as one starts to engage in the tactics and strategies. The fact that the prompts and suggestions are given is very helpful. It would be helpful to have pointers on the art of deception and how the spectacle itself creates its own game.

Play the News (
Brought to you by ImpactGames (, makers of the highly publicized PeaceMaker (, this game will satisfy aficionados of talk radio, especially those who have, in recent months, claimed to want to influence the election by asking their listeners to engage in certain behaviors (Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Mark Shannon).

The game, currently in beta, at least at this point in time, is an expanded version of the online polls that one takes after reading an article and considering various sides of the issue. The difference is that here, you get a chance to predict future outcomes and to compare your ideas with others who have predicted their own denouement to the events.


PeaceMaker (
One's first reaction to the game is likely to be positive. It is a great place to practice leadership in an international relations or political science course. The graphics are well done, the scripting is smooth, and the scenarios are realistic. Becoming very engaged in the game could be a bit harrowing. After all, the idea of trying to bring peace to the Middle East and ending the Israel-Palestine conflict is pretty daunting, to say the least - a job for masochists or messiahs. On the other hand, the critical thinking skills that are developed, as well as the awareness of a very complex situation are useful.

Hillary vs. Obama (
Now for some truly mindless fun. Last time, it was Bush vs. Kerry. This election year's version is perhaps even more Web 2.0 friendly than before with links to html that one can copy and paste to place within one's website. It encourages interaction and engagement. The instructional purpose and content are, as before, pretty limited.

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