2012 Institute: Featured Games

The institute program features two cycles of game workshops.  Faculty participants should choose one game for Thursday-Friday and a second game on Saturday-Sunday from the list below.  The program also includes a series of concurrent sessions where faculty participants engage in discussions about the RTTP pedagogy, game management, and liberal education more generally.

Thursday, June 7 - Friday, June 8

Saturday, June 9 - Sunday, June 10

Game Descriptions

Charles Darwin, the Copley Medal, and the Rise of Naturalism, 1862-64 thrusts students into the intellectual ferment of Victorian England just after publication of The Origin of Species. Since its appearance in 1859, Darwin's long awaited treatise in “genetic biology” had received reviews both favorable and damning. Thomas Huxley and Samuel Wilberforce presented arguments for and against the theory in a dramatic and widely publicized face-off at the 1860 meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in Oxford. Their encounter sparked a vigorous, complex debate that touched on a host of issues and set the stage for the Royal Society’s consideration of whether or not they ought to award Darwin the Copley Medal, their most prestigious prize. While the action takes place in meetings of the Royal Society, Great Britain’s most important scientific body, a parallel and influential public argument smoldered over the nature of science and its relationship to modern life in an industrial society.

A significant component of the Darwin game is the tension between natural and teleological views of the world, manifested especially in reconsideration of the design argument, commonly known through William Paley’s Natural Theology or, Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity (1802), and updated by Wilberforce. But the scientific debate also percolated through a host of related issues:  the meaning and purposes of inductive and hypothetical-speculation in science; the professionalization of science; the implications of Darwinism for social reform, racial theories, and women’s rights; and the evolving concept of causation in sciences and its implications for public policy. Because of the revolutionary potential of Darwin’s ideas, the connections between science and nearly every other aspect of culture became increasingly evident. Scientific papers and laboratory demonstrations presented in Royal Society meetings during the game provide the backdrop for momentous conflict that continues to shape our perceptions of modern science.

Marsha Driscoll, Associate Professor of Psychology, Bemidji State University; Elizabeth Dunn, Dean of Liberal Arts and Sciences and Professor of History, Indiana University South Bend; and Kamran Swanson, Lecturer of Philosophy, Harold Washington City College of Chicago

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Climate Change in Copenhagen 2009 (NSF Short Science Game Initiative) is a new chapter-length game that covers the scientific background on the Greenhouse Effect and the potential for climate change. Students must consider the evidence for potential climate change and address the political challenges of crafting an international agreement. The debate pits the countries that will suffer most from climate change against those who are causing the damage but will suffer much less. It challenges the leaders in environmental protection to find ways to bring the worst offenders into the treaty or the Conference will fail.

The setting for this game is the Copenhagen Climate Conference held in December 2009. This Conference was the culmination of many smaller working groups meetings. Two previous Conferences of this scale, Rio and Kyoto, have had mixed results. Rio failed to produce an agreement. Kyoto led to a treaty that was adopted by a sufficient number of nations to go into force but which ends in 2012.  Copenhagen is the world's last chance to find an agreement before Kyoto expires. The game includes many heads of state, including President Obama. But no agreement is possible unless the US, China, and India can come to agreement. The challenges facing the Conference are formidable. Success is far from certain. Behind the scenes negotiations will be as important as what happens in the conference hall.

Convener/Author: David E. Henderson, Professor of Chemistry and Director of the Environmental Science Program, Trinity College

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The Collapse of Apartheid and Dawn of Democracy in South Africa, 1993 (in development) focuses on the process of forming a post-apartheid constitution in South Africa in 1993, following the release of Nelson Mandela, the legalization of the African National Congress, and a long series of failed negotiations between Mandela and DeKlerk. The game immerses students in the highly diverse atmosphere of South Africa in the early 1990s, when there was nearly unanimous consensus supporting the end of apartheid but a wide range of approaches to dealing with its legacy politically and socially. Students take on the roles of members of the Multi-Party Negotiating Process in a final ditch effort to create a constitution and prevent the horrific civil bloodbath everyone expects. Time is short and the fate of the nation is truly in their hands.

The factional dividing lines in the game are not based on race but instead on economic philosophy, constitutional vision, and historic power and political relationships. The Collapse of Apartheid raises important questions about, among other things, the nature of democracy and the place of political consensus, about the meaning and administration of justice when a society transitions away from institutionalized racism, and about the language and complexities of human rights. Also embedded into the content of the game are a number issues that can be easily be highlighted by the instructor, such as gender, post-colonial identity politics, modes of dissent and resistance, theology, sexual identity, and economic philosophies.

Convener/Co-Author: John C. Eby, Associate Professor of History, Loras College

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Confucianism and the Succession Crisis of the Wanli Emperor, 1587 seeks to introduce undergraduate students to the suppleness and power of Confucian thought as applied to issues of governance during the Ming dynasty. The game is set in the Hanlin Academy. Most students are members of the Grand Secretariat of the Hanlin Academy, the body of top-ranking graduates of the civil service examination who serve as advisers to the Wanli emperor. Some Grand Secretaries are Confucian “purists,” who hold that tradition obliges the emperor to name his first-born son as successor; others, in support of the most senior of the Grand Secretaries, maintain that it is within the emperor’s right to choose his successor; and still others, as they decide this matter among many issues confronting the empire, continue to scrutinize the teachings of Confucianism for guidance. The game unfolds amidst the secrecy and intrigue within the walls of the Forbidden City, as scholars struggle to apply Confucian precepts to a dynasty in peril.

Convener/Co-Author: Daniel K. Gardner, Professor of History, Smith College

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Frederick Douglass, Slavery, Abolitionism, and the Constitution, 1845 (in development) introduces students to a time and place almost unimaginable today, when advocating an end to slavery was far more controversial than supporting its perpetuation: the United States in 1845. Class debates focus on the intellectual and cultural clashes between the “Defenders of the Constitution”—the entrenched, respectable defenders of American slavery—and the Abolitionists—a small but dedicated movement calling for slavery’s immediate and universal abolition. Many characters are independent of both factions.

The question facing the country in 1845 was not a civil war—which was then unimaginable—but whether abolitionist critics of slavery were legitimate. Can the abolitionists be suppressed outright? The many violent anti-abolitionist mobs in the North showed that this was hardly just a “southern” demand. Thus, in the first part of the game, all characters “review” the newly published "The Narrative of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Written by Himself” at a literary forum hosted by the illustrious English author Charles Dickens in New York. (This forum brings together a range of people whose ideas and interests, while actually engaged with one another, never actually meet face to face.) Later, characters address the U.S. Constitution and its clear protection of slaveholders’ power, such as its assertion that fugitive slaves must be returned. Are Americans accountable to the Constitution or to a “higher law”?

The Defenders of the Constitution faction includes John C. Calhoun; the Auld family of Maryland (who legally own the fugitive slave Douglass); Henry Clay; a Virginia planter devoted to Thomas Jefferson’s teachings; and the inventor of the telegraph.  Abolitionists include Frederick Douglass; William Lloyd Garrison; the Rev. Henry Highland Garnet; Sojourner Truth; and the Grimke sisters, who scandalously spoke in public to “mixed” (male and female) audiences, which was previously unknown in America. Indeterminate characters include Edgar Poe; Horace Greeley;, Daniel Webster; John Quincy Adams; Fanny Kemble; a slave woman; a whiskey dealer; and other ambitious Americans.

Convener/Author: Mark Higbee, Professor of History, Eastern Michigan University

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Greenwich Village 1913: Suffrage, Labor, and the New Woman (in development) takes students to the beginning of the modern era when urbanization, industrialization, and massive waves of immigration were transforming the U.S. way of life. As the game begins, suffragists are taking to the streets demanding a constitutional amendment for the vote. What, they ask, is women’s place in society? Are they to remain in the home or take an active role in the government of their communities and their nation? Labor has turned to the strike to demand living wages and better conditions; some are even proposing an industrial democracy where workers take charge of industries. Can corporate capitalism allow an economically just society or must it be overturned? African-Americans, suffering from the worst working conditions, disenfranchisement, and social segregation, debate how to support their community through education and protest, thereby challenging their continuing marginalization in both the South and the North. Members of all these groups converge in Greenwich Village to debate their views with the artists and bohemians who are in the process of remaking themselves into the new men and new women of the twentieth century. Their spirited conversations not only show a deep understanding of nineteenth-century thinkers like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Karl Marx; they are also informed by such contemporaries as Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Jane Addams, W.E.B. Du Bois, Emma Goldman, John Dewey, Franz Boas, and Sigmund Freud. The game asks what social changes are most important as well as how one can or should realize these goals.

Convener/Author: Mary Jane Treacy, Professor of Spanish and Women's Studies and Director of the Honors Program, Simmons College

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Kentucky, 1861: A Nation in the Balance (in development). As one of the northernmost slaveholding states, Kentucky plays a pivotal role in the crisis unleashed by Lincoln’s election in 1860. Student roles include political leaders, newspaper editors, and militia leaders. Opening with a special session of the legislature, Kentucky, 1861: A Nation in the Balance forces students to struggle with the complex and divided loyalties of their roles. They must determine how to reconcile varied motivations, interests, and ideologies with an unprecedented and intensely combustible situation. Informed by assorted speeches, debates, and political tracts, students debate the cultural, economic, and political concepts driving secession while reacting to a constantly shifting political and military situation. Through the use of rhetoric, the press, and paramilitary action, they struggle to alter the fate of the nation.

Convener/Author: Nicolas Proctor, Associate Professor of History, Simpson College

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Patriots, Loyalists, and Revolution in New York City, 1775-76 draws students into the political and social chaos of a revolutionary New York City, where patriot and loyalist forces argued and fought for advantage among a divided populace. Can students realize the liminal world of chaos, disruption, loss of privacy, and fear of victimization that comes with any revolution accompanied by violence? How do both the overall outcome and the intermediate “surprises” that reflect the shift of events in 1775-76 demonstrate the role of contingency in history? Could the Brits still win? What were the complexities, strengths, and weaknesses of the arguments on both sides? How were these affected by the social circumstances in which the Revolution occurred?

Students engage with the ideological foundations of revolution and government through close readings of Locke, Paine, and other contemporary arguments. Each student’s ultimate victory goal is to have his/her side in control of New York City at the end of 1776 (not as of the end of the Revolution, when all know who won), as well as to achieve certain individual goals (e.g., slaves can attain freedom, propertied women can be granted voting rights, laborers can make deals for land). Winning requires the ability to master the high political arguments for and against revolution as well as the low political skills of logrolling, bribery, and threatened force. Military force often determines the winner, much to the surprise of the students who concentrated merely on internal game politics.

Convener/Author: Bill Offutt, Director of the Honors College and Associate Professor of History, Pace University

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The Pluto Debate, 1999-2006: The International Astronomical Union Defines a Planet (NSF Short Science Game Initiative) is a chapter-length game where students play one of nine astronomers arguing the definition of a planet at a 1999 debate in New York City and a 2006 meeting of the International Astronomical Union. During this game, students will do the following:

  • compare the history of Pluto’s discovery to that of the asteroid Ceres
  • describe the properties of the Kuiper Belt and its members
  • plot the orbital and physical properties of planets, asteroids, and comets
  • debate the necessity and value of scientific classifications

This game can be played be played with up to 27 students during one or two class periods as a substitute for or complement to traditional lectures on Pluto and the Kuiper Belt. It is recommended, but not required, that students have access to The Hunt for Planet X: New Worlds and the Fate of Pluto by Govert Shilling.

Convener/Author: Tony Crider, Associate Professor of Physics, Elon University

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Rousseau, Burke, and Revolution in France, 1791 plunges students into the intellectual, political, and ideological currents that surged through revolutionary Paris in the summer of 1791. Students are leaders of major factions within the National Assembly (and in the streets outside) as it struggles to create a constitution amidst internal chaos and threats of foreign invasion. Will the king retain power? Will the priests of the Catholic Church obey the “general will” of the National Assembly or the dictates of the pope in Rome? Do traditional institutions and values constitute restraints on freedom and individual dignity or are they its essential bulwarks? Are slaves, women, and Jews entitled to the “rights of man”? Is violence a legitimate means of changing society or of purging it of dangerous enemies? In wrestling with these issues, students consult Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Social Contract and Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France, among other texts.

Convener: John Burney, Vice President for Academic Affairs, Dean of Faculty, and Professor of History, Doane College

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The Second Crusade: The War Council of Acre, 1148 (in development) brings to life a dramatic moment in the history of the crusades. Students become the great gathering of monarchs, barons, religious authorities, and others that met as a war council in Acre on the eve of the Second Crusade, and “react” as participants in the discussions and debates that might have been held there. As William of Tyre, the most important historian of the twelfth-century crusader states explains, after the armies led by the French and German monarchs had arrived in the holy land in response to the Pope’s call for crusade, “a general court was proclaimed at the city of Acre to consider the results of this great pilgrimage, the completion of such great labors, and also the enlargement of the realm. On the appointed day they assembled in Acre, as had been arranged. Then, together with the nobles of the realm who possessed an accurate knowledge of affairs and places, they entered into a careful consideration as to what plan was most expedient.” The war council must discuss and debate the idea of “crusading,” the justifications for holy war, and the reasons why a second crusade should be launched at this time. They must decide who from among the council’s participants should lead the crusade, and further if the authority for the crusade should lie in secular or religious hands. And finally, they must consider what city or area should be attacked and how. The debates are informed by Christian and Muslim teachings about peace and holy war found in the New Testament and the Qur’an. They are also informed by St. Augustine’s City of God, documents from the Investiture Controversy, and selections from various other historical sources about the Second Crusade and the crusader states, including William of Tyre, Odo of Deuill, Otto of Freising, Usamah ibn Munqidth, and Ibn al-Qalanisi. The Second Crusade game reverberates with issues that are as important today as they were in the twelfth century.

Gretchen McKay, Assistant to the President for Special Projects, Associate Professor of Art History, and Director of the Center for Faculty Excellence, McDaniel College; and Rebecca Livingstone, Assistant Professor of History, Simpson College

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The Threshold of Democracy: Athens in 403 B.C. recreates the intellectual dynamics of one of the most formative periods in the human experience. After nearly three decades of war, Sparta crushed democratic Athens, destroyed its great walls and warships, occupied the city, and installed a brutal regime, “the Thirty Tyrants.” The excesses of the tyrants resulted in civil war and, as the game begins, they have been expelled and the democracy restored. But doubts about democracy remain, expressed most ingeniously by Socrates and his young supporters. Will Athens retain a political system where all decisions are made by an Assembly of 6,000 or so citizens? Will leaders continue to be chosen by random lottery? Will citizenship be broadened to include slaves who fought for the democracy and foreign-born metics who paid taxes in its support? Will Athens rebuild its long walls and warships and again extract tribute from city-states throughout the eastern Mediterranean? These and other issues are sorted out by a polity fractured into radical and moderate democrats, oligarchs, and Socratics, among others.

The debates are informed by Plato’s Republic, as well as excerpts from Thucydides, Xenophon, and other contemporary sources. By examining democracy at its threshold, the game provides the perspective to consider its subsequent evolution.

Convener: Kristina Milnor, Tow Associate Professor of Classics, Barnard College

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The Trial of Galileo: Aristotelianism, the "New Cosmology," and the Catholic Church, 1616-33 (NSF Short Science Game Initiative). In The Trial of Galileo the new science, as brilliantly propounded by Galileo Galilei, collides with the elegant cosmology of Aristotle, Aquinas, and medieval Scholasticism. The game is set in Rome in the early decades of the seventeenth century. Most of the debates occur within the Holy Office, the arm of the papacy that supervises the Roman Inquisition. At times action shifts to the palace of Prince Cesi, founder of the Society of the Lynx-Eyed that promotes the new science, and to the lecture halls of the Jesuit Collegio Romano. Some students assume roles as faculty of the Collegio Romano and the secular University of Rome, the Sapienza. Others are Cardinals who seek to defend the faith from resurgent Protestantism, the imperial ambitions of the Spanish monarch, the schemes of the Medici in Florence, and the crisis of faith throughout Christendom. Some embrace the “new cosmology,” some denounce it, and still others are undecided. The issues range from the nature of faith and the meaning of the Bible to the scientific principles and methods as advanced by Copernicus, Kepler, Tycho Brahe, Giordano Bruno, and Galileo. Central texts include Aristotle’s On the Heavens and Posterior Analytics; Galileo’s Starry Messenger (1610), Letter to Grand Duchess Christina (1615) and Dialogue on the Two Chief World Systems(1632); the declarations of the Council of Trent; and the Bible.

Convener/Co-Author: Michael S. Pettersen, Professor of Physics, Washington & Jefferson College

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