2016 Institute: Featured Games



The institute program features the following two cycles of game workshops.  Participants should register for one game on Thursday-Friday and a second game on Saturday-Sunday.  The program also includes a series of concurrent sessions where participants engage in discussions about the RTTP pedagogy, game management, and undergraduate education more generally. All games are described below.

Thursday, June 9 - Friday, June 10

Saturday, June 11 - Sunday, June 12

*games recommended for newcomers to RTTP

Game Descriptions

The Threshold of Democracy: Athens in 403 BCE (W.W. Norton, 2014) 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.​

  • Conveners: Mark C. Carnes, Barnard College & Elizabeth Dunn, Indiana University at South Bend

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Confucianism and the Succession Crisis of the Wanli Emperor 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: John Moser, Ashland University

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Red Clay, 1835: Cherokee Removal and the Meaning of Sovereignty focuses on American Indian removal from the American Southeast in the 1830s and events leading up to the Trail of Tears. In particular it focuses on a pivotal historical conference held in Red Clay, Tennessee in October 1835 at which the United States presented terms for a removal treaty a few months before the illegal Treaty of New Echota was signed. It deals not only with this too-little-known part of American history, but it also opens up other issues of the period (many of which have continuing relevance today), including westward expansion, race and the status of Native Americans within the framework of the United States, cultural change and assimilation of minorities, how one deals with social problems, and the sectional divide that eventual leads to the American Civil War.

  • Co-conveners: Jace Weaver & Laura Adams Weaver, University of Georgia

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Frederick Douglass, Slavery, Abolitionism, and the Constitution: 1845 (game 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”?

  • Convener: Mark Higbee, Eastern Michigan University

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Modernism vs. Traditionalism: Art in Paris, 1888-1889 considers the question: What is Art? Students will debate principles of artistic design in the context of the revolutionary changes that began shaking the French art world in 1888-89. Images from the 1888 Salon and the tumultuous year that followed provide some of the “texts” that form the intellectual heart of every Reacting game. Students must read these images and use them as the basis of their positions. In addition to these visual texts, students will read art criticism from the period, which will help to form the basis of their own presentations in favor of one art style over another. These discussions are complicated and enriched by secondary debates over the economics of art, the rise of independent art dealers, and the government’s role as a patron of the arts. An additional feature of this game will include an optional “art lab,” which teaches students about the issues that French artists faced in the late nineteenth century through a studio-based, hands-on project.

  • Convener: Gretchen Kreahling McKay, McDaniel College

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Argentina, 1985: Contested Memories begins with Argentina at a crossroads.  A six-year long military dictatorship finally ended in October 1983, a democratically-elected president took the oath of office in December of that year, and the nation began to take the first steps to address the violence of its recent past--military juntas, the polarization of many segments of society, the rise of armed guerrilla groups, labor unrest, and repression—as well as to create a fully democratic society.

Argentina 1985 explores critical debates at this transitional period in the setting of a prestigious secondary school, the Colegio Nacional de Buenos Aires.  CNBA is also called “The National” and “The Colegio of the Fatherland,” indicative of its prominence in Argentine cultural life and it role in this game as symbol for the entire nation.

Just like the nation, the Colegio Nacional de Buenos Aires has been under military supervision and control for most of the past decade.  Today the school has a new rector (principal), but the teachers, prefects, and students whose families hold the full spectrum of opinion about the recent past remain to fulfill the task before them: to refashion CNBA as a training ground for a democratic nation.

All can agree that CNBA must remain inspired by its glorious traditions, but it also must renew itself in order to maintain its participation in the cultural life of the nation. The question is how the school will do this? How will it address the politicization of the student body in the 1970s, the disappearance of many of its graduates, and the internal repression that has kept discussion and debate in check for years?

Players will debate: What do we want to say about our past?  What story do we want to tell?

  • Convener: Mary Jane Treacy, Simmons College (emerita)

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Rousseau, Burke, and Revolution in France, 1791 (W.W. Norton, 2014) 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.

  • Gretchen Galbraith, Grand State Valley University

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Greenwich Village, 1913: Suffrage, Labor, and the New Woman (W.W. Norton, 2015) 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.

  • Conveners: Laurie Postlewate, Barnard College & Rebecca Stanton, Columbia University

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In The Trial of Galileo: Aristotelianism, the "New Cosmology," and the Catholic Church, 1616-1633, 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 Heavensand 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: Tony Crider, Elon University

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Kentucky 1861: Loyalty, State and Nation 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: Nick  Proctor, Simpson College

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 Stages of Power: Marlowe and Shakespeare, 1592 takes place in October, 1592, in London. Christopher Marlowe, the most accomplished playwright in the city, has written a new play, The Massacre at Paris, which his company, the Lord Admiral's Men, is understandably eager to read and rehearse. That's because the usually lucrative theater season has been postponed since June. The bubonic plague has been spied in outlying parishes, and the Privy Council has recently enforced the statute stipulating that the theaters must close when plague deaths in the city reach 30 per week. Theaters have been shut from the end of June to the beginning of Michaelmas term (Sept. 29); the actors and theater employees are anxious about their finances, and they had better come up with a good play to perform. The acting companies are nervous about the upcoming season; repertory rehearsals have not gone well, as several actors fled the diseased city to tour the provinces, but spent most of their time drinking; they are out of practice, have forgotten their parts, and are only now returning to London.

  • Convener: Paul Sullivan, University of Texas at Austin

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Rage Against the Machine: Technology, Rebellion, and the Industrial Revolution  is set in the midst of the period of wage crisis, class conflict, and rapid technological change in Manchester, England during the early years of the Industrial Revolution. The players are drawn from all classes of society, from lords to laborers and everything in between. This game provides a platform for deep discussion of the complexities of the Industrial Revolution by engaging the students in serious reading of key historical texts (Adam Smith, David Ricardo, Robert Owen) and prompting subsequent debates about industrialization, unemployment, labor exploitation and the impact of technology on traditional manufacturing.

  • Co-conveners: Brendan Palla, University of Great Falls & Louise Williams, Central Connecticut State University

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