Featured Games

Conference participants may choose any one of the following six games :

The Threshold of Democracy: Athens in 403 B.C.E. 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.

Patriots, Loyalists, and Revolution in New York City, 1775-1776 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 her/his side in control of New York City at the end of 1776, as well as to achieve certain individual goals. 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.

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.

Greenwich Village, 1913: Suffrage, Labor, and the New Woman 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.

Monuments and Memory-Making: The Vietnam Veterans Memorial, 1981-82 brings students directly into the conflict that emerged over creation of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. as various interest groups vied for control over how the United States would memorialize the war. In the wake of the devastating loss in the Vietnam, and in the midst of the continuing and ever-evolving Cold War, conflicting voices that emerged in the Physical spaces like the Vietnam Veterans Memorial offer compelling ways of measuring collective memory. The way we interpret the past through these concrete structures provides insights into how the creators of those spaces constructed the past, how they intended for audiences to do the same, and how those meanings can be challenged. 

Students will take part in the conversations and controversies that emerged as the nation grappled with how best to memorialize what was at the time the longest conflict in US history. As they engage in the very process of memory-making, they will work to reconcile the varied and often conflicting voices that emerged after the fall of Saigon. How do we create a national memory of the past? How do we move on from a lost war? How do we remember the dead, while honoring the living? How do we reunite a fractured nation? Who speaks to that nation, and who speaks for it? How does public opinion and public consciousness shape our understanding of the past? Whose voices matter?

The Collapse of Apartheid and the Dawn of Democracy in South Africa, 1993 situates students in the Multiparty Negotiating Process that took place at the World Trade Center in Kempton Park, South Africa, in 1993. The object of the talks, and the object of the game, is to arrive at a consensus for a new constitution for a new post-apartheid South Africa in the midst of tremendous social anxiety and violence. Just as the cultural setting of South Africa was immensely diverse, so also is the game. Racial diversity—white, black, Indian—is only one dimension of diversity; in fact, by the time of the talks, racial diversity was less critical than were cultural, economic, and political differences. The game, then, requires students to seek to build consensus in the midst of profoundly puzzling complexity and a web of surprising alliances.

The South Africa game is focused on the problem of how to transition a society conditioned to profound inequalities, harsh political repression, and great social and cultural diversity to a democratic, egalitarian system of governance. How, in other words, should a society shape itself ethically? Because the issues are complex and not strictly racial, the game forces students to ponder carefully the meaning of democracy as a concept. They are typically surprised at what they find—that justice and equality are not always comfortable bed-partners with liberty and that healthy democracy may sometimes not be best expressed through counting votes even though universal suffrage was one of the most important symbols of new democratic beginnings for South Africa. Indeed, they learn the important lesson that democracy in a diverse setting requires creative collaboration, compromise, and consensus building more than vote-gathering. Students engage in questions of justice based in principles established in the UN Declaration of Human Rights, the Freedom Charter of 1953, and the ideas of Stephen Biko and Nelson Mandela; many parties also have their own key texts (such as Gandhi, Marx, or Mill) from which some of their principles derive.