March 15, 2010

King Philip's War the game

Game based on King Philip’s War angers Native Americans

By Paul DavisA new board game that pits 17th-century Colonists against New England’s Indian tribes is sparking a 21st-century skirmish between the publisher and Native American leaders.

The game, called King Philip’s War, allows players to defeat Colonial or Indian forces in “a momentous example of New England frontier savagery,” says Multi-Man Publishing, a military game company in Millersville, Md.

The game features a New England map, dice, tokens and historic figures from the 14-month-long conflict, including King Philip or Metacomet, sachem of the Wampanoag Indian tribe, and Indian fighter and Little Compton resident Benjamin Church.

Publisher Brian Youse says the game mixes military strategy with history—and tells a story that many people outside of New England don’t know.

But tribal historians say it is in poor taste and perpetuates stereotypes of Native Americans as savages.

“It clearly demonstrates how—sadly—racism and misconceptions continue to exist in America, even in the 21st century,” says Rae Gould, tribal historic preservation officer for the Nipmuc Nation.

“I don’t know whether to laugh, cry or be angry,” adds John Brown, historic preservation officer for the Narragansett Indian tribe. “The message seems to be, it’s still OK to kill Indians.”

Colonial players win by gathering points or eliminating King Philip and other Indian leaders. Indian players win by accumulating points or seizing the settlements of Boston and Plymouth.

Game designer John Poniske, who teaches social studies at a Maryland middle school, created the game after reading an article about King Philip in the magazine Military History.

“I immediately saw the gaming potential in the historical situation,” says Poniske, who has designed games based on the Vietnam War, the Civil War and the teachings of Jesus.
More objections to the game:But Paula Peters, a member of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe, says the game “seems to trivialize a very tragic event in our history.”

As a boy, King Philip grew up in a world where he was free to practice his beliefs in his ancestral land, says Peters, marketing director for Plimoth Plantation.

But as an adult “he and his people were pushed out.”

During an earlier conflict in Mystic, Native women and children were burned in their beds, she says. “It was no game.”
And:More than 5,000 people died in the war, more than three-quarters of them Indians. Half of New England’s towns were burned or pillaged. Philip was drawn, quartered and beheaded, and some Indian captives were shipped to the Caribbean as slaves.

“That a game would be based on this really bothers me,” says Peters. “Would we play a game called The Holocaust?”
Julianne Jennings, a Nottoway Indian and adjunct professor at Eastern CT State University, offers some additional objections to the game:Most educators are myth-informed or mis-informed about Native American history. If they can't cut it in a classrooms, how is the game suppose to do it?

Even if the board game gives opportunity to have the colonists lose the war and allows for critical thinking, what next? Will the learning extend beyond the board game and help students understand what's happening in "Indian" country today...?

Comment:  Good points. The game's creator is a social studies teacher who read about the war in a magazine, so how accurate is the game likely to be? Does it include any context--i.e., the 50 years of New England history leading up to the war? You know, the history chronicled here:

Losing ground in After the Mayflower
Pequot massacre in After the Mayflower
Praying towns in After the Mayflower

What if either side is faced with accepting defeat or massacring the other side in a surprise attack? Does the game present the "atrocities" mentioned above as a viable option? Does it encourage them? Should we really be teaching that conquering and killing people is the best way to achieve one's goals?

Inside the game

The game has a webpage, so we can begin to answer these questions. My impressions:

  • It appears the game concentrates solely on the war itself, with no pre- or post-history. If true, this means there's nothing about the colonists' greed before the war, and nothing about their cruelty after the war. The text notes that "6000 Indians were slain or captured, and sold into slavery" and "Metacomet himself was eventually ambushed, beheaded, and quartered," but this doesn't appear to be in the game itself.

    Focusing only on the war makes it seem as if the invading and occupying forces were morally equivalent to the people defending their homes and way of life. They weren't. The Europeans were morally wrong, but the game doesn't seem to reflect that.

  • The text says massacres are one of the six outcomes when you roll the Battle Effects Die. So massacres happen at random via an (un)lucky roll. This bloodlessness means players won't learn who committed massacres or why they occurred in reality. Nor will they learn the consequences of mass murder. It'll desensitize them to the horrors of war, creating the impression that "these things just happen."

    So if a massacre occurs next month in Brazil or Iraq or Tibet (to pick three hot spots)? Somebody rolled the dice and got a bad break. Too it's your turn. Roll again.

  • The game's objectives sound uneven:In King Philip’s War the Colonial player wins by eliminating the historical leaders of King Philip and Canonchet or being the first to accumulate 30 victory points. The Indian player wins by seizing the settlements of Boston and Plymouth, or by being the first to accumulate 30 victory points.Why should capturing two Indian leaders end the war? Does the developer think the Indians were fighting only because of a charismatic leader? That they were a bunch of children who couldn't act without a father figure to hold their hands?

  • Meanwhile, the Indians have to capture two major towns to win? Two towns vs. two leaders: How is that fair? What's the historical basis for saying the colonists would've fought until their biggest towns fell? Since this didn't happen in reality, how can the developer know whether the colonists would've given up sooner or later?

    The colonists seem to have an easier objective. Which means there's a bias toward the colonists winning. Just because this happened in reality doesn't mean the game should promote that outcome.

  • Finally, there's the box cover, which shows only Europeans. They're dressed as brave soldiers and gathered around a Christian flag. That sends the message that the Europeans are the heroes and the Indians are the villains. That the game's "lesson" is how the Europeans defeated their savage enemies, not why the Indians had to fight an evil empire.

    So the game seems questionable at best. I'm not sure any game featuring Europeans vs. Indians would be a good idea. Kids should learn America's genocidal history as a serious business, not as a game.

    For more on Indians in war games, see Natives Criticize Sid Meier's Civilization and Mayans in The Settlers.


    Nanawetea1 said...

    When will white America learn that not all that is taught in class rooms is the truth. It is only the controlling peoples truth. White America is ashamed to admit what was done. "Nothing like that has happened here"
    My Grandmother would tell people she was colored, when in fact she was Native American. In her day to be colored, one was concidered half a person. If you where native you were concidered a zero.
    There is nothing to be proud of the genocide of the native inhabitants of this land. What ever native people did to each other has nothing to do with what white America has done and is still doing to the native indigenious population. The highest incident of sexual violence is on the reservations out west and is committed by white Americans. White justice will not prosecute because that only happened to a savage. This game needs to be boycotted by all Americans.

    AgentOfChange said...

    Part 1

    This is the kind of explosion that happens when an often misunderstood niche is exposed to public scrutiny without context. Never mind the sensationalist slant of the original article and the understandable angry reactions of people who were most likely not presented all of the facts, the issue here is that of misunderstanding. On the part of the critics and media who most likely have not at all been exposed to simulation historical "gaming" and on the part of Gamers (as we call ourselves) because it is easy to forget that when you are a part of a generally small and insular sub-culture that few people outside the hobby actually understand your hobby.

    I address this primarily to those who do not understand exactly what simulation "gaming" is. First of all I put "gaming" in quotes because the term game has come to be a trivializing word that more often references video games, monopoly, and something children do rather than an all encompassing term that encompasses everything from "Tag" to monopoly to sports to Chess. The uniting factor between all of the activities under the "game" label is that people engage in these activities for some benefit (often competition, skill, and enjoyment) and to share an experience with other people.

    Simulation "gaming" is a particular niche within gaming that is characterized by historical recreations of conflicts with an eye for historical accuracy and context. Though in most cases because these are "games" often with complex systems to represent reality the feasibility of including a textbook to provide an entire social and political context to any given conflict is unrealistic an unnecessary. The target audience of these "games" is primarily adult and primarily for those who are aware of or who learn about after the fact the event(s) portrayed in the game. They are learning tools in a gateway sense. You see a game about a conflict you never heard about and you learn about it, it has an analogous effect to how Wikipedia works (you see a link about something that appears interesting but you don't know about it so you follow it to learn more).

    Addressing the detailed history and context of a conflict is more the burden of individual player than of the designers, however in many cases as in this one, the designer went out of his way to portray a balanced view of the conflict in the game documentation, which is something to be honest you do not always see in a war-game. That burden of learning is, however happily taken by most of this type of simulations primary audience sparking a greater spread of information than not. The recreation of the conflict has many benefits for the individual players but the greatest in my opinion is the ability to "change history" in playing out a conflict. The history of these things are always nuanced and rarely is there ever a "good guy / bad guy" dynamic. More often there is a historical winner and a loser and far more than we may like to admit both sides did horrible things during a conflict but history is, sadly, written by the victors. Which brings me to the value of simulations, how many people had even heard of this conflict prior this game. I hadn't, and now because people know about it they will learn about it.

    AgentOfChange said...

    Part 2

    I have been playing historical simulations since I was in grade school. I can tell you I am an exception, raised in a household where learning was encouraged and simulationist "gaming" was a common. Most kids don't get into the hobby, not because it's bad for them or there is something wrong with it, primarily because it's in most cases inaccessible (the complexity of rules) and full of deep and disturbing concepts; for example the actual history we aren't taught in school, like in this case that the Native Americans were not only victims of a technologically superior foe but also had the pride, honor and shear balls to fight with everything they had to prevent being shuffled off their land. What's more what is often expressed in simulation games is that it is not always right and wrong that decides a conflict but tactical acumen, bravery, and technology that carries the day.

    To address several points; One this game and most war games are not marketed towards young children (teenagers at most) and are called learning told because that is what they are, you don't stop learning after you are done with school, or at least you shouldn't.

    Two. There have been serious simulations addressing just about every era and conflict since the beginning of recorded history so protesting a single game without knowing the context of simulationist gaming or the man you accuse of being a racist without speaking with him is every bit a ridiculous and intolerant as some of the accusations flying about.

    Three. The enjoyment derived from a 'war game' is that of tactical achievement and strategic acumen, not reveling in the deaths of anyone. These simulations are created by intelligent men and women and are the result of extensive research to be sure to accurate to the conflict being portrayed.

    Four. A "peaceful option" is beyond the scope of simulation games, these are recreations of conflicts, often bloody ones to the end of replaying them and learning from them.

    Lastly. Full disclosure. I am the designer’s son, I am in my late twenties and I am appalled with how my father is being treated. I am posting here of my own volition without his knowledge, my thoughts and statements are my own. To those in the gaming community I appreciate your support. To set the record straight my father spent years researching and designing this game to be what it is now. It glorifies nothing about the conflict but portrays a little known episode in American and Native American history that was pivotal in early American history. It was probably the single best shot the natives had ousting the Europeans, but as history has taught us numbers and technology determined the victor and the Europeans had both. This is not right, the game doesn't portray it as right nor as an inevitable conclusion, the natives have an even chance of winning the conflict, something that none of the Anti-King Philip’s War quotes have addressed. I was raised my father's son and no one has the right to call the man a racist or anything even approximating intolerant, lest they be made a total fool when and if they met him.

    Hear the whole story, learn all the fact and make a reasoned judgment if you must. Ad hominim attacks and sound bites based on partial information just make us all look bad and drag conversation down to a school yard level.

    This was posted on another firum but seemed appropriate to put here at the origin of the controversy. Posted in two parts

    Rob said...

    As I explained in Gamers Defend King Philip's War Game, I think most of the critics understand war games well enough. "Historical recreations of conflicts with an eye for historical accuracy and context"...yep, that's exactly what we thought.

    Let's put it this way: I haven't seen anything except unfounded allegations that we don't understand these games. If you can't cite and quote passages that prove our lack of understanding, spare us this worthless charge.

    Learning about a decades-old conflict through its violent ending is inherently limiting. Comparing this to Wikipedia is misleading since the typical Wikipedia entry is far more comprehensive than this game is.

    Your claim that a war game can't include a "peaceful option" is a dodge. Of course it can if you want it to.

    Your father made up the game's goals, which amount to kill or be killed. Why can't this or any war game end with "stalemate" or "negotiate an accord"? If you really want realism, you'd include these outcomes, since they're possibilities in most wars.

    That you don't see anything but victory or defeat as a goal is telling. What you seem to be saying is: You prefer to focus on the military aspects of a conflict and ignore the political, economic, and moral aspects. Which is the critics' point, of course.

    I can tell you posted this on another forum because it doesn't address much of my posting. Now that you've told us why war games are great in general, feel free to answer some of my specific questions and objections. Good luck.