Ideology in Board Games

This was a rough draft of a paper I wrote before leaving Aberdeen. The background to this was in the informal circle of gamers that I was a member of at Aberdeen before Kerstin and I left in 1970 to go to Minnesota. Since then the gaming circle became a club: and is very successful, with its own website and articles on a range of historical periods. It also has a Yahoo discussion group: One of the original group who is still associated with the club is Ken Clark. Another, John Hamilton Allen, published a book American Ambition.

The paper I began to work on was from the start to do with the German Blitzkrieg used during the Second World War. I based it on Avalon Hill boardgames which used 6-sided hexes. Avalon Hill is mentioned several times in Shared Fantasy, but of course being published in 1983 Shared Fantasy was not available in 1970. I chose to focus on The Battle of the Bulge by way of illustration. With this in mind I began to use simple data techniques to be able to replicated different approaches that the Germans might have used to achieve a breakthrough in the Ardennes. My knowledge of computer technology was – and remains today – elementary. So the huge task of testing alternative German approaches was just too much, and I abandoned it.

There is another aspect to this. I had never come across the Minnesota professor Phillip Barker, but Shared Fantasy builds upon the game developed by M. A. R. Barker in his monumental world Empire of the Petal Throne that Gary Alan Fine joined when he was first appointed to a lectureship in the Minnesota Sociology Department, and that enabled the engrossment of the players in it. Fine uses Goffman’s Frame Analysis to understand players’ commitment to the game, and, of course, the limits of commitment at which engrossment begins to be unsustained.

Phil Barker was one of the members of an ancient wargame run by Bruce Douglas called The Known World  that I had a marginal role in, as the leader of the Chaldean desert nomads in what is now Saudi Arabia. He founded the Wargames Research Group, as well as being a founder member of the Society of Ancients, and published the long list of rules ranging from Ancient to Medieval, Napoleonic and Modern warfare. He and M.A.R. Barker were apparently distant cousins. I found the following post by Muhammad Barker on a Yahoo List on the  Tekumel Discussion Group. This is what Muhammad Barker wrote:

Muhammad Barker
Message 1 of 35 , Apr 7, 2005 
View Source
Dear Mr. Turgon1971,As a matter of complete irrelevance, I was born in Spokane, Washington 
a long time ago. I always liked Spokane, although I never lived there. 
My family moved around Washington and Idaho until I went off to the 
Linguistics Department of the U. of California.As for Barker Road, It probably is related to somebody in my family 
back somewhere. My ancestors came to this country in 1626 and settled 
in Massachusetts. According to the nice lady who wrote the Barker 
Genealogy, all northern Barkers go back to two brothers who came over 
here and started the American branch of the family.(There are also 
southern Barkers, who are apparently not related.) We originated in 
Shropshire, England, and got into all sorts of trouble in the middle 
ages. I am a distant cousin of the Phil Barker who produces miniatures 
rules. He told me there are other “Phil Barkers” who always seem to be 
involved with similar things: e.g. there’s a “Phil Barker” who 
excavated Maiden Castle in England, another who wrote (writes?) science 
fiction TV dramas for the BBC, etc. Who knows?The funniest story is told by the lady genealogist about a certain 
distant cousin who was arrested in the 1600’s for witchcraft in New 
England. He was accused of “kissing Satan’s Secret Book.” He apologised 
and promised never to do it again, and thereafter was forgiven and let 
off!Best regards.


There is a very detailed study of role-playing games – including Gary Alan Fine’s book, and based on participant observation, by Dennis Wascul, and Matt Lust “Role-Playing and Playing Roles: The Person, Player, and Persona in Fantasy Role-Playing” Symbolic Interaction 27, 3 (Summer 2004, pp. 333-356).

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