In a recent New York Times article, journalist Kevin Draper brings us up to date on some recent controversies in the world of historical board games. The article centers on the cancellation of Scramble for Africa, a historical board game which was to let players take the role of European powers exploring and exploiting Africa, trying to get the most resources.
Joe Chacon, the designer of Scramble for Africa, was accused of not treating this situation with appropriate seriousness. In his game, the savagery that was part and parcel of that exploration seems to be dealt with in minor and trivializing ways. The players must put down rebellions, and can slow their opponents by inciting native revolts. Random events include “penalties for atrocities” and rewards for ending slavery. Butchery is gameified.
The article raises a number of fascinating questions. What are the ethics of gaming history? Can we ever gameify our troubled past, and if so, how should we do it sensitively and thoughtfully? And is there something distinctive about games that make them a thornier venue for exploring history than, say, novels?
Puerto Rico, a board game about colonizing Puerto Rico. Image credit: Jesse Michael Nix
To take on these questions, we asked some philosophers who specialize in thinking about games, ethics, and art.
Our contributors are:
- Stephanie Patridge, Professor and Department Chair, Religion & Philosophy, Otterbein University
- Chris Bartel, Professor of Philosophy, Appalachian State University
- C. Thi Nguyen, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Utah Valley University