Sunday, June 25, 2017

Tristan Donovan's "It's All a Game"

Tristan Donovan is a British author and journalist. His books include Replay: The History of Video Games and Fizz: How Soda Shook Up the World. His writing has appeared in BBC News Online, The Atlantic, The Times of London, Stuff, Wired, The Guardian, Eurogamer, and Kotaku, among other publications.

Donovan applied the “Page 99 Test” to his newest book, It's All a Game: The History of Board Games from Monopoly to Settlers of Catan, and reported the following:
So open page 99 of It’s All a Game and where do you find yourself? Slap bang in the middle of the chapter "From Kriegsspiel to Risk."

That chapter charts the history of war games — from their origins in Prussia as tabletop military planning tools to their influence on well-known games like Risk and Dungeons & Dragons.

And while page 99 is a strange place to start reading the book, it does capture the essence of that chapter and the way It’s All a Game looks at board game history.

The page opens part-way through a paragraph about how imperial-era Germany used tabletop war games to develop the Schlieffen Plan — a strategy for dealing with a simultaneous threat of invasion from Russia and France that aimed to neutralize the French as quickly as possible.

On paper the plan, developed through playing hundreds of war games, should have delivered a swift German victory when war broke out. Of course that didn’t happen, as the page explains:
But for all their planning, when Germany put the Schlieffen Plan into action at the start of the First World War, the real world refused to conform to the tabletop version of events…. On the tabletop the Schlieffen Plan promised victory in six weeks. In reality it delivered a stalemate and four horrific years of trench warfare.
So page 99 tells us of a time when tabletop war gaming backfired but elsewhere in the chapter I look at the times games provided insights that militaries used successfully. Not least how imperial Japan employed war games to plan the Pearl Harbor attack.

And despite page 99 failing to mention any board games most of us will ever play, it does show how It’s All a Game looks not only at the history of the games themselves but at how board games connect with history as a whole.

So on page 99 it’s military war games influencing actual wars. Elsewhere it’s Twister getting a boost from the sexual revolution of the 1960s, how air raids and the Golden Age of Detective Fiction spawned Clue, and the story of how contemporary board games are bucking the trend towards an all-digital lifestyle.
Visit Tristan Donovan's website.

Writers Read: Tristan Donovan.

--Marshal Zeringue