1) This is long. VERY LONG. Partly because I am a writer by lifestyle choice, and a writing teacher by profession, so have a penchant for wordiness (brevity is not necessarily the soul of wit), but also because it attempts to articulate two weeks of intense and challenging experiences using this game in the classroom in as condensed a manner as possible.
THUS: Be patient. I feel like this is worthwhile - it was certainly worth the time it took to write it (17 pgs in MSWord). Hopefully you'll find something worthwhile in here!
2) Double Warning: I will say things in this review like, "Diplomacy Is the Best Game Ever" and "There is no game where metagaming does not play a role." This may cause the sun-deprived, wood-fondling Euro fans some emotional distress. Take your Maalox and troll away.
3) This is written by a teacher, about a teacher’s experience using the game in the classroom, for an audience who is either interested in general in the world’s best game, or for teachers who are looking toward using gaming to enrich their instruction. As such, some of this content may feel irrelevant to some of you out there sitting at your desks and cubicles. But read it anyway. I think sometimes the best ideas and advice comes from people who aren’t mired in the culture of education.
4) Any ideas, suggestions, or thoughts are deeply appreciated. I want to be the best teacher I can be, and am willing to learn and adjust from any and all sources.
[Note: In accordance with the policy of my school, all of the below images of students are posted with their permission according to the guidelines and limitations set forth by my district. That said, if images disappear from this report, it is at the request of the people featured. I’d rather err on the safe side than violate any of my students’ right to privacy.]
The scene: Twelfth Grade Humanities. A population, roughly, of upper-middle-class kids, who've just completed reading both...
The Art of War
Machiavelli's The Prince.
In past years, around this time, I invite the most receptive kids (either those whom I know are gamers already or those who showed the most aptitude for the game with a general sense of brightness or willingness) to join me in a lunchtime-only game of that classic experience of treachery and war, Diplomacy. Orders due every lunch period, negotiations lasted for the twenty-four hours inbetween.
Sometimes users Mosier or Capizzi would join me, ( Mosier is a media-tech specialist in the library at the school, Capizzi a fellow English teacher) and we’d initiate a new group of kids into the world of Diplomacy.
And the kids were damn good at it. I don’t think Capizzi knows that a student of mine used to sneak into his classroom before school and read his emails with a record of his negotiations with the other players, nor did anyone but me know that Mosier accessed the student computer monitoring software to watch kids plan moves on the library computers. Things got wonderfully nasty, as you might guess from all of this, and we had a good time.
But in terms of the educational end of things, these past games were INCREDIBLY successful, not just in terms of sharing this classic with a new generation, but in terms of raw learning, and in one case, improved academic success overall.
Here is a summary of some of past the conclusions the kids themselves have drawn from their experience:
By playing Diplomacy, students said they gained..
1) the ability to sit down, focus for a long period of time, and analyze a large set of ever changing variables. [this one surprised me, but several students said that in general, they have a hard time with long term patience and focus, and that Dip improved that focus.]
2) the ability to formulate not just plans, but backup plans and to still be able to throw them all out when situations arise that need to be taken advantage of, or responded to.
3)the ability to carefully measure one’s rhetoric in negotiations in order to extract maximum advantage over one's opponent
4)the ability to not be swayed by another's rhetoric (and corollary to 3 & 4 here is just an awareness of rhetoric, how dangerous and effective pathos is, and how much what is presented as "truth" in our lives is in actuality just effectively presented rhetoric.)
[As an English teacher, numebrs 3&4 were of particular interest - I am constantly trying to get students to understand that they are studying their own language because of it's flexibility as a tool to motivate, manipulate, and change the world around them, and that the purpose of things like essays, and writing in general is not to express one's own ideas, but to get their readers to ultimately adopt those ideas themselves.]
5) since the game takes so long to complete (at least my at-lunch version with 24hr negotiations), it becomes an excruciating exercise in constant second-guessing and doubt, and that because of that process, one particularly reflective student realized had come to trust himself, his own mind, his own ability to think, and even his own ability to discern truth from lies, far more than he ever had before
6) and, perhaps most importantly, the ability to walk away from it all when things got rough and remind oneself that it is, after all, only a game. To loose with grace, to accept a backstab and not follow the downward spiral of emotion-based reaction that leads to game elimination, but to calmly and calculatingly regroup and plot maximum revenge.
Again ALL of this came from the kids themselves and was garnered over several games in reflective discussions.
Anecdotally, I will add that last year I invited a kid to play that was really struggling academically, and because of his involvement in the game, his enthusiasm for school in general returned, and he managed to pull himself out of major funk and pass his classes that semester. When I asked this student about this later on, he said, simply, "Diplomacy made me care again. Even though, ironically, to do well in the game you have to sort of not care."
So I thought, why the hell can't I teach this to ALL of my students? Why can't I run multiple games, and have all students learn the game and benefit from the experience it has to offer?
And I began to formulate a plan.
ONE MAN, ONE PLAN, FOUR CLASSES
Of course, to get a sense of what I might be in for, I searched BGG and read some excellent narratives by Shad, as he tried to use Dip in his English Language class in China to help develop the conversation skills of his Chinese students.
You can follow Shad's exploits here:
Dip in a CHN Univ, English 0702, 1901
Dip in a CHN Univ, English 0702, 1902 & 1903S
Dip in a CHN Univ, English 0702, Reboot! Revolt! Retire!
But let me summarize his conclusions:
1) Too much Chinese speaking and not enough English, or, just not enough negotiation, since students were not comfortable enough or developed enough with English to do any real negotiation
2) A general dislike for war, or war-themed games
3) It all simply took too long for students to feel like they had made any real progress.
With this in mind, I set about tackling the planning and presentation of the game in my own classroom.
I knew I could solve Shad’s Problem #1, because I was dealing with mostly native language speakers.
And #2... well my hope was that by preceding the game with the required reading of both Sun Tzu and Machiavelli, students would at least be a bit more knowledgeable of the theme, if ambivalent toward it. I recognize that as a male teacher, I do have a slight gender bias (I sometimes forget to include texts with female protagonists or by female writers), and I try really hard to include a female perspective whenever I can, but I also think it goes without saying that women are as capable as men at these kinds of games.
That left Shad’s Problem #3.
I think part of the this problem for Shad might have been the "team game" approach he was using... something I suggested to him in one of his posts (and which I have used with relative success in the past.)
The problem with the team game (and it’s a problem I will speak more to below) is that there is incentive for some students (those not as comfortable with the game or as comfortable with socializing and negotiation) to hang back and let the more aggressive members do all the work.
You teachers out there know that this is often the problem with group work in general, especially when student roles are not clearly defined - there will always be those kids who, by nature or by attitude, just sit back and let everyone else around them do all the talking and work.
I solved this by deciding to try to run multiple parallel games so that as many students as possible could participate as their own countries. Much more on this later on.
1) How to run several simultaneous games without possessing several copies of the game board?
1b) and assuming I could get physical copies of the game board, how do I save a game state from class to class (since I’d be doing this four class periods per day?)
2) How to teach the rules, especially acknowledging that the majority of my students have little or no past gaming experience, and thus may not possess the schema or intuitive framework to pick up on the strategic implications of the rules?
3) And most importantly, how to make all of this a meaningful learning experience related to literature and language and not just two weeks of play?
4) Diplomacy involves PLAYER ELIMINATION. How do I continue to involve students in the learning process after they’ve been eliminated from the game?
4) PLAYER ELIMNATION. Yes, let me start with 4 because the solution here was the easiest. Students who were eliminated were to join the player that eliminated them, forming a team. I felt like this would be historically accurate, as well as true to situations described in Machiavelli’s text, and I treated it as such when I explained the rules -- how would the conqueror treat his new group member? How much trust would they give? To the newly conquered member, to what extent were they willing to be obedient? Would they work to subvert their conqueror or work to make sure they were on a winning team (those on a winning team were to receive a few rare drops of extra credit--a little carrot for the remaining few unmotivated.)
1) SIMULTANEOUS GAME: I originally considered using laminated maps which could be updated normally with colored dry- or wet-erase markers. I used [url= http://files.boardgamegeek.com/file/download/g4h4ei9kl/Diplo... ]this file[/url] from the totally awesome [url= http://www.boardgamegeek.com/user/toulouse ]Ted Alspach[/url].
Mosier, who is also Lord of the Laminator at my school, laminated them all for me -- a task that was probably a giant pain, but MOST APPRECIATED.
But... when we tried using the markers, they started drying out, the ink wouldn’t wipe clear, and the maps were getting lost.
So I needed a better solution...
In past years games, even though I would use an actual game board, we would also update the game on a MS Powerpoint file that I downloaded from the giant collection of maps at The Diplomatic Pouch.
With the help of an LCD projector, I realized I could project this map on the wall, and even with multiple game maps open, it would be bigger and easier to see than a normal game board.
Here are some pics:
And a brief video showing how I used it during order execution:
[If there is a lot of background noise, it’s because there were two other sets of students doing the negotiation phase for their games.Note that in this video I was doing AUSTRIAN orders, and was amused by the unheard of way that the Austrian player was moving into Moscow. This weirdness is something I address below, that not knowing the "standard" Diplomacy strategies meant that I saw all sorts of weird things in these games. The student in question who responds, at the end of the video, "yeah we orchestrated that" was the Turkish player who won that game, who had an early game alliance there with the Austrians, who he mainly was manipulating into doing crazy moves like stretching thin by moving into Moscow.]
2) RULES INSTRUCTION: I think most people who’ve played Dip will agree that at least conceptually, the rules of the game are really not hard -- there are a few core rules, and they are easy to explain and fairly intuitive--and that this is part of the game’s strength.
The really difficult part of the game for new players tends to be how the simultaneous order execution interacts with weird scenarios like multiple supports, breaking supports, dislodgement, retreats, and disbands etc.
I had both Mosier and Capizzi come in on the rules day and help me with explanation. The plan was to explain the rules, have students practice, and the three of us could walk around and provide clarification and answer any question.
The problem is, this failed spectacularly with the first class. I think we got bogged down in the minutiae and this overwhelmed most of the kids, who got confused and frustrated.
This was a good time to remember that not everyone is a gamer, and what may seem intuitive to gamers is essentially alien to non-gamers, but to put this even more clearly in teacher language--learning something new requires the new knowledge to be meaningfully integrated in the learner’s schema of prior knowledge--we cannot learn something cold if we have nothing in our past experience of knowledge to link it to and associate it with.
And that was our problem... Too many kids had no prior knowledge, so nothing to base this new information on.
2b) Capizzi was the one who suggested the solution (and I need to note here that his help was absolutely invaluable) -- he said we needed to play a mini-game that would both physically and visually represent the major concepts in the rules. He suggested Musical Chairs, and if you think about unit movement on a Diplomacy map as a game of Musical Chairs, you see just how apt this was.
So, with this plan in mind, we lined up some empty chairs at the front of the room got student volunteers, and used the silly game as a way of clearly defining the strange situations that occur in the game.
It worked marvelously -- so much so, that in the next period we explained the rules, the students grasped even the strategic implications of the rules and began to ask fantastic strategic questions ("Can I bounce myself as a way of defending?" "Are we allowed to dislodge our own units on purpose so that they can ‘accidentally’ retreat into neutral territory?") And we were off and running!
The final note I will add here is that in addition to teaching the rules, throughout the school year leading up to this point, I pounded rhetoric into their heads, Pathos! Ethos! Logos! Rhetorical devices! All that good stuff, and we reviewed it up until this point.
I ALSO made sure to discuss the reputation (unwarranted in my opinion) for "destroying friendships" and set some very clear [url= http://www.boardgamegeek.com/filepage/39077 ]NEGOTIATION GUIDELINES[/url]. I have since modified and uploaded the file to the file section at the suggestion of others on here. This was partly just classroom management on my part. Teenage boys especially have an arrogance and a machismo that left unchecked probably could lead to fisticuffs. But beyond that, I still have the rest of the semester with these kids, and knew if they all ended the unit hating each other’s guts, than it would be impossible to get anything else done. They needed to learn, before even starting to play, that it IS just a game. So we spent some time on that as well. (Feedback and comments on that .doc are welcome, btw!)
3) THE LEARNING COMPONENT. To be honest, I was planning on giving up two weeks of instructional time for this baby. You teachers know this is a major chunk, and investment of this type needs to pay dividends or else it is essentially wasted.
Yes, I was teaching the texts that preceded it, but lets be honest, did I really need a two week game to reinforce understanding of those texts?
And let me bring up another layer of concern: an ethical one.
As I teacher, I know that hegemonies exist, and there is the lesson I teach, and the actual lesson a kid will learn, and the two are not always the same. I know, for example, that back in eighth grade, when Mrs. Sullivan made us do these horrifically complex and time consuming science projects, what I was really learning was not the science, but how to give a teacher exactly what they wanted and get a good grade while doing as little work as possible. (This was, btw, my first memory of any sort of educational hegemony, but that’s an aside.)
My fear, with Diplomacy and Maciavelli (and to a lesser degree Sun Tzu) was that there was an unintended lesson, and that specifically, the unintended lesson would be, "it’s ok to be evil -- that Machiavelli is right, and treachery is acceptable, and winners are willing to do whatever it takes."
I know, as a gamer, and especially as an Ameritrash fan, this is absolutely true in many games. The regular members of my playgroup are all ruthless bastards (Mosier can confirm this, he’s one of ‘em). And the texts themselves suggest this:
All warfare is based on deception.
Every one admits how praiseworthy it is in a prince to keep faith, and to live with integrity and not with craft. Nevertheless our experience has been that those princes who have done great things have held good faith of little account, and have known how to circumvent the intellect of men by craft, and in the end have overcome those who have relied on their word.
But as a human being, a mentor, a father, a husband, I cannot believe that backstabbing treachery, that lying, deception, and manipulative behavior are good or wanted behaviors.
Did I want to teach my students that lying was ok to get ahead? Did I want them to take Machiavelli literally (instead of as, at least is now being more widely argued, satire?)
So here’s how I started to address these concerns:
First, the pure learning: this is a language class, and writing is a primary focus, and one of the main things I’ve noticed in high school writing is that there is rarely if ever an understanding of the intrinsic power of rhetoric -- in other words, most kids, hell, I’d say most PEOPLE fail to really grasp the profound power language has to alter minds. At some point, maybe when we moved away from the purely classical educational tradition (learning Latin and Classical Greek, reading the original bad-asses of Western Thought and Literature in their original languages), we moved away from understanding and valuing rhetoric.
One of the things I teach my students is that when the Italian Renaissance gained momentum as more than just an economic explosion, it is because there was a return, at least in Florence, to this classical thought, and to an overall value of education. Florentines were taught two things - Sapientia et Eloquentia, how to think, and how to express that thinking in such a way that it makes other agree with you. In this sense, the Renaissance was intellectually divergent from the rest of Europe, because it was here that people began to see, in the way that the Ancient Greeks they were borrowing from saw, that Truth was not a unchanging, concrete reality, but as malleable as the words used to describe said reality.
And from a purely instructional standpoint, playing Diplomacy forces each player to exactly this understanding -- those of you out there that’ve played Diplomacy know this intuitively -- what is "true" in the game shifts from year to year, depending on what one says and what is said to one. While there are certainly some concrete advantages to starting with Turkey or England, veterans know that the winner is not the person with the best starting position, but with the best negotiation abilities -- thus, the best Eloquentia, the best grasp of rhetoric. But how to transfer this?
Good teaching, just like victory in a board game, involves both strategy and tactics. You start means starting with an end in mind, and then you figure out, from round to round (or day to day, class to class) how you will achieve that end: in this case, I needed to clarify my objectives, and design a culminating assessment which would accurately measure those objectives, before I could design the instruction.
1) Students will be able to synthesize content from literary texts (Art of War and The Prince), as applied specifically to game strategy.
2) Students will be able to explore the use of verbal and written rhetoric as a direct means of changing opinions and ideas of others
3) Students will be able to explore the use of verbal and written rhetoric as it affects their own perceptions, ideas and opinions.
4) Students will apply their understanding of rhetoric in 2 & 3 above as writers of essays in the process of manipulating a reader.
Students will write a reflective/personal narrative style essay that synthesizes the ideas from the text with their experiences of play, addressing not only their newfound understanding of the strategic and philosophical concepts in the texts, but also the power of language in negotiations. The highest rated essays should uses this understanding in the present essay itself, and points to itself use as proof
That last bit in italics may have lost you (I know it lost some of the kids when I presented the essay in class) so let me clarify:
A good essay is itself a game of Diplomacy between reader and writer. Even this session report is a kind of essay, and it might be argued that you and I are the players in a little mini-game of Diplomacy. As the writer here, I am negotiating with you, trying to get you to see things my way. Is it working? One might say that all writers are using rhetorical leverage to manipulate readers, and the most effective writers, the ones that move us to tears, inspire us to change, or alter the way we think about the world, are the ones who won the Diplomacy game, at least that round.
All teasing aside, with this idea in mind, it was important to me that it not be enough for a student to just understand and be able to explain this concept in his essay -- he ought to be able to apply it. Thus I built in a "meta" layer to this essay -- I required students to USE what they learned to talk about what they learned, to talk about rhetoric and negotiation while using rhetoric and negotiation. Sort of cool, eh? Was this successful? More on that later.
Next came how to get them to this point where they could write such a strange and highly reflective essay. That leads us to...
1) NEGOTIATION JOURNALS.
I inserted a SPECIAL PHASE between Negotiation and Order Writing, occurring during Fall Turns only, in which students were asked to reflect specifically on negotiations. The following questions were asked: to be completed in journals and used later to write an
Each turn, in your journals, you are required to cover the following reflection questions during the negotiation phase:
Turn: Spring / Fall 19____
1. Who did you negotiate with and WHY?
2. What did you negotiate for and WHY?
3. What method did you use in negotiation? (Simple logic, rhetorical persuasion? Bribery? Threats? Fearmongering?) DESCRIBE ANY AND ALL TECHNIQUES. BE SPECIFIC [note, on the back I attached a list of rhetorical techniques garnered from various sources, that I had previously covered in class -- this is the fairly typical stuff like bandwagoning, brinkmanship, call girl (ask to be paid up front), controlling the agenda, etc.]
4. PREDICT: What are your expectations for the coming turn based on these negotiations? (Do you trust them to follow through, etc.)
5. Look back at your prediction last turn. How accurate were your expectations of that turn?
6. Thinking about the outcome of the moves last turn, did your opponents behave as you had expected? Why do you think so? (Be sure to examine and discuss this as thoroughly as possible if you were betrayed or backstabbed last round, but even if you weren’t consider carefully to what extent your opponents seem to be acting in a way that is consistent with the information you are gathering during negotiation.)
7. Based on 5 & 6 above, what changes, if any, will you make to your negotiations in following turns?
2) DISCUSSION AND REINFORCEMENT.
I would often PAUSE the game and the negotiations and ask kids specific discussion questions, which we would address briefly. Examples included:
"What is your EMOTIONAL STATE related to the game at this moment? WHY?"
"WHO is doing the best right now in your game? WHY do you think that player is excelling?"
"Which is more important in this game, the strategy and planning, or the negotiating? WHY?"
"At some point, many Diplomacy players get so emotionally involved in the game that they forget it’s a game. Why do you think this occurs? We’ve talked about this self-veiling, this forgetting before. Why do you think it occurs? In what way might it be useful? In what way is forgetting it’s a game potentially harmful?"
"Is there an unspoken contract between players that they must all try to win?"
"What is the difference between the game here and the metagame? Where does one end and the other begin?"
"Why do people play games?"
"Games have unspoken or unprinted rules that, nevertheless, all players agree to. What are the unwritten rules in this game?"
"What are some life games people play? What role does negotiation and rhetoric play in those games?"
THE ETHICAL DIMENSION
And to tag on here, this is also where I began to address the ethical concerns noted above, about kids possibly walking away from this experience thinking that it is ok to be evil
"Can you win this game without committing an act of treachery?"
"Why is treachery so pleasurable?"
"Does self-interest, both inside and outside of the game, preclude the moral concerns of deception? (Is it ok to lie to get what you want?)"
"What are the moral dimensions of this game?"
"What kind of life would a person lead if they followed Machiavelli’s advice to the letter?"
"Is effective rhetoric and negotiation essentially lying, or is there something more subtle to it? Can we get others to see things our way without being manipulative or evil and if so, how?"
"What are some situations in life that can and should be treated as games of Diplomacy? What are some situations where it is unethical or immoral to treat them as games of Diplomacy?"
Depending on the class (as is almost always the case) these discussions were rich, powerful, and meaningful -- perhaps more so than the game play itself.
But this is the key point I want to make about the learning aspects of this game, and whether or not spending two-weeks on it was a waste of time:
Were it not for the experience of play that provided a context for these meaningful discussions, I am not sure I could have asked any of the above questions. And I honestly think some of the above questions are important and profound, in that they get at the three highest questions that I use to frame my entire class during the school year:
"Who ARE YOU?"
"What is your purpose?"
"What kind of life do you want to live?"
This unit involving playing Diplomacy, moreso than any other unit I teach (and hell we read stuff like the Tao Te Ching, the Death of Ivan Ilych, and Heart of Darkness, so there are plenty of chances to address those big three) provided a concrete, experience-based foundation for the discussion of these big questions. Was it worth two weeks of my instruction time to provide that?
HELL YES, it was.
I would love to give a blow-by-blow account of the games here, but there were nine games going on at once, and so it’s hard to pick just one and summarize it--plus I think I’ve mixed them up in my head together pretty thoroughly.
So instead, let me give some general details, and then a brief reflection.
1) Juggling More Than Three Games During A Class Period Is A TOTAL Nightmare.
I actually collapsed my third-period class into two games with TEAMS, instead of games where each kid plays by himself because otherwise I would have had to run FOUR games simultaneously, and THREE was the absolute limit of my ability to multitask effectively. I’d be collecting orders, doing moves, answering rules questions, answering strategy questions, doing moves, handing back orders, trying to get people to write down their builds instead of just shouting them out, doing moves, answering more rules clarification questions, explaining why certain orders failed, interceding in particularly nasty negotiations before things got out of control and on and on and on for fifty-five minutes at a time. There were days where my head almost exploded.
2) In spite of the above sanity challenges of running four simultaneous games, I should have done it anyway.
I should have learned from Shad’s experiences and listened and kept to my commitment to make each player play their own country. By the end, in the classes where kids played in teams instead solo there were too many students who were sitting uninvolved, letting the motivated group member who was enjoying the game do all the negotiation and thinking.
This is my long-time criticism of group work in general. Even in groups where the roles and tasks of each student are clearly defined: no matter what, the lazy and apathetic kids will always find a way to make the smart, hard-working conscientious kids do all the work. It’s no different than any workplace, I suppose, and maybe that’s a Diplomacy game too. But when your job is to teach all students, even the lazy ones, it is not the most effective instructional technique.
3) Turkey wins. Too much. But a competent player can still hold his own as Italy or Austria.
Here are the final stats for the nine games:
Game #1: Turkey
Game #2: Turkey
Game #3: England
Game #4: Turkey
Game #5: Germany
Game #6: Italy
Game #7: France
Game #8: Turkey
Game #9: Turkey
Of the nine games, only four of them were played out to eighteen supply centers. The remaining games were called in a Fall turn after Winter Adjustments, and had victors declared based on highest number of controlled supply centers. In each case, this was usually around fourteen or fifteen and veteran Dip players can confirm that the first person to fifteen often has the forward momentum to get to eighteen anyhow, so I didn’t feel bad about calling these games. The exception here is noted under 4) below.
Notice that neither Russia or Austria are listed here, and that’s to be expected at least in the case of Austria, but in three of the above games, Austria came in second, and in each case, the games were called due to time. I think that if it had played to the end, Austria would have had a real shot at winning.
4) Lack of experience to the game or exposure to the 50+ years of strategy means I got to see some weird and unconventional situations.
Take a look at that Italian fleet in London!
In this game, Italy, France, Turkey, and Russia had a four-way unbreakable alliance. Their ultimate goal was share supply centers in a game-end tie, refusing to backstab each other for a victory and thus force me to award the piddling of extra-credit I was offering to the winner to all four of them. Essentially, they were using Diplomacy to metagame their class grades, and good for them! THIS was the kind of thing I was hoping would click for some of these kids -- and all of them said as much in their essays.
For example, a quote from the Italian player’s essay:
The real game here, Scriv, was not Diplomacy, it was you using Diplomacy to teach us something. And I learned, so I guess it was a good game. I learned something that I pretty much already suspected: school itself is a big game of Diplomacy. Mostly I play this game badly. But I think it’s because I didn’t have the courage to see it as a game, and so most of my moves were just "hold orders." I think I could win now, if I went back and did it again. But that doesn’t really matter. Next year, I get to play a much bigger game, and now I know what it takes to negotiate the grade I want to get.
Now, would such an alliance be fun to be the victim of? Hell no. If I was Austria or Germany, I’d have been pissed. And they were, a bit.
But, this lead to some interesting discussions -- discussions that I’ve had back and forth here on BGG with people like clearclaw. Must all players play to win? To what extent should we be willing to allow outside-of-game considerations to influence a game? Are there any games that can be played without such outside-of-game considerations? Is there such a thing as winning the board game but losing the metagame? Can one lose the board game but win the metagame?
And some of the answers were awfully revealing, especially in that they were coming from non-gamers, whose cultural interests and philosophical ideas have not been shaped quite as much from the ideas of any wider gaming community such as what is found here on BGG.
For example, one of the students in the above noted game, the Austrian player, is--a bit of a class know-it-all. And while it was her bad luck for starting as Austria, the attitude of her classmates going into the game certainly didn’t help things -- she was eliminated completely by Fall of ’02.
In discussions with her she brought this up herself, realizing that the way that she sometimes acts toward or treats her classmates probably influenced their unwillingness to negotiate with her--and that this was nothing covert -- there was no big, "Get Rachel!" campaign. But there was definitely a subtle "Get Rachel" metagame.
And while this was certainly unfair to this poor gal in the finite universe of the game, it made her realize something HUGE about the bigger classroom negotiation game she participates in--first and foremost that how people perceive her affects how people are willing to treat her, and that it’s damn hard to undo this once a reputation has developed. She said in her essay,
I know now that to control a situation is to control it from the beginning. Once I’ve lost control of it, it’s already too late. And this is as much a part of game strategy as it is about how people perceive me. It’s why I will be wearing nice clothes to my next job interview.
So it would be nice to say what I have heard others on BGG claim - that the game that is being played is the only thing that should be played, but we all know it’s not, and it was extremely powerful to have this acknowledged by students as part of a meaningful learning process.
5) There may be a masculine-centric slant to my instruction?
No girls won any of the nine games. A couple of girls came close -- as England in Game #8. and as Germany in Game #9.
But for some reason this REALLY bothers me, because I know girls are as capable of winning as boys -- in my gaming club I have a girl who played Dip with us at a club meeting and manipulated those boys like she was Queen Cleopatra. But here, the girls tended to give up, or give in, or make alliances that merely prevented them from being eliminated instead of pushing them to victory. At first, I wondered if this was because of country selection, but no, the girls in question had countries like Turkey, England, France, etc.
But what does that have to do with the inherent male-ness of my teaching?
When I asked the class during one of our discussion periods why no girls won, I got some surprisingly sexist answers from the girls:
"This is a game for boys. Boys like war. They don’t know how to resolve things without war."
"I liked the negotiation parts, but I didn’t really care about the countries or the armies and stuff. It just doesn’t matter enough to me."
One extreme female student said, "A woman’s job is to take care of her family. She leaves war to the men."
This, of course, caused a bit of a stir -- many boys even spoke up to voice their disagreement.
But it got me thinking about the culture and beliefs of the families in the district where I teach. They are, by and large, upper-middle class surburban families. There is a very very large Baptist church half a block from my school, and a good quarter of the kids attend it on Sunday Morning. I good tenth of my classes at any given time are Mormon kids. We’ve had school plays censored or removed because of controversy (that movie, Hamlet II, is actually about the drama teacher at my school. Not a joke.) And I am describing this NOT to complain, but to be realistic about the environment I teach in.
The fact is, the community that I teach in tends to enforce traditional values, including gender roles, and by itself, I suppose there is nothing wrong with that either EXCEPT when it creates a hegemony that interferes with learning.
The problem is not that girls can’t play and win Diplomacy, it’s that they’ve been taught by the community they are raised in that they shouldn’t want to. Any my anxiety is that using Diplomacy as I teach two VERY masculine texts is me just reinforcing that hegemony rather than challenging it.
Dunno, maybe this is no big deal. I sure hope so. But if it is indeed an area of concern, I have absolutely no idea how to solve it. I sure as hell am not the type of teacher to sing kum-bye-ya and insist everyone do group hugs. But that doesn’t mean I have to perpetuate a broken cultural paradigm.
6) More instruction needs to be done about the link between rhetoric and negotiation.
The essays were good, by and large -- certainly because students were talking about an experience that excited their emotions and got them enthusiastic about class, that positive energy really comes out in their voice and so forth, and after all this time, they are starting to see that the point of writing an essay is NOT to just complete an assignment, but an opportunity to ACTUALLY SAY SOMETHING MEANINGFUL. There were lots of meaningful things said.
Still, too many kids failed to make as clear of a link as I had hoped between the negotiation they do as players and the negotiation they do as writers. It was there. But it was not as rich or as clearly valued as I would have liked to see. Maybe this is just wishful thinking on my part. I tend to spend a lot of time UNDOING the writing instruction of the teachers that precede me insofar as, mostly kids are taught to the insipid achievement tests, and the achievement test here in Arizona expect a canned and formulaic five-paragraph essay. So, as you can imagine, it’s hard to transition between that and a reflective and self-referential essay on the strategic and negotiation-related connections between Diplomacy the Boardgame and Rhetorical Ninjitsu.
7) Everyone loves a good backstab.
And I saw lots of them. And because I had spent the time beforehand with my negotiation guidelines and was always careful to monitor negotiations before they got out of hand, we mostly had a good laugh.
One student playing Turkey was even for supply centers with another player (Italy I think) until the final round -- and this was due to a strong alliance between these two leading players. Knowing that the game was about to end, this Turkish player had written two sets of orders -- one that he was showing to his Italian partner (part of their arrangement each turn in order to facilitate an environment of trust) and one that he actually turned into me. The student playing Italy turned purple when I executed the orders and he realized what had happened.
On days where students were absent due to illness, I would often step in and play for them -- this usually meant quickly having a student I trusted summarize negotiations to this point, and then just jotting down some orders. On one particular day, I took over as France, and because I was being hassled, as usual, with rules clarification questions, etc, I just accepted what I was told by a student at face value and wrote down a set of French orders that netted three builds in that fall turn. I thought that this was a good thing and that I had done this student a favor, but it turns out in doing this, I had violated ALL THREE of the French alliances, which is exactly what the sneaky kid who advised me wanted. By Fall of the following year, France was being sliced up by the Brits and Italians.
8) My ethical concerns remain.
Too many essays I’ve read now suggest that students still think it’s ok to use Machiavellian tactics against their teachers, co-workers, and even friends and family members. And this is my only tragic failure here.
I think I am struggling to convey an essential paradox: I am simultaneously trying to get kids to see the games of the world, something that empowers them tremendously, but at the same time, through that empowerment, gives them the ability to potentially harm others for personal gain.
What this means is, future discussion and instruction in class will address the ethical dimensions of rhetoric. As cliché as it is, perhaps playing the audio of an old Hitler speech ("We have such weapons now as the world has never seen") with an English translation in their hands, they can begin to understand that they need to use their powers of negotiation for good instead of evil.
Thanks for reading this, if you’ve made it this far. I feel like I’ve talked about so much that it’s hard to sum it all up with something big or meaningful or conclusive.
My parting thought is this:
To those teachers using games in their classroom, or those game fans who are curious about whether games can be used to purposefully engage a populace of unwilling and apathetic students I can assuage your doubts.
I am a teacher, and I love my kids, and I want them to have meaningful experiences in my classroom that allow them to not only gain new knowledge or understand it, but which ultimately transform, through discovery and play, how they see the world.
I would say that using Diplomacy did exactly this.