Tag: gaming

Paintball and Pedagogy: A Bleg

Syllabus-revamping time this year coincides with the last few quiet, pre-soccer-season weekends available for paint-balling with my son. With both BT Omegas and class prep on the brain, thought I’d reach out for ideas on how to integrate class trips to the arena into a course on the laws of war.

I’ve done this once before, when I taught “War and Gender” back at Drake University. In that case, the students organized it as an experiment in sex-specific tactics on the field. They ran variations, pitting all male and all-female teams against one another, or working in mixed-gender teams. It was voluntary, so more boys showed up, though the girls who self-selected in were just as likely to beat the boys. There was also some ‘finding’ that teams with girls on them were more cooperative and less devil-may-care. I used it mostly to help them think critically about making inferences from small-N non-controlled experiments, but it was also great to see them self-organize some class-related fun.

I’ve also known a colleague or two to use paintball a little more systematically as a pedagogical tool. At the same time, I don’t know how common this is and haven’t seen an article in International Studies Perspectives or anything describing the value or pitfalls of this approach for different kinds of classes.

So my bleg is three-fold.

1) First, have any Duck writers or readers used paintball pedagogically (or been in a class where it was used) and if so how did the prof make it work as a teaching tool (v. just a fun class-building activity)?

2) Second, is anyone aware of scholarly articles or resources on using paintball to teach international relations, international security, or military affairs? (I’m certain there are military and law enforcement training materials that use paintball to teach small-unit tactics, but what I’m looking for is pedagogical strategies for supplementing liberal arts political science courses with paintball for students who like to study war but may have never picked up a gun.)

3) Any specific ideas on teaching Rules of War in particular through paintball? The course is about the Geneva Conventions and more broadly the role of ethical norms in armed conflict. Here’s a link to last year’s syllabus.

4) If you think this is a horrible idea (particularly as a required activity) please expound.

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Not getting enough of real war?


Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 has just been released. According to the BBC:

Analysts believe the game could sell as many as 5m units globally on its first day.

It is the sixth installment in the Call of Duty series and gives players the chance to be a member of a military strike force that takes on a Russian ultra-nationalist terrorist group.

It sees the combat team traveling to Russia, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Brazil and into orbit, in an attempt to thwart the terrorists.

I haven’t seen it yet, but apparently one level has the player joining in a massacre of civilians at an airport. I’m not sure how to read the idea that the developers thought it appropriate to include participating in war crimes as part of the experience.

This level and intensity of violence has led to public feud between two British MPs — one a critic and the other a defender of gaming. The defender is now taking to Facebook to defend Modern Warfare 2 and the gaming industry.

All of which should help sales….

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The Political Geography of “Risk”

I spent ten hours today playing Risk with my son. What would normally have been simply a time-killer on a rainy Sunday became, after my earlier perusal of P. Michael Phillipps’ treatise on the non-decline of the non-Westphalian-system, a day-long exercise in thinking about political geography.

By lunchtime we had grown tired of the Classic version and took a break to run down to World Apart Games and pick up the 2008 version for an “updated version of the map” (advertised online). But when we had a chance to look at the gameboard we were disappointed at the changes, which didn’t make the new map look anything like the world we live in or any empirically grounded version of it. (True the Risk rules would probably mitigate against a world of 190+ sovereign “territories”; but if you must simplify a complex globe, what about lumping countries together according to factors in particular regions that actually do cross national boundaries while distinguishing them from others: like commodities belts or cultural affinities. And instead of using the continents as a frame of reference for scoring, why not use transnational classifications and simply color code the map? The Islamic bloc, for example could be represented in green; OECD countries, dictatorships, or some equivalent of Barnett’s non-integrating gap could be other “regions.” Parts of these blocs are contiguous but parts would not be, introducing an interesting twist on the rules of claiming and holding territories for bonus points. Also, some of these overlap: many but not all OPEC countries might fall into the Islamic bloc and vice-versa, offering a diverse range of options for accumulating different scores for “blocs.”

Any such alternatives would have been more interesting and timely than what Risk 2008 actually offers, which is territorial units in which Russia, for example, looks more like an enclave in Eastern Europe than a continent-spanning empire. As a parent and educator, I was uninspired.) We were told that the most significant changes in this version were actually not the map or the concepts but rather the rules: Risk 2008 offers several different ways to play.

However we were lucky enough to acquire a demonstration copy of an earlier version of Risk, albeit one set later in history: 2210 AD. This version is much more interesting because in some respects the labels on the map make (a kind of) sense when extrapolating ahead into history. What was Brazil on the earlier version is now the Amazon Desert; New York is now the site of one of several underwater cities; central Africa has become the Zaire Military Zone; South Asia is now United Indiastan, China is Hong Kong and Alaska is the Northwest Oil Emirate.

(Also the moon bases are extremely cool.)

Why can’t we use the same kind of imagination to create a meaningful post-Westphalian alternative to map our contemporary world – one in which factions compete not simply for territorial space but to access over resources, transit routes and communications grids; in which the political economy of battle is measured not just in land army units but also on the seas, in the air and in people’s minds; and in which the political cleavages and alliance structures are often non-territorially-based?

I wonder if the predominance of a Westphalian political geography in the boardgame Risk tells us something about our still entrenched notions of the world we live in.

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