Wednesday, July 13, 2016
Games traditionally ape life, in the challenges and competitiveness they present and the goals they set. As microcosms of human action and relationships, they also teach and imprint the younger generation with the cultural values of their societies. It behooves designers to imbue games with principles to live by as well as to be entertained by. All cultural artifacts carry didactic messages. Game designers have a special responsibility to the future of mankind to create problem-solving and conflict resolution vehicles that provide life skills as well as enjoyment.
Gameboards have been with us for thousands of years , serving as counting devices, military simulations, gambling vehicles, educational tools and social pastimes. Their evolution is a visual record of the progress of civilizations and the dominant beliefs and practices of their cultures, where games could even be contests to the death .
As mirrors of human communal actions, games are a fascinating subject of study for anthropologists, psychologists, war strategists, and economists. In the 21st century, games have become a major industry in their own right, in both hands-on and virtual (electronic) forms, launching careers in game design for an entire generation.
In this article, we will propose that game designers be cognizant of themes that replicate, perpetuate and give legitimacy to destructive and hostile tendencies. Instead, we suggest the incorporation of some new paradigms that bring forward the concepts of non-predatory, hostile-free competition. The concept of sacrificing a smaller group for the benefit of the greater good need no longer apply to competitive play.
We illustrate here a collection of such games developed by Kadon Enterprises, Inc., over the last three decades, with an emphasis on non-predatory competition and graphically attractive "Kaleidomatrix"  board designs.
We note here with pleasure that many modern games that emphasize cooperation by teams of players to overcome threats and problems, albeit still steeped in violence, are a step in the right direction. If games reflect life, they can also help to improve it.
The concept of games as competition is so universal that it is never questioned. Children learn games as part of their daily life, an eagerly awaited break from more serious pursuits. A child's mind readily absorbs the idea of following rules, taking turns, and being "fair". Losing is intuitively felt as not a good thing, but "it's only a game", so be a good sport and don't take it too hard. You may win next time, especially in games of luck, where one can blame the luck of the dice rather than any shortcomings of one's own cleverness.
One thing that bothered me about games as a child was the gloating and glee that others displayed when they "beat" me. It was not until decades later that I understood the entire Darwinian phenomenon of winning in a game as a metaphor for winning at life. Now winning is a fine thing. The ugly part is when it takes defeating or triumphing over others of one's own species.
Historically, more progress has been made by humans cooperating, through the division of labor, investment, trade and collaboration, than by the other time-honored methods of acquisition: invasions, raids, pillage, enslavement, genocide. And most games reinforce the latter and implant them in every new generation as an acceptable form of enjoyment, rationalized by "winning".
3. A new paradigm
In 1983 I was pondering the traditional classes of games--war, racing, capturing, point-scoring, positional advantage--and came upon the idea of a "meta-game", where the players themselves invent rules for the game. The idea materialized in an instant; the design for the board took over a year. I wanted it to be symmetrical, grid-like, and versatile for almost any combination of placements of pieces. Finally the nested-squares pattern and the name of LEMMA felt right (Figure 1).
Figure 1. The LEMMA gameboard, laser-engraved, hand-painted wood.
The LEMMA board allows use of vertices, lines and spaces. Three colors look lively and provide contrast. Any number of players can play, and there are only 6 ground rules (the meta rules):
Of course, the game has no end. The goal is to keep the process going for as long as possible, drawing on players' resourcefulness, and to adjourn anytime the players agree to stop. There is no losing; everyone wins. The longest game on record ran 144 rules.
Games Magazine named LEMMA one of the best games of 1987 . The board plays 4 other games and 300 puzzles. It is still in print.
In 1984 Dale Walton  contacted Kadon with a game he had invented with maze-like octagonal tiles that let players race their five pieces across the board as paths keep changing. After agreeing there was no capturing and no knocking out, Kadon published this superb game under Dale's name for it, OCTILES (Figure 2). All 18 tiles are different and include all the permutations of 4 paths that link two sides.
Figure 2. The 18 octagonal tiles with paths build the
ever-changing laser-engraved OCTILES board.
Dale's design challenge for the OCTILES board was the distribution of 18 tiles over a symmetrical pattern. The answer was to put one in the center, surround it with four groups of four tiles, and use the remaining tile as a wild card to exchange for any tile on the board. Further, since octagons leave square holes when closely grouped, all those holes become stopping points for the "runners" as the path on which they travel ends in a square.
To keep the board a closed system, paths end only at the home positions and include 8 external loops to join the 16 outer open edges.
While OCTILES is a race across the board, similar to Chinese Checkers, the path-building with movable tiles is unique. Not until 20 years later, in 2004, did WizKids introduce Tsuro , a somewhat similar game with square tiles and four paths on each, dressed in a fantasy theme story line.
Games Magazine included OCTILES in their 100 best games lists for 1985 and 1992 .
A new breed of games
In 1998 a philosophical discussion with one of Kadon's associates, Arthur Blumberg , inspired the design of THE POWER OF TWO (Figure 3), with an alternate goal and novel methods of play.
Figure 3. The Power of Two, handcrafted and
laser-engraved wood gameboard.
Part of Art’s design objective was to ensure interaction between players by rewarding moves that promoted such interaction and to penalize solitary moves. First came the design of the board itself, which consists of a symmetrical pattern of lines, or paths, connected among 64 nodes.
THE POWER OF TWO has 32 cylindrical playing pieces (16 per player), and the start position on the board has 8 pieces (4 per player) (Figure 4).
Figure 4. One of the starting position options.
While all these numbers are incidentally mathematical "powers of 2" (22, 23, 24, 25, 26), the main reference of the title is to how any two pieces that meet on the board have the power to create a portal for a new piece to enter. To win, a player needs to be first with all 16 pieces on the board when their turn ends.
To carry through the idea of competition without harming the other player, Art gave each piece 21 (2 to the first power) powers to open portals. When a piece follows a straight line from its starting point to an intersection that places it adjacent to another piece of either color, a portal opens, allowing a new piece of matching color to enter the board.
Should the mobile piece stop adjacent to multiple stationary pieces, each adjacency opens a portal, allowing multiple pieces to be added to the board. The process of opening the portal expends one of the two powers available to the mobile piece and one of the two powers available to all stationary pieces of the same color that are adjacent to the mobile piece. To indicate that a piece has expended one of its powers, it is turned upside down.
If the opening of a portal causes either the mobile piece or the stationary pieces involved to expend the second of their two powers, those pieces are removed from the board and join the rank of pieces awaiting entry. Here we see the penalty involved in using one’s own pieces to advance one’s position in the game.
Should the stationary adjacent piece belong to the other player, that piece is exempt from expending one of its two powers. By utilizing the other player’s pieces as one side of a portal, a player is rewarded with a reduced ‘cost’ of opening the portal. The other player’s pieces are unaffected by this usage, making this a win-win scenario.
Due to its revolutionary philosophy and unique game play, THE POWER OF TWO received a citation by Games Magazine in 2000 as one of the 100 best games of the year . It is always a hit and bestseller in Ye Olde Gamery at the Maryland Renaissance Festival . People are ready for non-predatory play.
The following year Art designed his second game, END POINT (Figure 5), and gave it the curvy grid he had originally thought of when designing THE POWER OF TWO.
Figure 5. The gracefully intertwined END POINT grid
on laser-engraved 24" wood board.
The design challenge here was to have 5 exit points on each end of the board, with path connections that allowed pieces to veer off into new directions on a single slide.
To add complexity plus interactions and forward planning, Art introduced a novel mechanism: after a piece makes a sliding move, it is turned over. Its move on a future turn will be a jump over adjacent pieces of either color. There is no capturing. Having made its jump or jumps, the piece is reversed again to its original state of sliding. If there is no piece for a jumper to jump over, it must wait for a team mate to slide over and rescue it.
The goal is to be the first player to exit all 15 pieces from the board by sliding out through any of the other player's open end points. Keeping all of one's end points occupied to prevent the other player from exiting is, in the long run, an unproductive ploy. It keeps one's own pieces from getting into exiting range of the other side.
Another novel feature of END POINT is that the start positions of the pieces can change every time, as players place them initially two at a time on their own side of the board.
END POINT earned a Games 100 citation in 2001 . Its artistic design makes it a show piece even when not being played. That artistic element is one of the driving forces of Kadon's design approach.
Art Blumberg's next foray into designing original games with strongly interactive and non-damaging themes came in 2001 with OVER-PASS (Figure 6), for four players.
Figure 6. OVER-PASS handcrafted and laser-engraved wood gameboard,
showing start position for four players.
A complex web of intersecting squares provides square, triangular and rhombic compartments. Gem-like disks in four colors (ten per player) travel from the center outward to exit the board on the outermost points; or, conversely, enter through a triangle with two neighbors and make their way to the center point to exit. First player to make the journey with all 10 pieces wins.
To add spice and suspense, players roll two dice to see how many actions they can take on that turn. This random element was introduced to help ensure that two or more players cannot "gang up" on the other players, since it is difficult to coordinate actions when one does not know how many actions are allowed on any given turn.
Actions can be:
Because several actions are allotted by the dice roll (imagine 12!), a player can make dramatic changes to the board and its occupants on a single turn. Players are encouraged by the mechanics of the game to move others’ pieces in order to build a pathway of stepping-stones that can be used to advance one of their own pieces across the board as a single action. The game also allows for exchanging the location of any two pieces for one action, or to slide a piece one intersection at the cost of two actions.
One of the problems during design was the question of what to do if players exit too soon and leave only a sparse sprinkling of pieces for maneuvering on the board. The answer: while players still have pieces waiting to enter the board, pieces on the board may exit only on an even roll of the dice.
The intricacies of each turn's possibilities keep this game fresh and exciting--always an important consideration in game design.
Figure 7. Hand-crafted, laser-engraved MORE OR LESS
wood board, decagon grid.
Unlike traditional games of acquisition and seeking for more, more, more, in this game it is not necessarily the player with the most pieces who wins. The player with more than 18 or less than 7 at the end of their turn wins. Both players use the same pieces, with one player owning the tops and the other owning the bottoms.
The game begins with an empty board. First player places a piece on the center of the board. Thereafter players place 2 pieces by turns on any unoccupied vertex of the decagon web with their side up until all 25 pieces are onboard.
By turns, players choose one of their pieces for movement and jump it over other immediately adjacent pieces as in Chinese Checkers. As a piece is jumped, it is immediately flipped over, changing its ownership.
When you've run out of jumps, count your color. If you have fewer than 7 or more than 18 showing, you win. Sometimes giving away enough is the winning strategy.
Unlike in Reversi , where pieces are captured by surrounding them, there is no capturing in MORE OR LESS, only creating altered states. To forestall a game going on and on as players jockey for either goal, an advancing token tracks the moves. If the game reaches 12 rounds without a winner, the player with LESS wins. This is not just non-predatory; it's downright anti-predatory.
One of the very few Kadon games not developed in-house came from the late Alan Kross-Vinson : BRACE (Figure 8).
Figure 8. Hand-painted, laser-engraved BRACE wood gameboard.
The objective is to move pieces on paths of the grid to brace (bracket, embrace) one of the other player's pieces with two of your own. For each brace you form, advance the scoring cube one point in your favor. When the other player scores a brace, deduct from the cube. Reach 3 to win.
Alan's innovation is that each player has three colors of pieces, three of each, and these can move on three different colors of paths. On their own color they advance any open distance. On other colors they move only one step. The multiple connectivities of paths allow pieces to move between colors and to occupy intersections that can set up more than one brace at a time.
Brace was released in 1996 as a wall-hanging canvas tapestry, and on the wood board in 2014. It earned a Games 100 selection in 1998 .
Another intelligently competitive strategy game published by Kadon in 2004 is THE KITES & DARTS GAME (Figure 9) by Nancy Van Schooenderwoert . Using Penrose tiles  and a gameboard showing one of the symmetrical but non-periodical tilings for which the kites and darts are famous, up to five players fill the spaces with their tiles, using only 3 colors, playing adjacent to an occupied space, and never joining like colors (Figure 10). Your turn lasts till you have a forced third-color move.
Figure 9. KITES & DARTS board.
Figure 10. Not joining like colors.
Nancy's design challenge was to keep play suspenseful in what is essentially a jointly solved color puzzle. The rule that your turn ends when you force a third color in an adjacent space keeps players alert and careful in their planning to maximize each turn's output. The player who takes over fills in the missing colors and can then start a new island on the board.
As these islands grow and bump into each other, conflicts may arise that the current player resolves by removing and replacing colors until the two regions are correctly patched together. Removed tiles are given to other players to increase their supply, a set-back when having the fewest tiles wins once the whole board is filled.
The KITES & DARTS GAME was a Games 100 selection for the year 2006 .
Games are microcosms of societal relationships and conflicts, symbolizing the historically repeating dynamics of wars, expropriations, captivities, domination and defeat. Most populations suffer horribly from such ways of conducting foreign affairs.
It was proposed here that game paradigms, goals, methods and player interactions be designed to present an alternate model of relationships, with an emphasis on cooperation, non-violence, non-predatory motivations, and not inflicting harm on other participants.
When one considers that the seemingly innocuous game of checkers requires wiping out the entire opponent population, that is representative of genocide. "It's only a game" does not remove the essence of the killer meme from a culture . Memes as transmittal vehicles for cultural customs and values is an emergent theory suggested by Richard Dawkins in 1976 .
We showed several games that present a more civilized form of competitive striving yet create excitement and strategic satisfaction as well as aesthetic equipment design. We urge others to end the predatory themes in game design and in the world. We urge the true ethic that no one is disposable to benefit others. A new wave of humanistic creativity in game design could be the hottest thing for our millennium.
AcknowledgmentsAn earlier article on this theme by this author appeared in the now discontinued online Games Journal, August 2000, http://www.thegamesjournal.com/articles/Nonpredatory.shtml.
Yehuda Berlinger’s series of articles on “Ethics in Gaming” also appeared in the Games Journal, dealing mostly with themed boardgames. Of particular relevance is “Theme and Subjective Morality”, http://www.thegamesjournal.com/articles/Ethics6.shtml.
Saturday, November 22, 2014
Gamepuzzles: Paradigms of a Rational World
"Polyominoes" are made of squares joined on their edges. They start from the singularity and can go on forever, combining and growing. Here are the 21 shapes from 1 to 5 squares in size (Tetris players will recognize the 4’s):
Thursday, October 17, 2013
A note about the Ayn Rand Webcomic
A 66-page, typo-riddled webcomic by Darryl Cunningham purports to tell the life story of Ayn Rand, controversial author of The Fountainhead, Atlas Shrugged, and the philosophy of Objectivism. The book most unnerving and most misunderstood by most readers is The Virtue of Selfishness, which has put a huge barrier between her thinking and the popular ethos. Although Rand died in 1982, her books have continued to have increasing sales; and the social dynamics she described and warned of in her novels are prophetically coming to pass. She has attracted millions of admirers among thinkers, and even more millions of detractors and haters whose oxen she gored.
Darryl's little cartoon serial ranks among the latter. Reading it inspired me to write up this response, posted to his page on October 17, 2013 (though purged soon after):
Ayn Rand's favorite poem was Rudyard Kipling's "If", read at her funeral. One couplet in particular applies to Darryl Cunningham's comic opus and most of the derogatory critiques of her work:
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools...
So, Darryl, your soap opera treatment of the messenger's personality and relationships is yet another way to overshadow and discredit the validity of the message, whether that was your intention or not. At least you are provoking interest and conversation on this controversial lady and her insights.
Ayn Rand's fundamental principle was, in fact, the paramount value of the individual. And that is simply a restatement of the founding principles enshrined in the U.S. Constitution: "that all men are ... endowed with ... certain unalienable rights ... life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."
Why is Rand's advocacy of these values so repugnant to you and to other Rand bashers? It always comes down to who has what and how groups gang up to raid the resources of the earth and what other individuals have produced. I hope one day humanity can rise above the predator/prey paradigm.
Rand was ferociously opposed to the notion and practice of exploiting some individuals for the sake of others; i.e., "redistribution of wealth" is just another name for armed robbery. It is tantamount to three lions and a lamb voting on what to have for dinner.
Undiluted and unpolluted capitalism is the form of social contract where individuals get to choose what to do with their time and property. Rational self-interest will then lead to individuals interacting with each other for mutual benefit, through division of labor, voluntary exchange, and intelligent investment. That freedom encourages innovation and progress--individuals "taking first steps down new roads" that ultimately are of benefit to all.
Those ideas are also the underpinnings of the Libertarian movement, which is a backlash to galloping socialist ideas that have bankrupted the U.S. and every country in which socialism gets the upper hand. For the record, though, Rand had disavowed the Libertarians when Peter Schwartz wrote an article she published condemning their alleged lack of philosophical principles. Ironically, Libertarians today are the most faithful to both the Constitution and to individualist ethics.
The so-called capitalism we see practiced in the U.S. today is as remote from the "ideal" Rand defined as you can get. It has a corrupt government making favorable laws, regulations and bail-outs for their cronies in industry and the military-industrial complex; it has government promoting wars to enrich their arms manufacturers and gain access to other countries' resources; it has government building up a horrendous security apparatus that peels away the citizens' rights to privacy, property, free speech, association, assembly, and life and liberty; it justifies attacking other countries and murdering their populations on spurious pretexts.
That is not capitalism. That is the most pernicious form of gang warfare, and we the people are made to support it and the endless atrocities done in our name. Our substance is wasted, and we are bled through taxes and debt, reduced work opportunities, and increased deaths and mutilations of our soldiers in senseless wars. We are forced into grand socialist schemes like mandatory insurance and welfare entitlements that deprive generations of our people of their independence and their dignity.
Ayn Rand foresaw these developments 60 years ago. The truth she spoke is immutable, no matter whom she slept with. Think about the message, not the messenger. Your life, liberty and happiness depend on it.
Monday, September 30, 2013
International Blasphemy Day, Sept. 30
Is just a spore that gores their meme.
Perceptions strain what's in their brain
Not for me? You're against my grain.
A major peeve, what makes them grieve,
Is proof why others don't believe.
Annoyed enough, those memes play rough;
They'll even kill to push their stuff.
All things alive have memes that drive
The host to hate, just to survive.
Can we insist, to coexist,
That we don't need an exorcist?
No sticks and stones, no broken bones,
No missiles, bombs or bullets and drones.
The right of each to freedom of speech
Is the meme that we should preach.
So have your say on Blasphemy Day
Till bad ideas go away.
Thursday, February 14, 2013
Women in Combat
Walter E. Williams wrote a thought-provoking essay on this subject.
It provoked these thoughts:
There is one consideration no one as yet has seen fit to mention: Several days each month a woman is hors de combat from menstruation, with or without the accompanying PMS. Can’t you just see the women on a march, carrying the requisite 83-pound load, having to stop to change their tampon or pad?
Or shall we require all women in combat to have hysterectomies to bypass this physical inconvenience? Or accept only post-menopause females, whose physical prowess is even more reduced compared to males in their most robust years?
Maybe the thinking is that the only physical combat the women will be asked to do is sit at a desk and operate drones. Or maybe the women can be given steroids and testosterone supplements to turn them into Amazon warrior princesses.
It can't be just to pander to women's clamoring for equal rights and benefits, equal opportunities for careers in the military. The Pentagon must be running short of bodies to send to the near-1000 military bases and dozens of military action zones the U.S. is engaged in worldwide. The military has become a ravenous machine, devouring the people's money and the people themselves.
Do women really want a license to kill? Do they really want to kill people who are only defending their homelands which we have invaded, even though those countries have never attacked us?
Do we really want to ratchet up the degree of brutality in the world? Men by nature are programmed to protect women and children. That is the ostensible reason for wars in the first place: to provide a safe and sustainable environment (land, resources) for their populations. Now when a soldier faces a female enemy, that natural impulse must be suppressed. Just shoot.
If our government can justify shooting and bombing women and children, and teenagers because they might be militants, we have already gone over the edge of civilization. We are only one short step away from justifying and carrying out genocide. Do women really want to be in the forefront of that? Is that the only way to be the life-givers and nurturers they are created to be? Does exercising equal brutality constitute the only way to prove equality as human beings?
Women and men are not the same, aside from the physical differences. Women's brains work at a higher, more complex level. Women should be in the forefront of diplomacy, negotiation, and peace making. By trying to be more like men, women are actually diminishing themselves. By rushing to subordinate themselves to military discipline, obedience to orders and hierarchy of command, they are reducing their self-assertive sovereignty.
Women, you've been sold a bill of noxious goods. Think about it before swallowing that hook. The future of civilization hangs on your decision.
Saturday, February 09, 2013
Love wins! Musings on Valentine's Day
“Love makes the world go around.” What a picturesque way to recognize love as energy, the positive energy that holds not just personal relationships together but the very Universe itself. “You are my sunshine” is another poetic image of that same truth.
In some cultures, Valentine’s Day is banned altogether. They see it as a symbol of the West’s loose morals and preoccupation with sex. “Make love, not war” is viewed as hedonistic, not as the larger principle of benevolence over belligerence.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if, in addition to lip service on one official day, we would channel loving energy into every thought, every word, every act, every day of the year? How much healing and mending of conflicts, repairing of ruptures and restoring of peace could we bring about?
Love is the foremost example of a fusion of mind and heart. America will not win hearts and minds in countries it bombs. War is an illogical and self-defeating policy. Instead of an endless cycle of escalating enmities, what if we took the initiative to give love a chance. What if we set aside hawkish hype and declared non-violence as strength, not weakness? It takes real courage to resist the facile resort to force.
The greatest strength is love.
Sunday, May 08, 2011
"What are you thankful for?"
In November 2010, I received an email from Bill Miller of the Friends of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, asking that question. On November 25, I posted the reply below. Unsurprisingly, they did not publish it. To see the posts they did see fit to include, visit Friends of the Chamber and type THANKSGIVING into the search box.
I'm thankful that I can still feel outrage at how our politicians have betrayed our trust, our principles and our future. Our incessant preemptive wars are a disease, and non-stop destruction of lives and resources is fatal to the economic health of our country and the world. We need commerce--free trade--among nations, not coercion, control and connivance. We need individual freedom to work and to choose how we spend our earnings, not to be forced to subsidize causes we don't approve of.
I'm thankful that I can see these truths and continue to protest against government incursions into our freedoms, and against government expropriation of our property. The bureaucracy has become a vampire on the lives and energies of the people. And the collusion between government and certain businesses is a recipe for continuing disaster, a continuing draining of the people and a distortion of their values. Where does the Chamber of Commerce stand on this issue?
I am grateful for my clear and free thinking, and for my ability to pity all those religious folk whose minds and emotions are held captive by myths, superstitions and fanaticisms of all stripes. Their religious infighting leads to horrible deaths, ceaseless enmity, and abandonment of the principle of love they claim as their prime directive. Their abandonment of Reason makes them create all the harm in the world.
I am thankful for the intelligence of the human race that has developed science, technology, tools, and a growing understanding of the laws of physics that help us find true answers to the problems of survival and attaining a healthy, peaceful, productive society.