This is a repost of a blurb I originally put on Facebook. I've copied some of the commentary as well.
I have conceptual problems with Risk. The game starts out all right, but, as empires are built and collapse I begin to think about what those little men represent.
This one is Schumacher - he was a German shoe maker until he was ordered to the Siberian front as fodder for my war on North America.
This one is Soaring Duck of the Tlingit. When he was young they didn't even have gun powder, now he mans a cannon in Columbia preventing the unification of South America.
Risk is the game of Global Domination, it doesn't make any attempt to assuage its players' conscience by pretending that all this is for some noble end.
Thus it was that I was given Settlers of Catan for Christmas. This is a non-violent game of trade and development. Surely there's nothing soul-wrenching here?
The family gathered round as we took off the shrink wrap and opened a box which promised unlimited fun on the back:
"In Settlers of Catan (R) you control [dictate] a group of settlers [political/religious refugees/prisoners] trying to tame [tarnish] the [godless] wilds on the remote [and strangely unpopulated (genocide anyone?)] but rich [and therefore colonizable] isle [or penal colony?] of Catan. Start by revealing [conquering] Catan's many harbours [(again, who built these?)] and [exploiting its] regions: plains [(wheat farms)], mountains [(if you remove the tops, there's ore inside!)], hills [(sheep factories)], forests [(timber repositories)] & desert [(which clearly has no value)]. The random mix creates a different board [tragedy] virtually every game.
Embark on a quest to settle [conquer] the isle of Catan! Guide [Dictate] your settlers [refugees] to victory [dominance] by clever [self-serving or immoral] trading and cunning [conniving] development [and destruction]. Use resource combinations -- grain, wool, ore, brick, and lumber -- to buy development cards and build roads, settlements, and cities. Acquire your resources through trades or lucky dice. But beware! Someone might cut off your road or buy a monopoly! And you never know when the wily robber [desperate and impoverished soul] might steal away with your precious gains [to avoid starvation perpetrated by your heartless expansionist desires]!"
Suddenly, I'm not sure if this is better…
My Brother: I was going to write a long comment saying how I think this is incredibly stupid, then I realized that it was not worth it.
Alina T.: They are just games based on logical thinking. I don't see why they should try to teach anyone good moral behavior. That said, I've only played Catan once and it's awesome. Thinking about it again, how different is chess from this perspect…ive? It has the same purpose, but different means of achieving it, and it takes longer to dominate the whole board.
Kriab: interesting commentary. sometimes you think too much? :)
My Sister: I don't think it's overthinking to point out that the very games which help to build skills in logic and critical thinking also play into a society in which domination, social injustice, selfishness, ect. are the norm and are the way in one gets ahead in life.
Me: I don't think the games try to teach moral behavior or that, in general, they consider that aspect. On the other hand, I think that more than logical thinking goes on here; or, leastwise, that logical thinking is a minimum input.
I enjoy Set…tlers of Catan, or I wouldn't now own it, but enjoyment doesn't rule out reflection. I agree that chess follows a similar principle, but you'll notice that the terminology is careful - we "capture" pieces and the game ends with "checkmate". The goal of chess isn't bloodshed or domination, it's to put the other player's king in an untenable position and we award respect to those who can do this elegantly. This stands in sharp contradistinction to Risk and definitely abstracts from the exploitative nature of Catan.
Perhaps there's an interesting tie-in to Go here. All the pieces in that game play on the same level and the player is rewarded for minimizing "captures" and minimizing space consumption. Different values are at play in the game itself.
Ajonja: Before you absolve chess: "checkmate" comes from … (groping through hazy memory, so someone could double-check this source language) Sanskrit "shat mat" for "the king is dead." Pieces and their movement patterns are derived from period military form, as well, I'm given to believe.
Me: I was familiar with the latter, but not the former. I still hold that chess abstracts far beyond the others, could it perhaps be absolved on the basis of ignorance or our different culture? Or do those origins or further digging even without knowing them condemn it as well?
Ajonja: But, now I'll go and absolve them all: say a bright youngster (or mediumster, or oldster) is naturally inclined toward strategizing. He has gifts for game theory, planning his moves and watching those of his opponent unfold. Perhaps he read…s war histories. He's fascinated by the world he lives in, and he's toyed with the idea of becoming a general, to put his skills to work in their appropriate arena. He'd be _good_ at world domination.
But he is gifted a Risk board. And, given a handful of like-minded friends, can play out his fantasies and use his skills in a way that let dear Schumacher and Soaring Duck stay happily at home.
That said, having played Settlers is hardly going to stop me from hopping on the first ship next time we go to colonize a New World.
Me: Ooo… there's an interesting angle in which we assume that his natural inclinations and ability don't leave him dissatisfied with the artificial nature of his RIsk board, but his appetite accordingly whetted by it.
I'm pretty sure I'd have …to climb on board as well! If only to keep the rest of you straight… :-)
Steca: Just out of curiosity, and deviating slightly from the topic at hand, would you still climb on board even if you knew that you couldn't keep us all straight?
Me: Steph, I know this reply's a bit belated. But, yes, I would still climb on board. I'm not one to pass up an adventure, especially one bearing the likes of those on this thread!