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The Revolution will be Litigated
by Ian Bogost April 5, 2008
categories: Political Games

KriegspielFriend, theorist, and author Alex Galloway, working with several collaborators under his software art shingle RSG, recently created a cracking digital version of Guy Debord's Kriegspiel, a little-known board game created by this famous Marxist and key figure in the Situationist International. Debord is best-known for his influential book Society of the Spectacle, about the intersection of capitalism and mass media. But Debord also became interested in games in the 1970s. During this time he designed Kriegspiel, a strategy wargame, and wrote a book about the game, recently translated into English as A Game of War. The book focuses on a single session between Debord and his wife Alice rather than a general description of the game's dynamics or strategy. Galloway has been writing about the game at the same time as he's been developing the digital version.

A lot of thought went into the adaptation, along with a number of difficult decisions. These included whether or not to make the computer automatically calculate and display the lines of communication that human players would have to calculate in their heads (they chose yes) and whether or not to include an AI player (they chose no). The implementation is both functional and gorgeous, thanks to a thoughtful 2D and 3D visual design.

Here's the kicker. Galloway has been served a cease and desist by the attorney representing Guy Debord's widow. It's too early to tell what will happen next, but as Liz Losh points out, Galloway's situation bears some similarity to that of popular Facebook app Scrabulous. The irony, of course, is the estate of a dead Marxist pursuing litigation over the exchange value of the name and image of its intellectual property.

(via Virtualpolitik)

Comments (7)

hi ian,

just a quick addendum re: the origins of the game debord had built, courtesy of claus pias' highly readable and excellent archaeology of strategy games laid out in his book from 2002, "computer spiel welten" pp. 204ff., so far;-) only available only in german:

between 1780 and 1820, a number of games were invented in prussia which transformed and redefined the game of chess first towards a "tactical game based on chess" aka "war chess" (johann christian ludwig hellwig, 1780) towards what eventually became the "kriegsspiel" (sic! - double 's').

the original game of this name, first demoed by georg leopold baron of reißwitz in 1811 to prince wilhelm of prussia, used a sandbox into which a terrain had been modeled, applying the "irrational" scale of 1:2373 - i love this part - crazy baron.

reißwitz and later his son, georg heinrich, kept on iterating rules and make up of the game, for example by adjusting the scale to a more reasonable 1:8000, and by tabletopping it, using topographical, modular terrain pieces to puzzle war landscapes instead of baking sand, or by employing lightweight metal figurines for representing troops.

the rules - "supplement" - of the kriegsspiel were pretty complex, detailing movement and battling, and even allowing the creation of rules in itself, e.g. for "exceptional" game states (which even the kriegsspiel's referee could not decide) in the form of random generator dice. on a side note: pias points out how game elements such as the random generator as well as the numerically intricate supplement can be considered a form of mechanical computation; as mentioned, his book is an archaeology of computer games...

peter p. perla in "the art of wargaming" (1990:4f.) describes how the kriegsspiel, eventually, became quite popular within the prussian officer corps, and how, in due course, it was introduced to the military in other countries such as the US, the UK, or france.

dunno if debord's book mentions all this. would be quite interesting to see how his game and the kriegsspiel ca. 1820 overlap. rolf nohr from the braunschweig school of fine arts has done some research about hellwig's game. for example, a reconstruction of the 1780 game board can be downloaded from http://www.strategiespielen.de/spielplan_hellwig.pdf. hellwig's rules - written in olde german - can be downloaded from the braunschweig digital library - http://tinyurl.com/44hu36.

one last thing: i don't know if you noticed - i think i remember you read german - the debordian term "kriegspiel" is grammatically incorrect. but maybe that's situationist? or am i being pedantic? yeah, i should have told debord himself. ach, never mind;-).

thanks for pointing out galloway's version, i am looking forward to playing it,
spw

hi ian,

just a quick addendum re: the origins of the game debord had built, courtesy of claus pias' highly readable and excellent archaeology of strategy games laid out in his book from 2002, "computer spiel welten" pp. 204ff., so far;-) only available only in german:

between 1780 and 1820, a number of games were invented in prussia which transformed and redefined the game of chess first towards a "tactical game based on chess" aka "war chess" (johann christian ludwig hellwig, 1780) towards what eventually became the "kriegsspiel" (sic! - double 's').

the original game of this name, first demoed by georg leopold baron of reißwitz in 1811 to prince wilhelm of prussia, used a sandbox into which a terrain had been modeled, applying the "irrational" scale of 1:2373 - i love this part - crazy baron.

reißwitz and later his son, georg heinrich, kept on iterating rules and make up of the game, for example by adjusting the scale to a more reasonable 1:8000, and by tabletopping it, using topographical, modular terrain pieces to puzzle war landscapes instead of baking sand, or by employing lightweight metal figurines for representing troops.

the rules - "supplement" - of the kriegsspiel were pretty complex, detailing movement and battling, and even allowing the creation of rules in itself, e.g. for "exceptional" game states (which even the kriegsspiel's referee could not decide) in the form of random generator dice. on a side note: pias points out how game elements such as the random generator as well as the numerically intricate supplement can be considered a form of mechanical computation; as mentioned, his book is an archaeology of computer games...

peter p. perla in "the art of wargaming" (1990:4f.) describes how the kriegsspiel, eventually, became quite popular within the prussian officer corps, and how, in due course, it was introduced to the military in other countries such as the US, the UK, or france.

dunno if debord's book mentions all this. would be quite interesting to see how his game and the kriegsspiel ca. 1820 overlap. rolf nohr from the braunschweig school of fine arts has done some research about hellwig's game. for example, a reconstruction of the 1780 game board can be downloaded from http://www.strategiespielen.de/spielplan_hellwig.pdf. hellwig's rules - written in olde german - can be downloaded from the braunschweig digital library - http://tinyurl.com/44hu36.

one last thing: i don't know if you noticed - i think i remember you read german - the debordian term "kriegspiel" is grammatically incorrect. but maybe that's situationist? or am i being pedantic? yeah, i should have told debord himself. ach, never mind;-).

thanks for pointing out galloway's version, i am looking forward to playing it,
spw

Thanks for these great pointers, Steffen. I should probably note that "Kriegspiel" is Galloway's name -- Debord's was "Le Jeu de Guerre."

Also recommended, Christian McCrea's detailed discussion of the matter: http://wolvesevolve.wordpress.com/2008/04/08/allegorithmic-litigation/

Ian Bogost on April 8, 2008 3:07 PM

Wow, that's an amazing (and woeful) development.

To answer the question above, there's only a vague, thematic resemblance between Debord's game and the original 1820 Kriegspiel. The latter was played by laying metal bars across maps, to represent troop dispositions. Frequently it was also umpired, with the umpire determining the outcomes of combat, etc.

A new edition of the 1820 rules set is available here:

http://www.toofatlardies.co.uk/

Its also worth remembering that rules cannot be copyrighted under long-standing legal principles in Europe and America, but the artistic presentation of those rules can be. (This is my understanding of my early foraging into situations involving game art.)

I certainly hope it gets resolved, or there is some way for RSG and the Debord estate to form a collaborative result instead of legal affront. It would be a shame to see one of my favorite thinkers and a contemporary attempt by a games scholar to do something interesting come to blows.

Just left a long post on the subject here:

http://www.zoi.wordherders.net/?p=103

dear ian and hi matthew,

thank you for your post over at your blog, matthew, and - i assume - quasi reply to my comment in the above.

i think you missed some of the slight irony i tried to package into my reply here at WCG. thus, let me be a tad more explicit -

consider this: why do you think galloway & the RSG collective translate and distribute their digital implementation of debord's game, which went by the french title of "le jeu de guerre", into the german name of "kriegspiel" (a term which is, excuse my repetetiveness, grammtatically incorrect and a typo)? let's see - because translating the term into german is, say: fun / appropriate / critical, or, as suggested over at WCG, situationism in itself?

in europe, we do carefully differentiate between languages, and french is not german, and german ain't french. at least to me, language matters, and esp. titles do. why? because - excuse my lecturing tone - language is suggestive, emblematic, symbolic and a vehicle of power. i do not find any traces at http://r-s-g.org/kriegspiel/about.php as to why RSG chooses a german name for their (straightforward) port.

it is not the ominous "some" who have interpreted that debord�s game is a derivative work of reisswitz's game, as you suggest; it is the RSG group whose german language game title suggests that this is the case. using a german name for an explicit port of debord's game is, unfortunately, imprecise, and misleading, and not a straightforward port.

however, there is one acceptable exception: galloway & his group are making a statement. but then, this statement is, frankly, lost on me. the only western nation that has been waging war in the past couple of years, and the only nation that has been pioneering the public usage of "war" training video games is: yeah, right, english speaking. a decorum title of a digital port of debord's game thence is "game of war", a name which, by the way, mckenzie wark uses throughout his clever essay posted to the situationism blog (ian mentioned it, too).

i can only hope that someone from RSG follows this discussion, too. i would love to see them involved in the conversation.

take care,
spw

 

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