When in doubt, quote Dylan:
Praise be to Nero’s Neptune, the Titanic sails at dawn
And everybody’s shouting, “which side are you on?”
Previously on the deep history of roleplaying games: When David Wesely created Braunstein, his seminal proto-roleplaying game, he was inspired, he said, by three books he’d found in the University of Minnesota library. One was a wargame by 19th-century crackpot Charles Totten. One was a primer on game theory by the Cold War eggheads of the RAND Corporation. And the third was Conflict and Defense, an assault on RANDian game theory by the Quaker peace activist, systems theorist, and mystical poet Kenneth Boulding. A catholic trinity, to say the least.
Like Totten’s Strategos and RAND’s Compleat Strategyst, Conflict and Defense is an odd duck. Written in 1960, it is a heartsick response to Cold War brinksmanship and a critique of RAND-style game theory, but it is written in precisely the same esoteric language of models and matrices the RANDies used. “Just as war is too important to leave to the generals,” Boulding concludes, “so peace is too important to leave to the pacifists.” The book is a forest of diagrams and equations, “indifference curves,” “bare-survival contours,” and “mutual submission equilibriums.” It seems to have been an effort to devise some universal geometry of conflict and peace, and in so doing save the world from nuclear war. Boulding was a prominent economist and a pioneer of general systems theory, but his quest for a unified ecology of knowledge ultimately became a kind of religious mysticism. The information revolution, he argued in the 1970s and 80s, was weaving us all into one planetary superorganism. (Which it is, but serious economists aren’t supposed to come right out and say that.)
I’m not claiming that all or even any of this found its way directly into David Wesely’s Braunstein, though I remain impressed at Wesely’s eclectic tastes, and consider the whole story yet more proof of the indispensable serendipity of open library stacks. But the fact that Braunstein was inspired by a spacey Quaker on the one hand and by the RAND Corporation on the other makes me wonder: which side of the culture war were roleplaying games on? Were the first D&Ders squares or hippies, hawks or doves? This was a hobby invented by young American men, men of draftable age, in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Two of the biggest groups of early gamers were college students and the military. Is it strange that the conflicts of the era are not more reflected in the history of the hobby? Is it strange that the received history of roleplaying games barely mentions Vietnam?