Children and thinking the unthinkable

My children play a game they call D&D imaginary. It’s Dungeons and Dragons, but totally invented, with one of them playing the story master, posing dilemmas, and the other making choices and proceeding on that basis. No board, no playing pieces, no hexagons, no paper. All in the mind. I can’t pretend to understand it at all, but it’s a damn sight healthier I reckon than sitting in front of some screen.

What I didn’t realize until I read Rob MacDougall’s fascinating post that they are in the lineage of the RAND Corporation, Herman Kahn and thinking the unthinkable about thermonuclear war. I know that sounds unlikely, but you really have to read MacDougall’s whole exposition to get it. Here’s a brief snippet:

RAND analysts revived the practice of serious wargaming in the 1950s, but they moved away from miniatures-style gaming with model ships and airplanes towards more free-form political games where participants role-played world leaders in crisis scenarios. Herbert Goldhamer, in RAND’s Social Science Division, ran four major “role-playing crisis games” between 1955 and 1956 that will sound awfully familiar to anyone who’s ever slain an orc. Players sat around big tables covered with maps, rules, tables, and dice. They took on the roles of various world leaders, while Goldhamer, as game director, played the role of “God” or “Nature,” devising the scenario to be played, adjudicating player actions, and introducing chance events.

This is the same move away from hex maps and miniatures that Gary Gygax and the Daves would make in the late 1960s. Instead of having a strictly limited set of options–move this piece or that piece, fire this missile here or there–players in these games could order any action that might be taken in real life. Briefs for Goldhamer’s simulation games read a little like the back of the Red Box D&D set I got for Christmas 1980: possibilities were limited only by the players’ imaginations.

Among the many things I didn’t know until I read MacDougall is that RAND derives from R&D.

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