Make Games Not War

Who Dies the Neatest

I was born in Philadelphia in 1952. Back then my parents and all their peers saw no problem with my buddies and me playing “War”  in the streets using very realistic looking cap guns and rifles with rubber bayonets. 

My dad had fought the Japanese in World War Two. My mom and her father (but not her mother) escaped Fasist Italy in the late 1930’s. Everyone knew the difference between “make believe” and “for real.” And, they knew the importance of letting children play. It was a time and place of peace and sanity.

Things changed for me when I turned seven because we moved to rural New Jersey where I had no male friends. Sharon (a year older than me)  and her younger sister Jo Ann were the only play pals that my sister and I had. This is what I recall of then:

The three girls want me to play “House” with them. The idea is that one of us will be daddy, another mommy and the remaining two are the kids. Then the “grown-ups” pretend they are the perfect parents that we wish we had and the “kids” pretend to be the perfect kids we wish that we were.

“That’s stupid,” I say. “Where’s the fun in that?” The rules are unclear and you don’t know when you win, if ever.

I explain that to play “War” all we have to do is try to kill each other. Whoever survives wins. I have cap guns, rifles and hand grenades enough for all of us. Obviously, a lot more fun and it’s clear who wins.

“Okay,” Sharon says. “Go ahead and shoot me.”

“What? It’s no fun unless you put up a fight.”

“I don’t want to fight. Just shoot me.”

So, I shoot her with my cap gun. She’s asking for it, after all.

“Oh my God,” Sharon cries. “I’ve been shot.” She grabs her gut and bends half-over. “What will happen to me? To us? Our children? I won’t live long enough for us to have children!”

Sharon stumbles forward, coughs up spittle; her eyes fill with tears. She collapses on the grass. She gasps for air.

I look at my cap gun. Did I take my dad’s .22 by mistake? 

What have I done? I hate this thing. I throw the gun as far away as I can; perhaps nobody will find it. I drop to my knees. 

I try to pick her up but she is limp. I crouch down to lie next to her. I hug her. Perhaps I  can hug life into her. Her breathing is shallow. Is she trying to say something? I tilt my head; move my ear close to her mouth.

“My darling,” I hear her say in the faintest of whispers. “What will become of you?”

I pull back. Her cheeks are wet from tears, both hers and mine. Her mouth is half-open. Her drool is dampening the grass. Her unblinking eyes are not quite closed. All I see are the whites. From some deep dark place where despair lives comes a groan that I can only describe as the sound the soul makes when it leaves the body. I close my eyes.

We lie together, two inert bags of flesh. One dead, one wishing he were dead. Time passes. Minutes. Seconds. Perhaps hours. Who knows.

“Okay,” Sharon says in a chipper voice. “This could be fun.”

I open my eyes. Sharon is standing above me.

“Your turn.” She says. “I kill you and you say goodbye to all that you hold dear. Then we’ll go kill our sisters. Pretty neat, don’t you think? I’m going to call it, ‘Who dies the neatest?’”

For two summers Sharon, our sisters and I played “Who dies the neatest?” It’s the best war game there is. Practice saying goodbye to everything you hold dear and playing ‘war’ stops making sense. 

Try it. You’ll see.

In 2011, game designer, Jesse Schell, gave an excellent talk called Make Games, Now War.
Please watch it.

Make games, not war.

I lived in Japan in the early 1990’s where I met an ancient Japanese WWII veteran.

“My dad fought you guys in World War Two,” I said, “and I daresay I don’t think you were the good guys in that war. How did you get from the Japan of those days to the modern Japan I see today that I admire so much?”

“There are two things you must remember,” the Japanese veteran said. “Firstly, there is nothing you cannot do right now. Secondly, there is nothing you cannot achieve in a generation if you raise your children to be unlike you.”

Years later I saw the 1943 movie, Destination Tokyo, in which a submarine under the command of Cary Grant enters Tokyo harbor to gather intelligence for an invasion.

In one scene a Japanese plane spots the sub and they shoot it down. As a beloved crewman, Mike, rescues the pilot from the sea and the pilot stabs Mike, who dies .

“Mike was with me on my first patrol,” the captain says at Mike’s funeral. “He was my friend. I know his family. His wife’s a fine, great-hearted woman. I know his kids.

“I remember Mike’s pride when he bought the first pair of roller skates for his boy. They were the finest roller skates that money could buy. Roller skates for a five-year-old.

“Well, that Jap got a present too, when he was five. Only it was a dagger. His old man gave him a dagger, so he’d know what he was supposed to be. The Japs have a ceremony that goes with it. At seven, a Jap kid is taking marches under an army instructor. At 13, he can put a machine gun together blindfolded.

“As I see it, that Jap started on the road 20 years ago to putting a knife in Mike’s back. There are lots of Mikes dying right now. And a lot more Mikes will die… until we wipe out a system that puts daggers in the hands of five-year-old children.

“You know… if Mike were here to put it into words now… that’s just about what he died for. More roller skates in this world. Including some for the next generation of Japanese kids… because that’s the kind of man Mike was.”

This movie was propaganda, of course, designed for domestic consumption. When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, the rallying cry was “The only good Jap is a dead Jap.” However, just a short while later, we were making an exception for their children. Why?

Today “propaganda” has negative connotations, but it didn’t always. It comes from the Latin phrase congregation de propaganda fide which means ‘congregation for the propagation of the faith.’ What did we believe on faith?

We used to believe that the son is innocent of the crimes of the father. And, we believed that children need to be free to play unsupervised. That’s obvious to all of us who are sons of less-than-perfect fathers and who have been left to play unsupervised.

Children are the best game designers of age-appropriate games for themselves. They just need time, freedom and permission.

Consider Sharon’s game. She and our sisters wanted to play “House.”

I wanted to play “War.”

What did she invent? Only now as I think about it, she invented “House in times of War.”

That’s pure genius. Could she have come up with Who Dies the Neatist while being shuttled between soccer and swimming lessons? I doubt it.

Maybe we don’t need another game designer at Hasbro or Blizzard. Maybe we need a solutions journalist working the Things Kids Come Up With that Might Save the World beat.

At the 2011 Games for Change festival in New York City, I heard a keynote that had a profound impact.

It was Make Games, Not War presented by Jesse Schell.

There isn’t a point Jesse makes that I can argue against. But, don’t take my word. Watch it yourself and come to your own conclusions.

His talk mostly about games with war mechanics and he challenges his audience to think about the unintended side effects of the products they produce for children.

But, in what central place do people talk explicitly about actually making games as an alternative to war?

I couldn’t find it easily, and if someone with a deep interest in something can’t find that thing easily then it might as well not exist.

So, I asked myself: What would you call it?

MakeGamesNotWar.org, obviously.

I checked. Nobody had bought the domain, so I bought it and decided to wait for the day someone decides to make the place and they contact me to buy the domain.

That day came on 24 February 2022, three days after Russia invaded Ukraine. Thomas McCarthy of GoDaddy Domain Services wrote to say he had a buyer offering $100 for MakeGamesNotWar.org.

I told him that the buyer’s intentions mattered to me. He continues to pester me but isn’t telling me who the buyer is so I’m going to ignore him. That’s when I decided to write this and redirect the domain here.

So, here’s the deal.

The bidding is open. If you want this domain, submit a credible plan for its noble use that comes with a performance guarantee if you fail.

  • For example, if you manufacture swords and, inspired by Cary Grant’s speech, you’ve decided to beat daggers into roller skates, that would impress me. I think a fair price might be $1 now and a big chunk of money if you aren’t yet in production in a year’s time.
  • Or, I can imagine you are so taken by Who Dies the Neatist that you’ll promise to get it introduced into every State’s schools in lieu of dodge ball. I’ll charge you rent for every month you haven’t achieved the goal.
  • Alternatively, perhaps, you are a solutions journalist and you would like to work the Things Kids Come Up With that Might Save the World beat. Cool. For you, there is a very special discount. I have a soft spot for journalists with a good heart and a credible plan – you are a rare breed.

Those are three examples. Get your thinking caps on and get creative. I’m open to all manner of things, but please bear these principles in mind:

  • I’m unimpressed with people who try to flip domain names for profit, and in this instance I’ll also see you as a war profiteer if that’s what you are into.
  • I want to minimize the cost to you if you succeed and maximize the cost if you fail, not just for my benefit but also to keep you properly incentivized.
  • I’m wealthy enough not to need money so I will put it to good use in service of a noble cause. For example, if I make money because you fail to get schools to adopt Sharon’s game then I’ll contact her. She’ll be 70 now, if she’s alive, and if she could use the money then I’ll give it to her.
  • Otherwise the money goes to my company, Viral Virtue, Inc.

When you’re ready, write. I’m Brooke (at) BrookeAllen.com

Peace,

Brooke

P. S. If it’s you, Jesse, who is interested in the domain then you can have it on whatever terms you consider fair. You gave me the inspiration. All I did was buy the it and wait.