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Of game, the little brother of war

Thursday, October 30th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- Maori Haka vs Aboriginal War Dance, Rugby Football, the Huron origins of Lacrosse. the UK's Adventurous Training manual, and a testosteronic Christ with whip by El Greco ]
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Let’s start with war dances on the twenty-first century Rugby football field. Here’s the Maori Haka vs the Aboriginal War Cry — in a video that’s all the more remarkable in that it pits two forms of Australasian war dance against one another:

One wonders whether the game can be won or lost before the game begins…

One commentator on the above clip said, “I’m guessing we’ll see something very similar when Tonga take on Samoa on Friday night”.

Here’s Tonga vs Samoa — not quite so ediying, perhaps, but a little closer to war?

– and, for what it’s worth, here’s New Zealand Maori Vs Tonga absent the feathers and war-paint:

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What’s going on here is another of the intersections of wars and games — and that should be of interest to anyone who would like to see less conflict and more resolution.

Back in 2005, I wrote our my “vision” of games, and included the following:

In the back of my mind there’s a sense that games of high risk are somehow of great importance -– that gambling is not the province solely of addicts (players) and mafiosi (“the house”) but of some archaic and primordial importance that was sensed by the native peoples of America when they made gambling and the playing of games and sports a feature of their spiritual life.

By way of example, I quoted this excerpt from The Creator’s Game:

The Game of lacrosse was given to our people by the Creator to play for his amusement. Just as a parent will gain much amusement at the sight of watching his child playing joyfully with a new gift, so it was intended that the Creator be similarly amused by viewing his “children” playing lacrosse in a manner which was so defiant of fatigue.

And concluded:

Iry to bear in mind the tale of early ganes of chess in which the player was his own King on the board, subject to death if the game was lost — and of the ball games of the Mayans, where a whole team would be sacrificed to the gods if they played so superbly as to win…

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And so to Lacrosse…

vennum cover

In The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents: Travels and Explorations of the Jesuit Missionaries
in New France 1610—1791
, we read:

Of three kinds of games especially in use among these Peoples, — namely, the games of crosse, dish, and straw, — the first two are, they say, most healing. Is not this worthy of compassion? There is a poor sick man, fevered of body and almost dying, and a miserable Sorcerer will order for him, as a cooling remedy, a game of crosse. Or the sick man himself, sometimes, will have dreamed that he must die unless the whole country shall play crosse for his health; and, no matter how little may be his credit, you will see then in a beautiful field, Village contending against Village, as to who will play crosse the better, and betting against one another Beaver robes and Porcelain collars, so as to excite greater interest.

Sometimes, also, one of these jugglers will say that the whole Country is sick, and he asks a game of crosse to heal it; no more needs to be said, it is published immediately everywhere; and all the Captains of each Village give orders that all the young men do their duty in this respect, otherwise some great misfortune would befall the whole Country.

One account of the early game indicates that it had no boundaries, and only a single rule:

The Native American games were seen as major events, which took place over several days.They were played over huge open areas between villages and the goals, which might be trees or other natural features, were anything from 500 yards to several miles apart. Any number of players were involved. Some estimates have mentioned between 100 and 100,000 players participating in a game at any one time. The rules were very simple, the ball was not to be touched by a player’s hand and there were no boundaries. The ball was tossed into the air to indicate the start of the game and players raced to be the first to catch it.

Here’s Prof. Anthony Aveni‘s description of the game, in The Indian Origins of Lacrosse:

Originally, the lacrosse field lay on rough ground with opposing goal trees, or posts if vegetation was not convenient, as much as a mile apart. One game witnessed by a colonist tells of two villages engaging each other, hundreds of men on the field at once. The swiftest players usually would engage at the center of the field and the slower arranged themselves around the goal posts. The heavier players held the ground in between.

Once the sphere was tossed up, the player who caught it “immediately set out at full speed towards the opposite goal. If too closely pursued, he throws the ball in the direction of his own side, who takes up the race”—this from a description by a mid-nineteenth century witness. This account fits the present version of lacrosse, except that the old game was more violent. Often in striking the opponent’s stick to dislodge the ball, a player inflicted severe injury to an arm or leg. One chronicler tells us: “Legs and arms are broken, and it has even happened that a player has been killed. It is quite common to see someone crippled for the rest of his life who would not have had this misfortune but for his own obstinacy.” In this instance the player refused to give up the ball, which he had trapped on the ground between his feet.

Regarding the question of injury, Vennum (who wrote the book, see above) xplains:

Europeans were less impressed by the violence that they witnessed than by the lack of anger over injuries or losses. Almost all writers mention this “stoic” Indian characteristic.

Parkman‘s account of the “Pontiac Conspiracy” describes one such game in which the little brother of war deftly became its elder brother:

Bushing and striking, tripping their adversaries, or hurling them to the ground, they pursued the animating contest amid the laughter and applause of the spectators. Suddenly, from the midst of the multitude, the ball soared into the air and, descending in a wide curve, fell near the pickets of the fort. This was no chance stroke. It was part of a preconcerted scheme to insure the surprise and destruction of the garrison. As if in pursuit of the ball, the players turned and came rushing, a maddened and tumultuous throng, towards the gate. In a moment they had reached it. The amazed English had no time to think or act. The shrill cries of the ball-players were changed to the ferocious war-whoop. The warriors snatched from the squaws the hatchets which the latter, with this design, had concealed beneath their blankets. Some of the Indians assailed the spectators without, while others rushed into the fort, and all was carnage and confusion.

And little brother is still recognized as family into modern times. James Vennum writes:

During the Cherokee Fall Festival in North Carolina, I once watched the Wolftown Wolves beat the Wolftown Bears. Although the field was surrounded by carnival rides and food concession stands, little had changed in the Cherokee game since 1888, when it was described and photographed by James Mooney, who must have come by wagon on a dirt road to get there. Each team still marched abreast in line by degrees to midfield, letting out ritual war whoops and yells as they faced their opponents and laid down their sticks to be counted.

At the conclusion of the Cherokee game, in keeping with tradition, the teams were “taken to water,” an ancient ritual meant to cleanse and restore them from their warlike condition during the game.

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I’m writing this post, as always, for my own instruction and delight — but also to give context to the recent Kings of War post, Colonel Panter-Downes Introduces the US Armed Forces to British Adventure:

Adventurous Training (AT) is a singularly British military activity and is a fundamental element of its training ethos and regime. Defined as “Challenging outdoor training for Service personnel in specified adventurous activities that incorporates controlled exposure to risk,” AT is invaluable as “the only way in which the fundamental risk of the unknown can be used to introduce the necessary level of fear to develop adequate fortitude, rigour, robustness, initiative and leadership to deliver the resilience that military personnel require on operations.” There are currently nine core AT activities and all UK Service Personnel are required to undertake this training as part of their basic training as well as post-operational decompression activities.

The Joint Services Pamphlet 419: Joint Service Adventurous Training Scheme can be downloaded here:

adventurous training

As you’ll see therein, the nine activities are..

Offshore Sailing, Sub-Aqua Diving, Canoeing and Kayaking, Caving, Mountaineering, Skiing, Gliding, Mountain Biking, Parachuting and Paragliding.

Mark you, I still don’t entirely understand why they include, say, kayaking, but not parkour — surely a high risk game as close to what might afford helpsul skills in urban warfare as we’re likely to see:

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And quite incidentally, because I also ran across it today, because I’m interested in religion, because testosterone is the reductionist’s broad-strokes explanation for Rugby, Lacrosse, haka and war alike — and because I love El Greco above all other painters:

The blogger who has taken the pseudonym Archbishop Cranmer was writing about feminist theology today, and inter alia described Christ as..

a macho realist who deployed His divine testosterone on numerous occasions.

As in John 2.15:

And when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers’ money, and overthrew the tables;

From the National Gallery in London, one of the later versions:

Greco

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Grand Theft Caliphate / Daesh

Friday, October 24th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- an oriental carpet video game, would you believe it? -- and one from IS ]
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GTA Daesh headlights

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The intersection of war and games is a fascinating one. You may recall the Stone Throwers game, built at the start of the Al-Aqsa Intifada, and set against the backgrop of the al-Aqsa mosque:

The Stone Throwers Game 2000

It’s a pretty primitive pro-Palestinian game built by a sympathetic Syrian, and you can still play it here.

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Far more sophisticated — and utterly unrelated to propaganda, unless and until malicious UFOs attack us in droves — is the 2002 Carpet Invaders game devised by artist Janek Simon:

janek simon carpet invaders game

An Eastern prayer rug ‘lies on the floor’. As opposed to real prayer rugs, its design is not fixed. Using a gamepad, the beholder can fight against the rug by attacking parts of its design. Those who manage to destroy them all go on to a higher level. Playing this game could prompt reflection; this is, after all, a new battle against a rug whose design was once full of significances that have, in the meantime, been suppressed and degraded to the role of decoration. In a perverse way, the game restores life to this ornamentation by turning it into a hostile being that must be destroyed in combat.

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Then there’s Hezbollah‘s game, Special Force, from 2003. Shown here is a screen shot from Special Force 2, 2007:

specoial Force 2 Hezbollah Game

There’s an interesting article about this game by a video game designer with a degreee in Arabic studies, and you can play the various parts of his explanatory walkthrough here.

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Countering it, there’s Amir Lotan‘s far simpler game Nasralla, which uses a Google Earth map of Southern Lebanon as the backdrop for a whack-a-mole game in which the player takes out the head of the head of Hezbollah:

Amir Lotan's game Nasralla

You can play it here.

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  • Craig Detweiler‘s book, Halos and Avatars, has a chapter on Islamogaming.
  • The Israeli Center for Digital Art has collated a fine set of introductions to “Forbidden Games” with Middle Eastern implications.
  • **

    Ah, but past is prologue, as the spear-shaker noted. Here’s about the Caliphate game as promised in the title. The story seems to have broken about a month ago…

    GTA Daesh

    It is not clear to me yet whether the YouTube video of Grand Theft Auto: Salil al-Sawarem which is going the rounds is simply a machinima made from a game of GTA, or video of an actual IS / Daesh game —

    Here’s Fiona Keating in IB Times:

    The Isis video is entitled “Grand Theft Auto: Salil al-Sawarem”, which roughly translates in Arabic as “the sound of swords coming together”.

    According to Arabic journalists, Isis’s media wing stated that the game aims to “raise the morale of the mujahedin and to train children and youth how to battle the West and to strike terror into the hearts of those who oppose the Islamic State.”

    “It’s ironic that they are using Western games to demonstrate their wrongly guided hatred towards them,” said Mufaddal Fakhruddin, an editor at the Middle Eastern branch of video games and entertainment site IGN.

    Ironic? Not unless flying western jetliners into western skyscrapers is ironic — or capturing weapons we’ve supplied to their “moderate” opponents, and using them against us.

    GTA Daesh 1

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    Source:

  • Al-MonitorThe Islamic State’s media warfare:
  • IS even produced a game that resembles all aspects of its war against its enemies featuring similar terrain to areas the group is fighting in and audio that reflects its ideology. The game that Al-Monitor inspected is a modification of “Grand Theft Auto” and still has the original logo on it.

    “These materials are essential for IS’ recruitment campaigns,” Kayed said. “It’s the best propaganda for their ideas.”

    Mentions:

  • Al Arabiya, Grand Theft Auto: ISIS? Militants reveal video game
  • News.com.au, Islamic State adapt Grand Theft Auto game into ‘virtual jihad’ recruitment drive for kids
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    Peacemaking: of serious joking and most studious play

    Sunday, October 12th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- on the aesthetic element in DoubleQuotes, and peacemaking as making connections; together with Renaissance phrasing of the same ideas ]
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    rice hoops
    Ambassador Susan Rice on the White House court with the Israeli & Palestinian Peace Players Yesterday

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    There’s a fair amount of gaming leaking into the blogging I read these days.

    Col. Pat Lang at Sic Semper Tyrannis is hosting an IS/Coalition War Game [1, 2, 3], while over at PAXsims, Rex Brynen is hosting the “game developer’s diary” of Alex Langer, a McGill undergraduate who is “designing a wargame of the current Syrian civil war as a course project” [1, 2].

    Both efforts are of interest, but what the PAXsims venture makes clear to me is that I have been using my Zenpundit blogging as, among other things, a “game developer’s diary” for my own game thinking, and in particular for my thoughts about the DoubleQuotes format as a playful / serious analytic tool.

    Both playful and serious, because all fresh thinking requires the application of a playful spirit to serious ends — an approach illustrated by the image of Palestinian and Israeli kids on the White House basketball court at the head of this post, by the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra put together by Edward Said and Daniel Barenboim — and enshrined in the Florentine Renaissance motto “iocari serio et studiosissime” — which Marsilio Ficino, the genius behind the Florentine Renaissance, named as the core practice of Pythagoras, Socrates and Plato – “joking seriously and playing assiduously” in Edgar Wind‘s translation.

    Which would among other things be the Renaissance Platonist’s answer to Scott Shipman‘s question posed here the other day, What tools do you use to boost your creativity?

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    Ficino also said, “the task of Magic consists in comparing things to one another”, as quoted by Mircea Eliade in his Foreword to Ioan Couliano‘s great book, Eros and Magic in the Renaissance.

    That’s precisely what my own games do, expressed in Renaissance terms, and my DoubleQuotes in particular.

    In terms of theorizing about them, one point I may not have emphasized enough is that the quality of a given DoubleQuote (or move in a HipBone or Sembl game) is dependent on the aesthetics of the juxtaposition.

    Let me give you a simple example, not taken from my own work but from a “DoubleQuote in the Wild” — the header illustration to a recent FP post, The Activists Assad Hates Most Are Now Obama’s Problem. FP could have used any two photos of Obama and Assad, photos of Obama on the phone in the Oval Office, say, or Assad against the background of the Syrian flag — but they chose two images that showed the two men in near-identical poses, and it’s that near-identity which gives force to the juxtaposition:

    obamaassad

    Likewise, I could have chosen any one of a flock of quotes to illustrate British and American forces entering Baghdad in 1917 and 2003 respectively — but the most effective way to make the point was via two quotes that very closely paralleled each other:

    SPEC Baghdad

    That too is fundamentally an aesthetic choice — a choice that favors the simple elegance of the tightest available symmetry.

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    The image at the head of this post show Ambassador Rice on the Court with the Peace Players Yesterday

    Peacemaking, too, is often a matter of bringing out the similarities between otherwise opposing forces.

    As Nicholas of Cusa, Cardinal of the Roman Church, said in his De ludo globi / Of the Game of Spheres, a distant forefather to Hesse’s Glass Bead Game and thence to my own various games:

    This game is played, not in a childish way, but as the Holy Wisdom played it for God at the beginning of the world.

    Luditur hic ludus; sed non pueriliter, at sic / Lusit ut orbe nova Sancta Sophia Deo.

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    Language as tripwire: Conway’s Game of Life and “emergent” warlords

    Thursday, October 9th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- the word "emergent" has an emergent, special meaning -- don't abuse it ]
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    Now here’s an interesting little graphic. If you’re interested in cellular automata and agent based modeling, you’ll recognize it as a Gosper’s glider gun from Conway‘s Game of Life:

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    It was the use of the word “emergent” in this Stars and Stripes piece, Islamic State leading Mideast into warlord era as nations dissolve, that tripped me into making this post:

    The Middle East may be sliding toward a warlord era, with nation-states increasingly struggling to control all their territory and millions living under the rule of emergent local chiefs and movements.

    **

    Who would have thought that this pattern:

    glider gun

    when subjected to the very simple rules of Conway’s Game:

    Any white cell with fewer than two white neighbours turns black
    Any white cell with two or three white neighbours remains white
    Any white cell with more than three white neighbours turns black
    Any black cell with exactly three white neighbours becomes a white cell

    where a “cell” is one of the squares on a grid, and a “neighbor” is any cell horizontally, vertically, or diagonally adjacent to the cell in question, would result in this smaller pattern that glides across the grid:

    glider

    The upper pattern is called a “glider gun” while the lower one is called a “glider”.

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    If you want to know more about the emergent warloards, you need HUMINT, you need people who know the languages, the dialects, the cultures, the personalities, the shifting alliances…

    If you would like to know more about the various emergent patterns that have been found in Conway’s Game, try this Wikipedia entry. It includes the delightfully patterened “Pulsar”:

    And if you want to play around with gliders, you could try Wolfram‘s page:

    **

    Warlords aren’t “emergent” — that’s a buzzword-style use of what has by now become a term of art. They are strongmen already in the terrain, and if we knew the terrain like they do, we’d already know them.

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    Ferguson: tweets of interest 1

    Wednesday, August 20th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- the extraordinary cast of players surrounding Ferguson, not forgetting Marvin Gaye ]
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    There’s a whole lot going on that, while not central to the face-off between public and police in Ferguson, is “constellating” around it, and worth our attention in any case. I’ll begin with the most interesting pairing of religious groups in Ferguson — the Moorish Temple, alongside the Nation of Islam — alongside the Black Panthers, whose interests are purely political AFAIK:

    It’s interesting that according to WND — not necessarily a source I’d expect to find this sort of thing in — Missouri Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson “has had some words of high praise for some people he said helped get the violence under control for one night” in Ferguson:

    It was Malik Shabazz, formerly with the New Black Panthers, and now with Black Lawyers for Justice, and his team, including members of that group as well as the Nation of Islam. [ .. ]

    During a news conference held by Johnson in Ferguson, Shabazz started explained that it was his team who had shut down traffic, chased the people away and prevented rioting for a single night last week.

    Johnson credited him with accomplishing exactly that.

    “First of all, I want to say that those groups he talked about that helped us Thursday night, he’s absolutely correct and when I met with the governor the next day I said I do not know the names of those groups. But I said there were gentlemen in black pants and black shirts and they were out there and they did their job.

    “And I told that to the governor, and I’ll tell that to the nation,” Johnson said. “Those groups helped, and they’re a part of this.”

    For more on the Moorish Science Temple, see Peter Lamborn Wilson‘s Lost/Found Moorish Time Lines in the Wilderness of North America [part 1 and part 2]

    The Moorish Temple, Panthers and Nation of Islam all converging on Ferguson is impressive. Apparently missing from this picture? The Scientologists. Louis Farrakhan of NOI has recently been recommending Scientology to his NOI followers [1, 2, 3], in yet another example of strange bedfellows…

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    Okay, — on the face of it, the single most ironic tweet I’ve seen about Ferguson would have to be this one:

    — and that’s unfortunate, because KaBoom‘s Playful City USA idea is a good one, and Ferguson deserves kudos for implementing it:

    In 2012, Ferguson was recognized as a “Playful City, USA” for its efforts to increase play opportunities for children. The city of Ferguson hosts Sunday Parkways, a free community play street event in neighborhoods on Sunday afternoons. Streets are closed to cars in order to allow residents of all ages and abilities to play in the streets.

    Closing down streets to traffic so people young and old can play in them isn’t enough, however — when they’re also closed down for the sorts of other reasons we’ve been seeing in Ferguson recently.

    **

    One pair of tweets that caught my eye showed almost the same exact moment, captured from two angles that must have been almost perpendicular to one another — a pairing that would have made an interesting DoubleQuote all by itself. The first is from Bill Moyers:

    while the second was addressed to him by another observer:

    That second photo is the work of Scott Olson of Getty Images, a photographer who was himself arrested and then released in Ferguson, as part of the police vs press stand-off which has been a secondary motif in this whole affair.

    **

    There are words painted on the PO box in that last photo that somehow made their way unfiltered onto at least one TV report, but one of them is NSFW. Three tweets from Yamiche Alcindor of USA Today delicately obscure the offending phrase with suitably placed asterisks, and indicate that as Congreve said, “Music hath charms to soothe a savage breast, to soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak” — but can also arouse them.

    In this case, the arousing came first, the calming second — kudos to polite police:

    — with kudos, too, to Marvin Gaye:

    **

    I’ll close part 1 of this double post with an interesting example of a DoubleQuote in the Wild:

    Coming up next in part 2: noticeable individual protesters and foreign commentary

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