Sunday, June 15, 2008

Gaming Lessons Part II: Seizing the (Father's) Day

Risk is much more to my son’s liking. Counting and remembering may not appeal to many little boys, but world domination is right up my son’s alley. He likes it so much, that this morning I woke up to hear him trying to teach his little sister how to play. She is only four, and while she was eager Risk was a bit over her head both in mechanics and in purpose. She is less interested in domination. When we play chess the Queens meet in the middle of the board, have tea and invite the bishops, knights and castles to join them. For some reason the king is always busy checking his email.

My son became frustrated and starting yelling at his sister for not paying attention, so (after a few moments of enjoying this delicious irony) I accepted that, Father's Day or not, I could sleep no longer and went down to play her part – naturally she had chosen pink.

The die was cast, and it kept coming up in his favor. While I sought chokepoints (Iceland is good, so is North Africa) and to develop adequate force ratios, my son favored a more direct stratagem: “Attack!” His tiny expeditionary forces trounced my citadel in Quebec, my firewall in Ukraine, and my strongholds in Peru and Kamchatka. Soon he needed more pieces then the game provided, so he started using red pieces to augment his forces. A canny move, since my aged eyes had some trouble distinguishing between his red and my pink pieces.

Not that he needed much help. As four straight rolls went against me in the battle for Egypt I envisioned a newspaper headline spinning out, reading: Nile Defenses Shattered as Demoralized Pink Armies Collapse. But then, my small Mongolian contingents put up a surprisingly fierce resistance. I began composing lines for a future history textbook:
Unfamiliar with the terrain and overconfident from their stunning successes, Blue Armies found themselves bogged down by a tough insurgency in the depths of Mongolia’s deserts.
Finally, at my last bastion – inevitably Madagascar – the garrison fought well. I imagined its commander exhorting his men in their doomed defense like Hector at Troy and delivering bombastic speeches like Henry V calling on history: “To always remember the courage of the armies of Pink!”

But a few more rolls and it was over.

As a graduate student of international affairs, who has studied Sun-Tzu and Thucydides, it is humbling to be bested. It was also a lesson in the role of fortune in human affairs (and perhaps a warning that my coursework in conflict management is not serving me well.) The laws of probability decree that we all have a certain number of favorable rolls of the die in our lives. But perhaps these favorable rolls are bunched up at the beginning, for, as Machiavelli instructs, “…fortune always favors young men because they are not so much inclined to caution as to aggressiveness and daring…”

So my duty as dad is to teach him the things he’ll need when fortune’s favor shifts – as it inevitably will - diligence, virtue, and perhaps just a bit of cunning. That is my Father's Day Lesson, to teach my son guile, but as to girls he’ll be on his own.

(And to some extent so am I - I can't teach my daughter anything about guile, or much of anything else. She is four and knows everything.)


Anonymous said...

This is extremely witty and clever. Thanks!

Father Goof said...

Excellent comment and thanks for reading!