Gaming colonialism

Teaching my five-year old son to play Risk last night. “What does ‘conquer’ mean?” “Why do you attack another country?” When you have to explain all the concepts involved in a game that is basically colonial expansion, it suddenly feels a whole lot less innocent.

Serious point, or bleeding-heart liberal? Is here an alternative to these two options?

I guess the situation arises because a 5 year old doesn’t normally try to play this game. An older player has no need to have the militaristic play explained to them. Hence the feeling of complicity in this instance: feeling as if I am teaching the practice of colonisation in the context of ‘play’ instead of with a serious tone of voice and visage.

Thinking about the game from a developmental point of view, it’s easy to see a number of capacities that the game usefully asks it’s player to adopt – spatial organisation, mapping, calculation and strategy etc. But does the symbolic violence matter, too? At one level it might seem just the concern of overwrought parents, but at another it asks a complex question about the relationship between symbolic and real, historical violence.


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