Suzanne Fields

History won't repeat itself in the future so much, it will just rewrite itself. The young who grow up on computers will inevitably be influenced by the games they play.

The hottest new electronic games are based on facts of history, and the players must study the actual events of history to devise winning strategies. I know, because my young tutor in one such game stopped the barbarians from invading Rome with stealthy deceptions of bad leaders and wily negotiations with men easily duped.

This young player insists we can learn from mistakes of history. (Certain presidents and prime ministers would die for such do-overs.) A player can't do what the rules of the game don't allow, of course, but the rules of the game I watched leave ample opportunities to alter the wars of the Roman Empire. Playing the game sent my tutor to the library for a stack of books on Caesar's campaign through Gaul, and several interpretations of why certain senators conspired to kill Caesar. I even managed to talk about Mark Antony's funeral oration as rendered by Shakespeare, with a discussion of sarcasm and irony in the description of Brutus as an "honorable man."

If I sound like a passionate convert to the educational value of computer games, of having more going for them than strengthening skills of hand to eye coordination, I am. The young man who taught me the rudiments of the game took hours away from his computer to think about military and political tactics. He learned how to ask crucial questions: "If you're asked to do a military mission," he told me, "it's important to know whether you have the resources to carry it out and whether you can do it without weakening forces already in other fields of combat." Hmmmmm. That sounds a lot like news from the front page of this newspaper.

A game player must learn to defend against riots, rebellion and other kinds of disorders. Taxes pose a dilemma familiar to every president. Taxpayers don't like paying taxes and a state must be wary of raising taxes the people may not accept, punishing those who inflicted them. Tweaking tax rates, such a player learns, is risky business.

Futurist magazine focuses in its current issue on the popular computer games known as MMORPG, for Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game. (The alphabet soup beloved of bureaucrats spills over to the computer keyboard, too.) In these games, participants "role play" with a multitude of different characters in contained fantasy worlds. The limits of reality don't apply. (Sounds just like Washington, doesn't it?)

Suzanne Fields

Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'

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