Looking back twenty-five years at a 1994 game and magazine about U.S. civil conflict (Part One)
By Mark Wegierski
Magazine: GameFix: The Forum of Ideas (Sacramento, California: Game Publications Group) no 2 (November 1994)
This magazine and game somewhat ironically appeared in the month when the democratic process was supposedly going to deliver a major change in the direction of the American polity – the election of a Republican majority in the House of Representatives, as well as the Senate, with Newt Gingrich becoming the Speaker. However, as has so often happened since the 1960s, the promised (or feared) putative “conservative revolution” never really took place. As far as social and cultural matters, things rolled on as they did before, and Bill Clinton easily won re-election in 1996. However, one of the ironies of the Clinton presidency was that he balanced the federal budget, introduced restrictions on welfare, and did not get in the way of the economic recovery of the mid to late 1990s.
GameFix/Competitive Edge had originally marketed itself as producing "wargames for people who don't like wargames". The conflict simulation games they had offered with every issue of their magazine were deliberately designed to be simple to play (at least by the usual wargame standards), and to be relatively quick and easy to finish (often less than an hour). GameFix/Competitive Edge had also intended to feature non-military games dealing with mountain-climbing, various major-league sports, etc. Since the beginning of the Twenty-First century, the publication schedule of the magazine had slowed to a crawl, as the company was doubtless going through difficulties.
In tune with the aimed-for simplicity, Crisis 2000 has a map of the U.S. consisting of 14 regions in total. They are of three types -- metroplex, developed, and wilderness. (The numerous black dots representing cities and military bases play no role in the actual game.) There are also 3 boxes on the map representing U.S. overseas deployment areas. The game has a hundred counters, of which 55 represent military and political forces -- "units"; 17 represent "infrastructures"; and 37 are "crisis" markers, used to augment the strength of one's forces in different ways.
There are two notable things about the units/infrastructure counters -- first of all, they are printed on both sides, showing the same formation (e.g. High-tech Arms division) in different colors, on different sides of the counter. This economizing measure is useful in terms of indicating immediate "defections" of military and political units as well as infrastructures to the other side, which is one of the main aspects of so-called "Data Conflict". Secondly, the units have two values apart from their movement allowance, their ratings for "Data Conflict" and for "Armed Conflict". There are special rules for certain units, e.g., the "Cybernauts" usually cannot be attacked through "Armed Conflict", as they are presumed to be clandestine, while federal police forces can in some circumstances use their higher "Armed Conflict" rating against the "Cybernauts". Ultimately, however, the game often simply amounts to "move in with your units and try to bash your opponent", although the use of randomly-drawn "Crisis" markers to weaken your opponent or augment your own offensive, is critical to success. (The three numbers on a typical Crisis marker represent its conflict-augmentation values when committed to metroplex, developed, or wilderness regions, respectively, for Data or Armed Conflict.) The more combat and political forces are committed to a given battle, the greater the chance of "Collateral Damage", which impacts on the winner of the battle as well.
The magazine's background material to the game is highly interesting (pp. 6-8, 22-24), although written from a very libertarian slant. It is a good beginning for speculations about possible future civil conflicts in the U.S., and for further analysis of the sociopolitical impact of the Internet. Game designer Joe Miranda points to the "Clipper Chip" controversy -- the attempt to create a microchip standard for all e-mail encryption, that would also allow for the decryption of all electronic messages through special "keys" held by government agencies. (The "standard" in 1994 was a plethora of commercially-available encryption programs, which – it was believed at that time – were virtually inaccessible to government monitoring.) Miranda also writes about Operation Sun Devil, launched by the U.S. Secret Service in 1990. Among the targets was a gaming company, Steve Jackson Games, whose "cyberpunk" role-playing game -- although dealing with fictional hardware and software -- was considered to be so close to verisimilitude as to constitute a "how-to" guide. The company faced great difficulties as its computer equipment and files contained therein were impounded; however, it was eventually vindicated in court, while gaining great publicity on behalf of its products. One of the results of Operation Sun Devil was the formation of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which is one of the chief groups fighting for near-complete freedom of communication on the Internet. (Although it itself has sometimes been criticized by more radical groups for neglecting its mission.)
The magazine also mentions a provocative article published in the Winter 1992-93 issue of Parameters, the U.S. Army War College's journal, by Lt. Colonel Charles J. Dunlap, Jr., entitled, "The Origins of the American Military Coup of 2012." The article's main purpose appeared to be to critique what the author saw as the very deep cuts to the U.S. military, but especially to protest the increasing use of the U.S. armed forces for political ends, both at home and abroad. In the future, both these trends are seen as sapping U.S. morale and combat effectiveness, to the point where a major U.S. defeat in the Persian Gulf-area causes the military to turn against its inept political masters, supposedly cheered on by much of the civilian sector.
Among the eclectic mixture of other references listed are James Burnham's 1941 political classic, The Managerial Revolution; and George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949).
To be continued.
Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.