J.D. Eveland Oral History Transcript

J.D. [John] Eveland, 1964

September 25, 2008
Jim Kahan, 1964, Interviewer
Location: Portland, Oregon

© The Reed Institute. Electronic Oral History project mate­ri­als and tran­scripts are intended for use by trained project par­tic­i­pants and rep­re­sen­ta­tives of Reed College. Do not dis­trib­ute or dis­play with­out permission.

[This is inter­view excerpt was con­tributed by J.D. Eveland and Jim Kahan, and is used with their express permission.]

Eveland: I sup­pose what I’m try­ing to say is that I was allowed to learn despite my best efforts not to. Despite my best efforts to thwart the sys­tem by try­ing to find, to probe, I would say to probe for weak­nesses because I wasn’t really intend­ing to be that crit­i­cal. It wasn’t as though I was intend­ing to try to delib­er­ately try to slack off or sneak by. It’s just that I wanted to do things in my own fash­ion and my own fash­ion was not nec­es­sar­ily the fash­ion that would be the approved aca­d­e­mic fash­ion, but I was allowed to pro­ceed.
And I think the Empire story that I was relat­ing ear­lier when we were talk­ing to what’s-her-name ear­lier today [ed. note: Kara Sowles, 2010—chair of Association of Reed Gamers 2008–2009] bears on that. I mean, I can come back to that in the course of the Empire thing but this is where essen­tially my eco­nom­ics pro­fes­sor was able to take note of the fact that I was able to gen­er­ate inter­est­ing eco­nomic ideas with min­i­mal involve­ment from the for­mal class and allow that this was a valid expe­ri­ence of learn­ing eco­nom­ics.

But there’s a pic­ture, the pic­ture that we have of the empire game that was used on the flyer for the last reunion. It was a pic­ture of myself, Ron [Ronald W.] Hanks [1964], [James] Trosper [1965], Peter Clark [1967], and Lynne O’Connor [1967]. And every sin­gle one of us has a cig­a­rette in our hand (laughs) which is sort of an inter­est­ing com­men­tary on us, on that whole process. But on the other hand cig­a­rettes sold for 25¢ a pack so it was a dif­fer­ent eco­nomic com­mit­ment at that point, and nobody really thought about it much one way or the other. I still miss my cig­a­rettes all the time. It’s a very com­fort­ing habit and I still miss it.

Kahan: Why don’t we turn to where you got the Oscar as best lead­ing man at Reed. Transcriber, you should put this in cap­i­tals. EMPIRE!

Eveland: That was my prin­ci­pal iden­tity prob­a­bly for the last, at least the last cou­ple of years. The Empire Game. How much do you want me to repeat of what we were men­tion­ing earlier?

Kahan: As much as you want. This is a great story.

Eveland: The Empire Game started in fresh­man year with a sort of casual evo­lu­tion. I had brought with me a game of Diplomacy, which was a brand new game on the mar­ket then. It was not a very easy game to play and required seven peo­ple. Not many peo­ple were ter­ri­bly inter­ested, but one evening I dra­gooned a few peo­ple over in the Chittick Dorm where I was liv­ing to par­tic­i­pat­ing in this.

And a cou­ple of peo­ple came in. Dan Drake and Jim [James A.] Borders [1963] came in and Dan com­mented that his father had played a game on a map some­thing like that that they called Empire back in the 1930s. Dan’s father was Stillman Drake, who was one of the major Galileo experts of all time, an invest­ment banker who made a lot of money and then wrote books on Galileo for the rest of his life. He told us a lit­tle bit about this and we thought this sounded inter­est­ing enough that it might be worth exper­i­ment­ing with.
So we agreed that I think it was the fol­low­ing week­end or some­thing we would sort of try to tackle a ver­sion of this, rec­og­niz­ing that we were going to sort of make up the rules as we went along. And Dan remem­bered some things about this that his father had told him and we made up some others.

It was played orig­i­nally on a stan­dard world map and it was played with evolv­ing rules off and on and a float­ing cast of peo­ple for roughly the next—about a year into—we recruited some new play­ers into it with—particularly Arey and Trosper when the fol­low­ing year rolled around. They were fresh­man and they got inter­ested in this by observ­ing the game being played and so when they got roped in they became part of the circle.

It became more insti­tu­tion­al­ized start­ing in the spring of at least sopho­more year. I was liv­ing in Doyle at that point so right around the cor­ner from—and so that’s when we began. The first game was played in Winch that spring of sopho­more year and we played a cou­ple of games.

And then the first extended game was played and that became essentially—was played because we got to cer­tain point and decided we needed a break but didn’t want to end the game quite. So I think the first extended game went on for maybe like a week or so there­abouts and came back to it and again, at that time it was still being played synchronously—that is to say you’d have to have every­body there to do it, but we left it set up and amaz­ingly noth­ing hap­pened to it dur­ing the time it was set up. It was occu­py­ing most of the table in the mid­dle of this room that was one of the most pop­u­lated and pop­u­lar social halls of the—

Kahan: The Winch Social Room.

Kahan: The Winch Social Room and where sort of every­body wound up sooner or later one way or the other. And it—which was really quite amaz­ing. The—

Kahan: Component games?

Eveland: Pardon me?

Kahan: The skele­ton. The com­po­nent games of Empire.

Eveland: Which?

Kahan: The pieces that make it up.

Eveland: Oh, the phys­i­cal pieces?

Kahan: No. The games.

Eveland: The games that went into it?

Kahan: Yes.

Eveland: What are you refer­ring to specifically?

Kahan: Corporate Monopoly.

Eveland: Oh! Corporate Monopoly. Corporation Monopoly was one of the—a lot of things got folded into this. Of course the mil­i­tary rules were largely adapted from Tactics II which was played by a num­ber of peo­ple includ­ing myself at that time. And I’m not a par­tic­u­larly good mil­i­tary strate­gist but I enjoy mov­ing a lot of stuff around. (laughs)
And one of the things you need to under­stand about me is that I am not a com­pet­i­tive game player. That is, this is some­thing pecu­liar to my fam­ily. My fam­ily never played—we played a lot of games. We played a lot of things but never com­pet­i­tive and the rea­son for this was rather simple.

My mother and grand­mother were both avid Scrabble play­ers when it first came out. They wanted some­body else to play with them, and they kept get­ting my father to play with them. Now my father was not a very good Scrabble player and when­ever they played Scrabble and kept score my father would wind up on the short end by a large mar­gin. And so my mother and grand­mother fig­ured out the strat­egy for play­ing Scrabble with my father and that was instead of play­ing against each other for high score you would play for total score adding up the scores of every­body. And the aim was to get the high­est total score that you could get. That was the only way to get my father to play Scrabble.
So when I started play­ing Scrabble with them this was a well-​​established pro­ce­dure, and it suited me very nicely because I go out of my way to avoid being in com­pet­i­tive sit­u­a­tions. I don’t like win/​lose sit­u­a­tions and I have a vis­ceral aver­sion to that. And so I tend—when I tended to cre­ate games and to arrange games I tended to find games that didn’t lend them­selves to win­ning and losing.

The nice thing about Empire was it would go on long enough that you couldn’t fig­ure out who was win­ning or who’s lost (laughs) and I sort of always when I was think­ing of ways to expand the game I was always think­ing of ways to make it less likely that you could tell when any­one was win­ning or los­ing. Not that peo­ple didn’t go up or down or not that there weren’t plays that you scored off of other peo­ple, but that the game itself became an exer­cise in art rather than the outcome.

And it was the process of the game that—at the end of the term there was usu­ally a debate of a cou­ple hours as to who was in bet­ter posi­tion and who was going to do what, but sel­dom any— there was never any need to come to a par­tic­u­lar con­sen­sus. And I think this is one of the things that I—at least this lasted as phi­los­o­phy of the game as long as I was involved with it. I have no idea if that changed later on but I was able to impose in a sense I think my ethos of non-​​competition into this. It’s not non-​​competition pre­cisely. It’s de-​​emphasis on win­ning if you will—

Kahan: Mm-​​hmm

Eveland: I think it would be the bet­ter way.

Kahan: So how does that fit into Corporation Monopoly?

Eveland: Well, Corporation Monopoly was devel­oped as a way of keep­ing the game going and not hav­ing peo­ple go out of it. I made it up on the spur of the moment dur­ing a Monopoly game one night when I couldn’t fig­ure out what to do with a piece of prop­erty. So I sug­gested to one of the other peo­ple who was play­ing who had one or more of the same color prop­er­ties that we should form a cor­po­ra­tion that would jointly own these prop­er­ties. And since cor­po­ra­tions are legal enti­ties, indi­vid­u­als that could become play­ers in the game, they there­fore would be enti­tled to col­lect rents. And so we dis­trib­uted stock in the cor­po­ra­tion depend­ing on the val­ues of the prop­er­ties being con­tributed and thus you could land on a prop­erty and bank­rupt your­self but still make money (laughs) because you got a share of what it was you were pay­ing yourself.

What it tended to do was to stretch out Monopoly games more or less indef­i­nitely (laughs) and make it much more dif­fi­cult for any­one to win because you spread the risk around as any good cor­po­ra­tion would do. And money kept chang­ing hands back and forth but the over­all posi­tion of peo­ple would change only very, very slowly unlike nor­mal Monopoly where you can go up or down very quickly. And it allowed large amounts of money to change hands and a great deal of activ­ity to take place with­out nec­es­sar­ily result­ing in any­one win­ning or los­ing. This is an exam­ple of the kind of com­pli­ca­tions that I tended to intro­duce into games in the inter­ests of not winning.

That was one of the pieces that con­tributed to it.

There were oth­ers also that entered in. Risk was men­tioned ear­lier as a game peo­ple played a lot of. I think it kind of went up and down. The major change was the insti­tu­tion­al­iza­tion of the game start­ing in the fall of ’62 when we were in Davis and that was when we started play­ing semester-​​long games. The first one was played in the fall of ‘62 and then there were four games played of that over the course of the next two years and again, they were left on the table in Davis.

Kahan: Winch, you mean.

Eveland: Winch, for the entire period and it was never molested mali­ciously that I can recall. There were occa­sional events of nat­ural dis­as­ters that took place, but they had to be worked in and what­ever things could be—again, the rules were cre­atively inter­preted in many ways. And if you could do some­thing that was inter­est­ing enough and had enough style you could per­suade peo­ple that it was appro­pri­ate and there were lots of inter­est­ing vari­a­tions on this.

I was the one who intro­duced the phe­nom­e­non of Balkanization fairly early on which was the art of tak­ing your coun­try and break­ing it up into smaller units so that they could each have their own inde­pen­dent exis­tence and their own inde­pen­dent courses and you could be telling six sto­ries instead of one.

In a sense the game was about telling a story. It was about devel­op­ing a much—well, everything’s about sto­ries ulti­mately, but this was really a game in which the story was the impor­tant part. You devel­oped your story and every­body would cre­ate their own coun­try with its own iden­tity. And part of the plea­sure of the game was cre­at­ing the back story for your coun­tries and why they would be inter­est­ing and why they were doing the things that they were doing. And peo­ple spent a great deal of time try­ing to fig­ure out appro­pri­ate back sto­ries that would rein­force these. And again points were awarded for cre­ativ­ity if you will.

It became a very engag­ing kind of thing. It became cer­tainly a major com­po­nent of iden­tity for myself and sev­eral other peo­ple for a cou­ple of years and it was regarded by the greater cam­pus as a phenomenon.

As I recall once in a great while a fac­ulty mem­ber would come to look at it but rel­a­tively few. I’m try­ing to remem­ber. There were a cou­ple of occa­sions I know that Leigh came over and looked at it once. I met him there. I’m try­ing to remem­ber who else. There were a cou­ple of other fac­ulty mem­bers who observed it peri­od­i­cally and mostly along the lines of com­ing in and sort of star­ing at it and shak­ing their heads and walk­ing out. (laughs)
But there were never, at least to me, there were never relayed any com­plaints or you know, “What the hell are you peo­ple doing here?” And to the best of my knowl­edge none of us who played the game ever lived in Winch! (laughs) Which was sort of an inter­est­ing com­ment in its own right, but then Winch was sort of the generic social place for peo­ple, for gam­ing in gen­eral, as you com­mented ear­lier, ever since it had the per­ma­nent bridge game and a num­ber of other things and it was con­ve­nient for a lot of things.

Kahan: How about build­ing the pieces?

Eveland: Building the pieces. Building the pieces. I built most of the pieces, a lot of the pieces. I built a set, let’s put it that way, a set of pieces for the game dur­ing the sum­mer of ‘62 when I was back in Michigan. I brought it back with me that fall. Put it together in a small wooden cab­i­net which has now become part of the archives. I built the cab­i­net around a set of plas­tic draw­ers and just com­posed a lot of pieces of dif­fer­ent kinds for all sorts of things. Some of them were made out of balsa wood, painted balsa wood. Some of them were made out of metal. Some of them were made of plastic.

I knew it was never going to be able to keep up with demand. Things changed fairly quickly. We never had enough pieces but it pro­vided us a focal point for the thing. I think this is one thing that encour­aged us to leave it set up was it gave a sort of con­crete exam­ple of some­thing. It became some­thing, you know, that was clear with all these pieces, all these lit­tle pieces run­ning around.

Originally it was just put together entirely out of ad hoc pieces but I sort of stan­dard­ized them and made them together. Again it was kind of fun just to sit down and do them. I spent a lot of the sum­mer doing that when I wasn’t doing some­thing else.

That was the sum­mer when I was being a lab rat actu­ally. I was work­ing in the lab­o­ra­tory, one of the labs at the School of Public Health at the University of Michigan. My father had arranged a sum­mer job for me there. And my father needed some human serum that was hyper-​​immune to typhoid. He had the next lab over and he looked at me and I was work­ing for one of his col­leagues and he said, “You did okay with typhoid vac­cine, didn’t you?”

I said, “Yes. I didn’t have any prob­lems with that.”

So he said, “Come here.”

So he dropped me full of typhoid vac­cine until I sort of bounced off the roof and then for the rest of the sum­mer at reg­u­lar inter­vals he would bleed me and make human serum. I was hyper-​​immune to typhoid. And so that was my career as a lab rat among my other duties as assigned. It was kind of enter­tain­ing. So in the interim of being a lab rat was when I made the Empire pieces.

Kahan: To the best of my knowl­edge there’s no con­cise overview of the rules of Empire. I was won­der­ing if you could pro­vide us with a bird’s eye view of that.

Eveland: There never were, really. There were things that got writ­ten down in var­i­ous places, var­i­ous places and times. The eco­nomic rules were cod­i­fied by Dan and myself that fall, and those actu­ally got writ­ten down but they were done in var­i­ous forms. There were sheets of rules that were used at var­i­ous points but there was never any uni­form sin­gle cod­i­fi­ca­tion of things.

Kahan: I guess I asked the wrong ques­tion. If you had to describe the game, 50 words and a box top, how would you do it?

Eveland: It is a joint eco­nomic polit­i­cal mil­i­tary sim­u­la­tion involv­ing var­i­ous phases of units rep­re­sent­ing mil­i­tary units, pop­u­la­tion units, and resource units which get moved and traded around. Resource units are extracted and con­verted in var­i­ous ways into other kinds of units includ­ing mil­i­tary units, which are then used for var­i­ous purposes.

And war was engaged in but sel­dom taken all that seri­ously partly because the board was large and the num­ber of units one could deploy was rel­a­tively small. So wars tended to be lim­ited in scope and aimed at spe­cific tar­gets rather than gen­eral conquest.

The com­plex­i­ties of the pro­duc­tion rela­tion­ships increased con­sid­er­ably over the course of the game. By the time of the last cou­ple of games mak­ing a sin­gle move could take any­where from an hour to two-​​and-​​a-​​half hours to com­plete all the trans­ac­tions that you had to do, in terms of mov­ing pieces around and get­ting pro­duc­tion and con­vert­ing them to other things and mov­ing all your pieces and han­dling negotiations.

Somewhere along the line it moved from a syn­chro­nous game to asyn­chro­nous game in which turns were taken con­sec­u­tively. And it rotated around the board and when you fin­ished your turn you moved the marker, which is the dragon, to the next coun­try and you’d walk in and find the dragon sit­ting in your coun­try and you knew it was time to make your move. The tar­get was gen­er­ally within twenty-​​four hours you were sup­posed to do some­thing unless you had some really good rea­son for not doing so.

And some coun­tries were larger and some coun­tries were smaller. Some coun­tries were added or spun off dur­ing the course of the game if some­body came in and wanted to take over a coun­try for awhile. We might spin off a coun­try or turn over one of the coun­tries to some­body so peo­ple moved in and out of it. There was usu­ally a core of at least half-​​a-​​dozen play­ers and there might be two or three periph­eral play­ers at any given time.

There were very few women who played. Lynne O’Connor was one and Peter’s girl­friend Heather did a coun­try for a while and it seems to me there was some­body else but I can’t remem­ber who it was. I don’t remem­ber for sure but some­body else might remember.

Kahan: Give me a fla­vor. What’s your favorite Balkanization?

Eveland: The favorite coun­try or the favorite episode?

Kahan: No. What was the—of all the Empire games you played which one was your favorite and why?

Eveland: The over­all game? Probably the one that was the most inter­est­ing was the first one where I split things up, the—there was a vari­ety of—the one where the coun­try was ruled by the leg­isla­tive assem­bly known as the Dadvana. And the rea­son that this came about is that I had a dream one night in which I woke up with the phrase ring­ing in my head, “We must blow up the Dadvana,” and I didn’t remem­ber any­thing about the dream beyond that except that I had the feel­ing that the Dadvana was some sort of leg­isla­tive assem­bly and we were sud­denly doing a Guy Fawkes num­ber on it. So that was actu­ally the ori­gin of the thought was that I cre­ated a coun­try where there was a Dadvana that needed to be blown up and it was arranged that even­tu­ally dur­ing the course of that game the Dadvana did get blown up on at least a cou­ple of occasions.

One of the fea­tures of the Dadvana that was devel­oped later on was it met in a toroidal cham­ber so that all seven polit­i­cal par­ties could each share an inter­face with each of the oth­ers, but you needed a torus to be able to do that because on plain sur­face, five filler-​​two-​​dimension sur­face, five fillers would be—but there were seven par­ties so you needed the toroidal cham­ber so they could each have a—a lit­tle bit of topol­ogy worked its way in there somewhere.

That same game also fea­tured The Mad Raphed of Cristobel who was an absolute ruler but he was also totally insane and many of his moves were deter­mined by the throw of a dice to sig­nal the ran­dom behav­ior. There were a few oth­ers, a cou­ple of other coun­tries in that batch that I’m try­ing to remem­ber what they were at one point.

One of the coun­tries that was involved in that was a coun­try that con­sisted entirely of a fort sit­ting up on a penin­sula some­where that had no resources and noth­ing else except under the eco­nomic rules in effect at the time it could gen­er­ate money each turn. And it would gen­er­ate large quan­ti­ties of money which could then be used for bank­ing pur­poses by other coun­tries, so that became known as the Temple of Moloch and proved to be a remark­ably suc­cess­ful con­tri­bu­tion to the game. It served no func­tion what­so­ever except sit up there and gen­er­ate money but it acquired con­sid­er­able influ­ence over lots of other things. At one point I believe it was sacked by one of the other coun­tries (both laugh) who obtained large quan­ti­ties of its resources.

There were numer­ous vari­a­tions on this. A lot of peo­ple used vari­a­tions on this at var­i­ous times. Some peo­ple never did this, but their coun­tries, some peo­ple did, you know, had a major coun­try and one or more minor coun­tries. Different peo­ple approached it in dif­fer­ent ways. As I said in my case it was pri­mar­ily I dreamed this whole thing up as a way of just intro­duc­ing fur­ther com­pli­ca­tions and ways of gen­er­ally increas­ing the oppor­tu­ni­ties for strange things going on because that to my mind was always the most impor­tant part. It was not, again, not who was win­ning or los­ing but what kind of strange twists were being introduced.

And one of the things that’s really nice about that pic­ture that I keep refer­ring to, the five of us sit­ting around the table look­ing at it, is that it’s per­fectly clear that I believe it’s Ron Hanks explain­ing some—he of course was another one of the players—he’s explain­ing some kind of par­tic­u­lar maneu­ver that’s tak­ing place and every­body is sit­ting there with these great big grins on their face, just appre­ci­at­ing what it was he was describ­ing! And it’s quite clear that he was describ­ing some­thing that had a lot of inter­est­ing pecu­liar­i­ties and every­body was just delighted with it. (laughs)

And that was very much the spirit with which the whole thing was played. I can’t recall any­body ever get­ting upset by any­thing one way or the other. It was cer­tainly the friend­liest game I’ve ever been a part of. And it did fill a very impor­tant part of my life for the last—for cer­tainly the last two years.

Kahan: Mm-​​hmm

Eveland: I still man­aged to get my work done. Wrote my the­sis. Graduated.

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