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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