Eveland & Kahan storytelling, 2004

Excerpt from Storytelling, [Reed College] Reunions
June 5, 2004 with Cricket Parmalee facilitating

Eveland: I shall iden­tify myself. I’m J.D. [John] Eveland, Class of ’64.

I wanted to talk very briefly about the his­tory and nature of the game of Empire. Some of you may remem­ber [it], played some­time in the ‘60s in par­tic­u­lar. And I have no idea what hap­pened to it later on; per­haps some­body can enlighten me later on. The game of Empire had an inter­est­ing incar­na­tion. It began in the fall of 1960 as a sim­ple board game pro­vided to us by my then room­mate Dan [Daniel L.] Drake [’64], who’s around here some­where, maybe. And it was some­thing his father had done appar­ently back in the 1930s. It was a political/​military strat­egy game of var­i­ous kinds. We found this enter­tain­ing and it got played fairly reg­u­larly over the course of the next cou­ple of years. It didn’t become thor­oughly insti­tu­tion­al­ized until, I would think, the fall of 1963, when a num­ber of us who played the game were liv­ing in the dor­mi­tory, the five per­son dor­mi­tory whose name I am now [forgetting].

[Unidentified speaker, Jim Kahan?]: Davis!

Eveland: Davis, that was it. Thank you very much. Next door to here, which had a rather inter­est­ing nature in its own right. There being only five of us in the dorm, we had occa­sion to orga­nize our­selves in some fash­ion. We decided to pro­claim our­selves to be an idio­syn­crasy. (laugh­ter) Under the absolute rule, of course, of an idio­syn­crat, (laugh­ter) who was selected on a monthly basis by the turn of the cards. (laugh­ter) Low man win­ning. (laughter)

The game of Empire took on an increas­ingly sophis­ti­cated process at this point. And moved in nature from the fairly occa­sion­ally set up in var­i­ous and sundry places to a more or less per­ma­nent loca­tion right in this room. And it was a big table, a long table, fif­teen or twenty feet long, some­thing like that, five feet ten inches, six feet wide. The game got set up on that table and it got left there all term. We played two games a year. One in the fall and one in the spring. And this went on for at least four or five years.

The most inter­est­ing part about it was that it was left, obvi­ously, all the time, sit­ting there. And any given player’s move took some­where around any­where between an hour, and two-​​and-​​a-​​half hours, to com­plete, by the time you got through. And the player whose turn it was to take a turn was indi­cated by hav­ing a lit­tle crea­ture sit­ting on their coun­try. It was a lit­tle Chinese dragon, about yea long [ges­tures]. And it had a lit­tle baldy head. And they just got moved around, accord­ing to wherever—if you found the dragon sit­ting in the mid­dle of your coun­try, it was your turn to make a move. And you could sit down and do this.

The most inter­est­ing thing was, inter­est­ing Reed sort of thing, it didn’t get dam­aged. It did not get destroyed. It didn’t get moved. Except with one very inter­est­ing thing, and that was, there devel­oped a norm—I remem­ber talk­ing about this—that if you did some­thing to some­body else’s coun­try clever enough, it was okay. (laugh­ter) But it had to have some degree of, and I don’t exactly know what the cri­te­ria were by which this was deter­mined. But I don’t recall there ever being any dis­pute about this. The rel­a­tively few things that got done cre­atively by inter­est­ing peo­ple out­side were all per­fectly rea­son­able and accept­able within the norms of the game.

It took on an inter­est­ing qual­ity some­where dur­ing the course of the [fall] when we cre­ated some new eco­nomic rules for this. And I’m almost done with the story here. I was tak­ing a course in eco­nom­ics that fall and like many peo­ple who took courses in eco­nom­ics, I didn’t always hap­pen to attend the class. (laugh­ter) In fact, I rarely ever attended class.

Somewhere dur­ing the course of the fall, the pro­fes­sor, whose name I’m block­ing at the moment, called me in and said, “You haven’t been to class lately much, have you?”

No, I really haven’t. I guess not.”

What have you been doing?”

I said, “Well, I’ve been work­ing on these eco­nomic rules for this game we’re playing.”

And he said, “Oh, tell me a lit­tle bit about them.”

So I sketched out what we were doing with this, and he opened the text­book. There was a flow­chart of the inter­na­tional econ­omy laid out there, and it bore a remark­able resem­blance to what it was I had gen­er­ated in game con­tent. He said, “Have you seen this?” I said, “No, that’s amaz­ing.” (laugh­ter) And he said, “Well, if you can sort of make this up by your­self, maybe you don’t need to come to class.” (laugh­ter) Did rea­son­ably well in the class, too.

But I guess the thing I found fas­ci­nat­ing about this is the kind of con­ti­nu­ity that existed. I know the game went on for a few years after I left in 1964. I built this rather elab­o­rate set of play­ing pieces for it. It was like a lit­tle chest that had 20,000 play­ing pieces in it. (laugh­ter) And I left it behind and it got used. I have no idea where it went. It’s prob­a­bly in a flea mar­ket somewhere.

[Editor’s note: Jim Kahan found it five years later, in the Association of Reed Gamers room in the base­ment of Kerr in 2009, hold­ing a few remain­ing pieces. The cab­i­net and pieces were then donated by Eveland to the Reed College archives, where they remain: see pic­tures.]

But I think the endur­ing qual­ity of this for me was the degree of respect, the degree of encour­age­ment and the degree of, I don’t know the proper word for this, the degree of par­tic­i­pa­tion, in a sense, by all the peo­ple who were involved. And the degree of encour­age­ment of this by the rest of the cam­pus. In the sense of it being an odd and accept­able sub­cul­ture within the process. What passes for rev­o­lu­tion in 1964 is rather dif­fer­ent from what passes for rev­o­lu­tion today, I sup­pose. But we found it to be an inter­est­ing way to pass the time. A key part of my edu­ca­tional expe­ri­ence, I guess. And that’s basi­cally the story. (applause)

[tape 1, side A ends, tape 1, side B begins]

Ione C. Walker ’84: [as tape begins] …I remem­ber it specif­i­cally because they talk about this game that had been going on for eight years at that point. And when I got here, son of a gun if it wasn’t in the base­ment of where I lived. I said, “God, this is cool. I want to play it!”

Not on your life.” (laughter)

Eveland: The legacy endureth.

Parmalee: Since you made it onto the tape, can you iden­tify yourself?

Walker: Oh, I’m sorry. My name is Ione Walker, and I grad­u­ated in ’84 in chemistry.

Parmalee: J.D., after lis­ten­ing to your story, I do encour­age peo­ple at least to stand up, if not to come up here, because I just feel sorry for the peo­ple who were behind you who didn’t get to [see you]. There’s a whole lot in sto­ry­telling that’s watch­ing you tell it. I’m sure your back is very expres­sive (laugh­ter) but, so if peo­ple will either come up or stand up, I think com­ing up is bet­ter because then every­one can see you.

So, then, Jim, would you like to [add something]?

Kahan: Jim [James P.] Kahan ’64. And I was one of the peo­ple who played with J.D. and very much appre­ci­ated his cre­ativ­ity in start­ing the game. A cou­ple of things I’d like to add to what he said. We had the rep­u­ta­tion for being flakes, but nobody every dropped out of school while play­ing the game. (laugh­ter) Some peo­ple dropped out later, and some peo­ple dropped out and then played the game. (laugh­ter) But if you were a stu­dent, you stayed a stu­dent while you were playing.

Second is what I think is very true to the Reed tra­di­tion. You were play­ing this game but you didn’t have to inter­act with the rest of the world too much. He and I both balka­nized our coun­tries. We had a coun­try and we split it up into lit­tle coun­tries that played against each other within our own side. And the rest of the play­ers would leave us alone to do it. Encouraged it.

And the third thing, J.D., I hope you can ver­ify this for me. The game started out on the real world, Earth. Later it grad­u­ated to some­place long ago and far away. But what we found was, if your cap­i­tal started in North America, you won! (laugh­ter) Because it rep­re­sented what the resources of this globe are like. And so [in] the next ver­sion, where you weren’t allowed to start your game in North America, the game became a race to see who could col­o­nize North America first.

Eveland: Usually Sweden.

Kahan: Right. (laugh­ter) And that led to the deci­sion to make a more equi­table global and a kind of arti­fi­cial world. But that les­son has come down to me to this day. Because a lot of Americans think they’re great because of their phi­los­o­phy or any­thing else—we just live in a
place where all the resources are.[1] (Truck noise outside)

Parmalee: I think we’re going to take a moment for acousti­cal adjust­ment here. Reality has just inserted itself into our tape. (win­dow shut­ting) Also I was just think­ing of a fund-​​raising project for the Alumni Office. They prob­a­bly could [charge] a dol­lar [for] send­ing out to all the alumni who want to know, who’ve wanted to know for forty years, what were those guys doing in here? (laugh­ter) But were too shy to ask. So. Who would like to speak next?

[1] See also Jim Kahan’s inter­view with Donna Sinclair, November 20 and December 8, 2006.

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