Pat Harrigan and I have just published an essay on the remarkable game Twilight Struggle in a new book that Greg Costikyan and Drew Davidson edited for ETC Press: Tabletop: Analog Game Design. We find Twilight Struggle fascinating — it is not just a game about the Cold War, in which one recapitulates many key events of that period through play, but a game that requires thinking like a cold warrior.
For all its effectiveness as a historical simulation, Gupta and Matthews are clear that the game reflects a certain perception of history, not history itself. In the first place, “winning” is truly an option, unlike the murky outcomes of the real Cold War. Nor does the game reflect any ideological differences within nations or their leadership, except as the limited effects of certain card events, which do not meaningfully realign the geopolitical goals of either side. Ideology, communist or capitalist, is unimportant, as are the local politics of nations except insofar as they affect the wider game struggle. At the same time, one of the most compelling features of Twilight Struggle is how it places players in a collage Cold War mindset, in which competing historical ideologies are literally true and have definable in-game effects.
The rest of the book also looks great — I’ve just started digging into it — with contributions from Stone Librande, Lew Pulsipher, John Sharp, Ian Schreiber, Jim Dunnigan, Dave Parlett, Richard Garfield, Peter Olotka, John Kaufield, Chris Klug, Kevin Jacklin, Ira Fay, Brian Magerko, Simon Ferrari, Matthew Berland, Ray Mazza, and Brenda Bakker Harger. You can read everything for free online (though with some unfortunate formatting) or get a hard copy from Lulu.
About the author: Noah Wardrip-Fruin is an Associate Professor at UC Santa Cruz and the author of Expressive Processing: Digital Fictions, Computer Games, and Software Studies.