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Introducing Social Complexity: The Game!

I’m a long-time fan of games – card games, board games, and video games. I suppose this is an increasingly common thing as we live in a golden age for indie games. This is as true for board and card games as it is for video games. Recently, I began working on a game concept and design to simulate the ways human groups of differing social complexity might interact in time and space. Thus, Social Complexity: The Game was born.

It’s sort of a mash-up between Catan and the World Game. I am certainly not unique in this type of work; a good summary of similar (and more advanced) experiments with games and anthropological pedagogy can be found in the following blog posts by Krista Harper (Post 1 and Post 2).

A portion of the instructions for Social Complexity: The Game.

A portion of the instructions for Social Complexity: The Game.

The basic premise of the game involves splitting the class into four groups corresponding to different degrees of social complexity. Each group begins with a stock of raw materials consisting of sheep, stone, wheat, clay, and ore. Groups then have to negotiate and interact with other groups to acquire additional raw materials and/or convert these materials into crafted products. Crafting converts raw materials into meat, bread, weapons, building materials, pots, and prestige items.

A selection of raw and crafted items in Social Complexity: The Game.

A selection of raw and crafted items in Social Complexity: The Game.

I chose pastoralists, horticulturalists, agriculturalists, and chiefdoms for the four groups. My decision was based on simulating the variety of groups that co-existed in many areas during or following the Neolithic Revolution. As such, each group has access to different resources, craft specialists, and the like. These resources are related to the population of each group.

Pastoralists (with a population of 50) begin the game with 20 sheep and 2 stones. To successfully finish the game they need 2 pots, 2 meat, 2 bread, 2 weapons, and 2 building cards. They must also maintain a herd of at least 10 sheep (10 sheep cards). Other groups start with different amounts of these and different resources. The chiefdom (with a population of 1,000) begins the game with 12 clay, 6 wheat, 6 stone, and 2 ore cards.

Complexity is added to the game with the introduction of roles representing craft specialists. Specialists are present in different groups. The Miller (who can turn wheat into bread) is present in the horticultural, agricultural, and chiefdom groups. The leader and blacksmith cards are reserved for the chiefdom group. In addition, certain groups have specific rules. The chiefdom must select a leader, and then the group must follow the decisions of the leader, reducing individual agency. The chiefdom groups is allowed to determine the selection process.

Role cards representing craft specialists in Social Complexity: The Game.

Role cards representing craft specialists in Social Complexity: The Game.

There are also rules for interactions between groups. If a group has wheat but no miller, they must barter/trade with a group that does have a miller. The group with the miller can turn the wheat into bread free of charge, or charge 0-2 raw material cards for the service. Of course, groups that charge too much may find themselves restricted from future trade deals.

Students playing Social Complexity: The Game.

Students playing Social Complexity: The Game. In this image, pastoralists, horticulturalists, and agriculturalists come together for trade.

Groups can coerce other groups into trade deals by stockpiling weapons. If a group has twice the number of weapons as another group, they can force the group to provide 2 raw materials or 4 crafted items. Since everyone can turn stone into weapons, small arms races can develop quickly. Groups can also coerce other groups to craft items. A group can only attempt to coerce another group once per turn. Coerced interactions can be countered. The mobile nature of pastoralists protects them, and ore can be crafted into prestige goods that will nullify an attempted coerced interaction.

Turns are called by the instructor. I have only tested the game once in my General Anthropology course (spring 2017). The majority of groups finished within 10-12 minutes of the end of class. However, if groups had finished earlier, I had a set of disasters (e.g., famine) that would have removed raw or crafted items from everyone’s inventory and restarted the trading cycle, effectively serving as a second round.

Horticulturalists, agriculturalists, and the chiefdom try to work out a complex trade deal without resorting to violence.

Horticulturalists, agriculturalists, and the chiefdom try to work out a complex trade deal without resorting to violence.

The first test went very well. Each of the four groups had 8-10 students. Some groups acted through consensus, while in others a strong-willed student took charge. The chiefdom had a clear leader, a female leader. We have discussed the existence of female leaders in prehistory several times, so this was not necessarily a surprise. The pastoralists were the first to amass weapons and attempt to coerce other groups. The agriculturalists raided the horticulturalists’ village (they found cards left on a student’s desk, I allowed it).

Most of the students spent the first few  minutes introducing themselves and discussing strategies. I moved from group to group passing out new cards when crafting took place, and explaining real-world examples of things that were happening between the groups. Overall, I consider it a success and will continue to develop the game. I had a blast and students enjoyed it as well. I’m even thinking of a turning it into a board game. So, watch out for the home version of Social Complexity: The Game!

Social Complexity: The Game will fit in a small box, here is the first edition after initial testing, with notes to improve.

Social Complexity: The Game will fit in a small box, here is the first edition after initial testing, with notes to improve.

Please check back. I have to make small changes to the cards, rules, and the like. Once completed, I’ll post a zipped file here with all the materials to use this in your own class.

Thanks for reading,
Ed Gonzalez-Tennant

Visualizing the 2016 Presidential Election in Alachua County, Florida

Update: Scroll to bottom of page for interactive map of election results.

The 2016 presidential election was truly an historic event. While Clinton’s popular vote lead continues to rise (more than 2 million as I write this), Trump currently has the Electoral College lead. One result of this election is it’s polarization of American politics and society. Numerous reports of hate crimes and violence towards marginalized groups have been reported since election night. I count myself among those who are concerned over this rise, and I continue to look at various ways to support my local community during these difficult times. It is my hope that some of the following analysis will help folks identify like-minded neighbors.

One way I and others can help is through the use of counter-mapping to make sense of this election in our local vicinity. Counter-mapping refers to the use mapping technologies for non-elite purposes, and is increasingly acknowledged as a primary tool for subverting establishment politics and corporate interests. The first step in accomplishing this is to acquire data. In this case that means information on voting precinct boundaries and election results. Fortunately, the Alachua County Supervisor of Elections has a Google map of precincts and has posted the election results. It is a relatively straightforward process to take the Google-based KML data and convert it to a shapefile for use with GIS software (e.g., ArcGIS, QGIS). Similarly, converting data between PDF and Excel is pretty straightforward.

The following map shows the location of voting precincts in Alachua County in relation to town boundaries. (Click maps for enlarged versions)precincts-and-towns Continue reading

Mapping 20th Century African American Travel

UPDATE (10/29/2015) – Scroll to the bottom of this post for an interactive map.

The recent announcement that the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture has digitized their Green Book collection is exciting news. Published between 1936 and 1966, these books provided a growing African American middle class with useful guides for navigating Jim Crow America. The digitization of these books reminds me of a 1942 Afro-American Travel Map that I came across a few weeks ago. This map conveys much of the same information as the Green Books.

1942 Travel Guide of African American-Friendly Hotels & Guest Houses

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Towards an IQ-GIS for Historical Archaeology

This post relates some thoughts on the combination of GIS and game engines for historical archaeology. This approach examines virtual world environments as a type of 3D GIS allowing users to move through space while simultaneously interacting with various data. This immersive, qualitative GIS (IQ-GIS) supports the display and interpretation of both qualitative and quantitative data. While a complete prototype is still some months away, here’s a sneak peak! This post also forces me to cogently express my thoughts for a few upcoming grant proposals. e415

3D Reconstruction of Fort Charles, Nevis

3D Reconstruction of Fort Charles, Nevis

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Geovisualization of New Jersey Property Values

This post concerns the visualization of property values. I am working on this for an upcoming project on the African American experience in Asbury Park, New Jersey, and particularly the 1970 riot. Part of this research focuses on the socioeconomic experiences (e.g., access to property ownership, property values) of various groups ithroughout the 20th century. Property ownership remains part of the “American Dream” and lured African Americans to many northern locations, places promising a more equitable society. A promised often denied.

One goal for this project explores geovisualization. Geovisualization, short for geographic visualization, is the visual representation of geospatial analyses. This increasingly involves the creation of interactive displays to share location-specific data. This post is not a nuts-and-bults how to, but it does outline the general steps and process for producing some interesting images of property values.

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