Friday, March 19, 2010

Protest Set For Saturday Over King Philip War Game

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A protest will be held in Providence, R.I., on Saturday in an attempt to stop the production of a board game that allows players to pit the Indians under Metacomet, a.k.a. King Philip, against colonial soldiers to create different scenarios of the famous battle that took place in the late 1600's.

According to Brown Squirrel, the peaceful protest is from noon to 2 p.m. at the intersection of South Main and Old Crawford, near Hemmingway's Restaurant in Providence.

The game at the center of the controversy was described in the following Providence Journal article earlier this week:

Game based on King Philip’s War angers Native Americans
By Paul Davis
Providence Journal
March 15, 2010

A new board game that pits 17th-century Colonists against New England’s Indian tribes is sparking a 21st-century skirmish between the publisher and Native American leaders.

The game, called King Philip’s War, allows players to defeat Colonial or Indian forces in “a momentous example of New England frontier savagery,” says Multi-Man Publishing, a military game company in Millersville, Md.

The game features a New England map, dice, tokens and historic figures from the 14-month-long conflict, including King Philip or Metacomet, sachem of the Wampanoag Indian tribe, and Indian fighter and Little Compton resident Benjamin Church.

Publisher Brian Youse says the game mixes military strategy with history — and tells a story that many people outside of New England don’t know.

But tribal historians say it is in poor taste and perpetuates stereotypes of Native Americans as savages.

“It clearly demonstrates how — sadly — racism and misconceptions continue to exist in America, even in the 21st century,” says Rae Gould, tribal historic preservation officer for the Nipmuc Nation.

“I don’t know whether to laugh, cry or be angry,” adds John Brown, historic preservation officer for the Narragansett Indian tribe. “The message seems to be, it’s still OK to kill Indians.”

Colonial players win by gathering points or eliminating King Philip and other Indian leaders. Indian players win by accumulating points or seizing the settlements of Boston and Plymouth.

Game designer John Poniske, who teaches social studies at a Maryland middle school, created the game after reading an article about King Philip in the magazine Military History.

“I immediately saw the gaming potential in the historical situation,” says Poniske, who has designed games based on the Vietnam War, the Civil War and the teachings of Jesus.

“The New England tribes were a military force to reckon with, and this conflict destroyed their power base,” he says.

“It slowed and, in some cases, stopped Colonial expansion, and more importantly, it set a strong precedent for future relations with Native Americans.”

But Paula Peters, a member of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe, says the game “seems to trivialize a very tragic event in our history.”

As a boy, King Philip grew up in a world where he was free to practice his beliefs in his ancestral land, says Peters, marketing director for Plimoth Plantation.

But as an adult “he and his people were pushed out.”

During an earlier conflict in Mystic, Native women and children were burned in their beds, she says. “It was no game.”

But Poniske argues that his game shows that “Indians were fighting for the survival of their culture. I indicate that atrocities were committed on both sides, and I have brought to light something that seems to have been swept under the rug, what I consider to be the horror of the war’s outcome — the hunting down of Indians to be shipped to the Caribbean as slaves.”

The 11-year-old company publishes a number of military games, including Beyond Valor, Storm over Normandy and Panzerblitz Hill of Death.

The three principals include former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling, who also designs games.

The owners hope to garner enough preorders –– 560 at $30 an order –– to publish the game later this year.

In 1675, Indians attacked the town of Swansea, killing several men, women, and children. The Colonists retaliated by attacking area tribes, including Narragansett men, women and children encamped in the Great Swamp.

More than 5,000 people died in the war, more than three-quarters of them Indians. Half of New England’s towns were burned or pillaged. Philip was drawn, quartered and beheaded, and some Indian captives were shipped to the Caribbean as slaves.

“That a game would be based on this really bothers me,” says Peters. “Would we play a game called The Holocaust?”