The game of our time is no longer chess. Nor is it truly blackjack or craps.
The game of our time is tafl. This is a game few people are familiar with, so I will give a basic explanation. As I am most familiar with hnefatafl, it is the example I will be using going forward.
Tafl is a game of strategy and skill. There are two sides: attackers and defenders. The ratio of attacker is 2 to every 1 defender, and a chief that starts in the center of the board. Unlike chess, all the pieces move in straight lines, and can move wherever they please in these lines. Both sides capture by wedging an opposing piece between two pieces of the same side or one piece pinning another against a side of the board, or against the center of the board which is where the chief starts. The chief may also capture.
The object of the game for attackers is to capture the chief. The object of the game for the defenders is for the chief to escape by getting to one of the four corners.
I see this as the game of our time economically, politically, and environmentally, and understand it as a drastic shift away from the chess understanding a lot of folks apply to how U.S. citizens exist within this country. The simple reason is that the parameters of the game we all exist within have changed. It may have changed for many of us a long, long time ago, or you may have been playing hnefatafl from birth. Because of the ever-increasing poverty line, a majority of people in the United States are understanding this shift in very direct ways. Very few of us actually ever were more than a pawn in our political or economic system. Now, we face a future where we must escape the attackers in our midst. Some of us have or are contemplating taking the opposite approach: taking the others’ chiefs.
The point of hnefatafl is survival rather than complete victory. Its mindset is wholly different than that of chess. You are not seeking to crush an opponent, or if you are, you may entirely miss opportunities to help/stop the chief escaping, or become entrapped by your opponent. No piece once reaching the end of the board can become another, and there are no special moves. In this way, the potential of the chief is no better or worse than that of the other defenders, save that they are the leader that the defenders are trying to evacuate. In an interesting twist, the attackers have no leader. They are all focused on the destruction of the chief.
Unlike chess, in order for the chief to be secure, he must move, attack, and defend himself. Unlike in chess, which sends other pieces to die so that the king is secured and the opponent’s king captured, the chief in hnefatafl must place themselves in the same danger their fellow defenders face. The chief in hnefatafl cannot rely on the bishops to leverage diagonal moves, the knights their L-shapes and jumping, nor the rooks their unfettered straight movements, nor the queen her omni-directional moves. The chief in hnefatafl moves in exactly the same manner and with the same abilities as their fellows.
Similarly, we are entering a period where standing amongst one’s people and understanding ourselves not as inherently special, but as people belonging to a group with leaders rather than despots are requirements for thriving. Peak oil and climate change render chess’ model of allocation of political/military power to rooks and knights, religious authority to bishops, despotic divine right powers to the king and queen, and all of them using the poor, the pawns as front-line soldiers, moot. This old way of doing things is a use of time and resources we cannot afford to waste. We may never be without kings or chiefs, but the old way of doing things that enabled chess to dominate the landscape of political thought is passing on.
The game has changed, and it is time to play.