‘Timeline’ is a game that I’ve been pushing to non-gamers lately. The premise is very simple – everyone has a (public) hand of several historical events, inventions, artistic creations, discoveries, etc.; anything notable and dated. The flip-side of every card has the corresponding date. One event starts the timeline date-side up. Players must then choose one of their cards and make an educated (or not, I suppose) guess as to where it goes in the timeline relative to the other events. Place it, flip it, leave it in place if correct or pull a new card if not. Gameplay is simple, fast, and almost educational. There are a whole bunch of sets, and they can be freely mixed-and-matched.

One of these sets is ‘Science and Discoveries’. Something always felt a little off about this set, and the last time I played it, I think I figured it out. There are 110 cards in a given set, and I have (to the best of my ability) narrowed this one down to a handful of categories:

I had to make a few executive decisions so that I could neatly categorize things, and if I did this categorical exercise again right now, everything would likely be give or take a couple cards. But the heart of the matter is that the creators (rightfully) marked 22% of the cards as having been discovered (by Europeans). If my categorization is even remotely accurate, that’s 40% of the physical/corporeal ‘discovery’ cards.

Now, that ‘rightfully’ up there is important – I am glad that Asmodee opted to point out that these peoples and places were only ‘discovered’ in a very surface manner – the pygmies already knew that the pygmies existed. And this isn’t a very deep thought, hopefully it’s immediately obvious to any given American or European that their history textbooks are written with a bias and to a purpose. But I guess what fascinated me were those percentages.

This is by no means representative of a history textbook, nor the average person’s understanding of history. But I can’t imagine it’s terribly far off, either. Coming from a colonialist sort of viewpoint, a lot of our ‘big moments in history’ come from finding this or that ‘savage’ population and treating them not as humankind, but as a scientific subject. And here we have a truly trivial history game telling us that >20% of the notable achievements the creators could come up with are, in fact, just stuff we’ve decided we can claim as having discovered. Despite either it (for lack of a better phrasing) having discovered itself, or other (‘lesser’) civilizations having beaten us to the punch. I suppose there is far more important stuff to worry about right now, even in the context of colonialism, but I still find it to be an intriguing glimpse into our historical ownership.

This is not crazy

A lot of inexplicable, or at least difficult-to-comprehend things have been happening in the world lately. My various social circles are comprised of folks in various states of befuddlement lately, and the news does not cease to surprise and disgust. Things are so far beyond reason, so infuriating, so mystifying that it can be hard to expound upon the resultant emotions and articulate them cleanly. Often, things feel nothing short of crazy, like the world has lost all sanity.

There’s a problem with this. When I was younger, it was trendy to describe the inexplicable and foolish as (apologies) retarded. Even without judging rationality or logic, the word was a simple stand-in for basic denigration. Some time around high school, it would become clear to us what we were actually saying, what the implications were. Then we had a decision to make – do we live with those implications out of some lazy dedication to our extant lexicon, or do we grow and find better and less actively harmful ways to express ourselves? Can we find the empathy to recognize how dehumanizing it is to use our differences as terms of denigration.