Making History II - Interview With Niall Ferguson

By Scott Parrino 05 May 2010 0

Interview with The Wargamer ? Niall Ferguson

The Wargamer's Editor-in-Chief, Jim Zabek, recently had the opportunity to chat with Niall Ferguson about his work as an advistor on Making History II.  Niall Ferguson is Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at HarvardUniversity and William Ziegler Professor of Business Administration at HarvardBusinessSchool. He is the author of numerous books including War of the World, Virtual History and The Ascent of Money.

Jim Zabek (JZ):  Many of our readers recognize you instantly as an accomplished historian and lecturer, but I think it?s less well know that you?re also well acquainted with strategy gaming.  Can you tell us a bit about the kinds of strategy games you play?

Niall Ferguson (NF):  As the father of two serious gamers, I have messed around with everything from Civilization to Age of Empires. I?ve tried others, but I?ve always been frustrated by their historical inaccuracy.

JZ: How did you and

Muzzy Lane
cross paths and begin to collaborate on Making History II?

NF: About five years ago they were looking for some Harvard historian to help them. It caught my eye because I?d been interested in the idea of historically accurate gaming for years, as a way of running counterfactual simulations.

JZ: What were some of the overriding lessons you wanted to be sure were incorporated into Making History II

NF: First, that the war was not bound to start, unfold and end in the ways it did. A lot of contingency was involved, even in the final outcome of an Allied victory. Obviously the odds were against the Axis after 1941, but with the right concerted strategy the Axis could have knocked Russia

JZ: Most of your books have covered topics that span generations and centuries.  How did that perspective influence you as you were developing an approach to a game focused on the fairly limited time frame of World War II?

NF: Well, I once presented a radio series called ?Four Days That Shook the World?. I have always been interested in crunch days or weeks.

JZ: How much influence did you have on the game?s design and how was that translated into game mechanics?

NF: I (and my sons) played around with earlier versions and pointed out things that seemed unrealistic. It was important to get the game so that the artificial intelligence didn?t generate absurd scenarios. But we also needed a game that wasn?t so historically accurate it was unplayable.

JZ: You are seen as an expert in history and economics and generally teach others; is there anything that you?ve learned from playing strategy games? 

NF: Yes, indeed: That it would have been very hard for Britain and France to have mounted a successful anti-German move in 1938. And that a joint German-Japanese invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 would have posed major problems for Stalin.

JZ: Do you use any games in any of the courses you teach, and if so, what are they?

NF: Not yet, but that?s the next step. Ideally I?d like to see a set of simpler, shorter games accompanying my new Pearson textbook on Western Civilization.

JZ: Thank you very much for your time!

NF: Pleasure.

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