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Contact: Joe King, NIU Office of Public Affairs
December 1, 2006
DeKalb, Ill. — Stephen Haliczer knows that few children will go to sleep Christmas Eve with visions of his latest game dancing in their heads, but he is convinced that there is a market for Vatican: The Papal Election Board Game.
For proof, he need look no further than the best seller lists and box office.
“There is a lot of public curiosity about the inner workings of the Catholic church. If there wasn’t, Dan Brown’s books wouldn’t be nearly so popular,” says Haliczer, referring to the recent best-seller and Hollywood movie, “The Da Vinci Code.”Another of Brown’s best-selling books, “Angels and Demons,”also is undergoing the transformation from best-seller to blockbuster. “The problem is that those books are full of errors that perpetuate old myths.”
Haliczer, professor emeritus of history at Northern Illinois University, created his game to dispel some of those myths by providing players a glimpse into the day-to-day dynamics of the church – how it is organized, how members build status and ultimately how individuals move into leadership positions that enable them to be considered papal material. The game also touches upon most of the issues the modern church grapples with and puts them in historical perspective.
He got the idea for the game while teaching a course on the history of the Catholic Church, a class he has offered at NIU for the last decade. “Most of the students are adult Catholics and they have no idea how the church functions,” he says. “I think it’s a failing of Catholic education that they do not explain the dynamics of the church. Beyond the faith, people want to know: How does this organization work?”
Looking for a fun way to educate people on the operations of the Catholic Church, which has more than 1 billion members, Haliczer turned to gaming. It is a tactic he has used before. In fact, his course on church history, which is now taught almost entirely online, includes an interactive video-based game that requires students to role play the selection of a pope, and another that subjects them to a trial at the Spanish Inquisition (a topic upon which Haliczer is an internationally recognized expert.)
As the name indicates, the game uses the occasion of a papal election as a tool for explaining the structure and operations of the Catholic Church.
Haliczer also did his best to ensure that the game reflects some of the political realities that modern cardinals face. For instance, game play starts with each player drawing an “origins card.” Those whose cardinals speak more languages earn higher points, which ultimately contribute toward papal votes, because the pope is an international figure. Cardinals of certain nationalities also score higher (such as those from Africa, where the church is growing rapidly) while others, like those born in the United States, face an uphill battle, just as they would in Rome.
“For instance, Cardinal George from Chicago is very highly regarded among his fellow cardinals,” explains Haliczer. “But he was not considered a viable candidate for pope at the last conclave because he is from the U.S. and the church does not want to identify itself with the world’s only superpower.”
With their identities in place, players begin their careers as cardinals trying to establish their reputations through good works, such as creating shrines or orphanages. Later in their careers they vie for offices within the church’s governing structure, serving in congregations, synods, councils and other church organizations, overseeing various aspects of the church’s operation. The game includes a glossary explaining each of the various entities and their responsibilities. This phase of the game, more than any other, provides insight into the relative strength and importance of the church’s various governing bodies. As they progress, players also confront controversial issues, such as abortion, and gain historical insight into how the church’s doctrine has evolved over time.
Once all of the players have attained a sufficient number of offices, they receive word that the pope has died. In one scenario he succumbs to infection after knee surgery.
The next phase of the game is a brief, intense scramble that mirrors the period between the death of a pope and the convening of a conclave to elect his successor. This often overlooked phase of papal selection is critically important, says Haliczer. It is a time of political maneuvering, with cardinals conducting interviews and appearing at conferences and masses where their career accomplishments and views are on display for all to see and hear. Players continue to learn about church doctrine in this phase as their cardinals’ fortunes rise and fall based upon what they say on particular issues.
The final round is the conclave, where the election of a pope actually takes place. The players enter this fast-moving stage with the “influence points” that they have accumulated in the earlier rounds, but “influence” cannot guarantee victory. It’s still anybody’s game.
“No matter what has happened up to this point anyone can still win. It’s unpredictable, just as in real life,” says Haliczer, explaining that the luck of the draw could lead to an influential cardinal throwing his weight behind a dark horse contender, or the Holy Spirit may even intervene. “It’s exciting until the very end,” he assures.
While Vatican might never overtake Monopoly as a parlor game, Haliczer hopes it will be a hit with Catholics and non-Catholics alike with an interest in the inner dynamics of the church. His hunch appears to be on the mark. The game, which was produced by the College of DuPage Press, has been marketed solely over the Internet and already has attracted orders from across the United States, England, France and even Rome. The Web site has had visitors from as far away as Kuala Lampur and Singapore.
For more information on Vatican: The Papal Election Board Game, visit the Web site at www.vaticanboardgame.com.
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