By Nicola Hellmann-McFarland, Special Collections Library Assistant
For those of you old enough, or those who have fathers and grandfathers that remember the Golden Age of Television, the 1960s TV show, Bonanza, was about Ben “Pa” Cartwright and his three sons, who ran a farm by the name of “Ponderosa Ranch” in the Wild West during the Civil War era. Bonanza aired on television for an amazing fourteen years, and it rose to legendary status, as did Ben Cartwright, a beloved and wise patriarch, an upstanding citizen, and a conservative – in the best sense of the word. Although this was not his first television job, Canadian actor Lorne Greene (1915-1987), who played Ben Cartwright, quickly became an American household name as much as that of his alter ego.
None of his other memorable roles had reached a status as iconic as the role of Ben Cartwright, and in the face of all his “olden days” wholesomeness, who would have thought that Lorne Greene was actually quite interested in philosophy? And why is his name among those of the creators of a card game from the mid-1960s entitled The Propaganda Game? Well, one of his friends at the time was a certain Robert W. Allen, a former student of Professor George Henry Moulds, author of the book Thinking Straighter. Rumor has it that Allen and Greene “were discussing philosophical topics one evening, when Greene suggested that they design a game based on propaganda and its techniques.” Allen, remembering Moulds’ textbook, contacted his former professor, and the three men went to work on what eventually became The Propaganda Game in 1966.
Designed to be played by two to five players, the game’s neat little plastic box includes an instruction book, 40 cards containing propaganda quotations, four “prediction dials,” and a “clear thinking chart.” Players must compete in propaganda techniques like self-deception, language, irrelevance, and exploitation. The instructions indicate that one player must read a quote, and the other players must secretly decide which technique is being employed. Afterwards, they must vote on an outcome to be decided by the majority rule. Each player who did NOT vote with the majority must then try to sway the popular voters to change their vote within one minute. Finally, the majority voters are instructed to cast their ballots again, and the true outcome is determined.
The Propaganda Game has been played continuously ever since it joined the ranks of the Academic Games Leagues of America. It has educated thousands of players on how to recognize propaganda techniques used in advertisements, political announcements, and other examples from human dialogue.
We can thank Lorne Greene for creating socio-cultural awareness by lending his famous name to this game, and The Propaganda Game itself can be viewed in all its glory here at Special Collections on the eighth floor of the Otto G. Richter Library.