The Americana Game was created by Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) at San Francisco State College (today university) as a way of communicating our dystopian view of American society. It was set up and played for two days in April of 1968 — the semester before the long, bloody, and ultimately successful student strike for Third World studies and increased admissions of more nonwhite students to SFSC.
The game was layed out on the central lawn just outside the Student Union
building known as the "Commons" and now long-since replaced. The game was
composed of paths marked by lines of rope on the grass that players strolled
The lines were divided into segments of American life with "Choice" and "Chance" points directing people on to different paths.
Posted along each path were facts, photo-collages, and commentary signs giving our jaundiced (and, yes, sometimes bitterly angry) view of that segment of American life. All of it, of course, shaped by the beliefs that had led us to become SDS activists — and that we hoped would encourage others to join us.
Our commentaries were not lengthy and arcane political polemics or analyses, rather they were the equivalent of leaflets. But unlike our typical heavy-handed flyers, they used sarcasm and humor instead of slogans and obscure jargon.
The six main game paths were:
We laid the game out at dawn one morning before classes started. It was up for
two days before the administration tore it down. Several hundred students
played it — walking the lines and reading the signs.
It generated quite a bit of comment and discussion. Some students (and faculty) accused us of presenting an "unbalanced" view of society and failing to be "academically objective." Charges to which we proudly plead guilty, citing the 1st Amendment right to express strong opinions, and then countering with the obvious class and political biases of the supposedly "impartial" courses we experienced every day at S.F. State.
But as is the case for most protests, perhaps the game's most lasting effect was on ourselves within SDS — the result of the discussions, debates (okay, knock-down, drag-out arguments) that we went through planning the game, creating the content, and writing the commentary signs.
Students playing the Americana Game
Question authority and you end up in jail
Article copyright © Bruce Hartford.