Sunday, January 17, 2010

Driven to improve the metaphor: High-speed Diplomacy

I've always been a little perturbed by the consistent use of the description "high-speed chess" for the tactics and strategies NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers employ on the super-speedway restrictor-plate tracks at Daytona and Talledega. The commentators who use this expression mean to communicate that the drivers must plan ahead several moves (all while driving 200 mph) in order to be at the front of the field at the finish line.

I have no argument with the "high-speed" part. It's just that chess fits poorly. Unlike a car race, it's a head-to-head battle in which two people take turns moving. It seems to me that the board game Diplomacy is a better metaphor. It's a multiplayer game with simultaneous moves. Like the drafting partnerships that form and dissolve in the course of a race, alliances form and dissolve as players co-operate for their mutual advantage, all the while knowing that at some point it will be "every man for himself" (gender restrictions unintended).

Just as in racing, when two players try to occupy the same space at the same time, the resulting collision is unsatisfactory for both (although far less spectacular for the board game).

But since almost everyone, even NASCAR fans, has heard of chess, and far fewer people are familiar with Diplomacy, in the unlikely event that Darrell Waltrip or Allen Bestwick ever has this post brought to his attention, he would be ill-advised to change the old formulaic description. But it works for me.

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