Conspiracy Theory

Simon Szykman

For those who were not aware of or have since forgotten about the game, dippouch was a Diplomacy game that started way back when The Zine was not just one section of The Diplomatic Pouch, but all there was of it. The idea behind the game was to bring in an element of continuity from one issue to the next. dippouch was to be a real-time diplomacy game... not "real-time" in the sense of playing a fast game using Internet-based chat or messaging for real-time interaction with other players, but in the sense of really-real-time: one season in the game equaling one season of real time, on game year equaling one real calendar year. The Diplomatic Pouch had Spring and Fall movement and retreat issues and an adjustment issue, and each issue would reveal the corresponding phases in the game.

There... you've got continuity, but with a one-year-per-year pace, the question was how to keep people besides the players interested in the game. The answer was to run the game as a bourse game. If you are not familiar with the concept, in a bourse game each of the great powers has a currency. The game itself can have any number of players besides the great powers. All players can buy and sell currency with the objective being to maximize the value of your portfolio. Prices are tied to how much of a currency is available for sale and how much people are willing to pay for it. However, the currency of an eliminated power is worthless, so as balances of power change, so do currency values -- some people holding currency belonging to a power that starts to do poorly are willing to sell low to get rid of currency before it becomes worthless, while others are willing to buy it hoping for a turnaround in power which will let them buy low and sell high later. You get the general idea.

But that's not what this article is about. This article is about an idea I had for a movie. The idea is, of course, inspired by Diplomacy and is full of international intrigue (and all those other snappy bits of text that appear on the game box), secret communications, subversion and a conspiracy to defraud the public of the world. The title I had envisioned for the movie was Conspiracy Theory.

Here's a plot summary:

The movie opens in the present day. There are many countries in the world, but really only a handful of them control the world, by virtue of military or economic power, control of resources, etc. I thought seven might be a good number for these great powers, but perhaps my fondness for the game of Diplomacy biased me toward this number.

The film opens up in this present day world, where there are little conflicts here and there. But more often than not, these conflicts are driven by economic issues and not by any real desire for conquest. Very true-to-life. Conquest is out, finances are in. War doesn't make the world go round, money does. [Feel free to insert additional quips that are more to your liking.] And so these powers don't so much have an interest taking over other countries as they do in getting their hands on the other countries' money.

As a side note, I was thinking that the leader of Germany would play a prominent part in this film. I was thinking that Harrison Ford might be a good person to cast in that role. Hey, here's an odd coincidence: it just so happens that I played Germany in dippouch. But I'm getting off track again since this film doesn't bear any relation to the game of Diplomacy.

Anyway, back to the movie. So these world leaders sit up in their high towers and watch the money come and go. They sit there for months. Spring, give some orders, wait a few months until Fall, maybe make some other decisions, set up some new forces here or there during the Winter when there's not much else to do. Gets a bit boring, to be honest, thinks one world leader... let's say the leader of France for lack of a better choice.

So he sends out a message to all the other world leaders hinting at some big plan to make life more interesting and that anyone who is interested in more information should let him know. But it has to be a secret so no blabbing is allowed, even to one's own countryfolk or people with whom one may have good economic relations. Everyone replies except one power, oh, let's say England, just for the heck of it.

The big idea that France reveals is for the six powers (England having opted out without getting any information) to conspire to manipulate the world's currency markets in order to take money from independent owners of wealth and get it into the government coffers belonging to the great powers. How to do this? Well, in the real world, the value of a country's currency is tied to its standing in the world. Political upheaval can lead to financial ruin. After all, taking today's real world to illustrate, I bet there aren't a whole lot of people lining up to buy Serbian currency right now, and if you happened to be somebody who wanted to so, I bet something like the dollar would have a fairly strong exchange.

But what if that were the whole point? What if conflicts in Serbia today were a sham -- orchestrated by world powers to defraud the world by setting in motion events to bring about exactly these circumstances? These powers could pick up currency in Serbia from the clearance shelves and after a while, some miraculous turnaround occurs, Serbia is well again, maybe even better off than before. And voila -- somebody's coffers are suddenly worth more than they were before.

So that's the idea that these six great leaders have bought into. Set up some fake conflicts... orchestrate them point by point... require joint approval of all military and economic actions. Nobody makes a move without everyone's consent. Nobody buys or sells currency without everyone knowing who will offer to buy or sell what, and for how much. Set up some invasions that nobody could imagine were anything but genuine. One power, lets pick Austria out of a hat, is invaded and his neighbor grows quickly. Value of the Austrian Mark drops, the conspiring powers (including the Austrian leader) buy up Marks at an Austria-is-going-out-of-business-sale rate. Follow with public grandstanding, outrage from the Austrian, a call for retribution, warnings that if his other neighbors don't help him defend himself, they'll be next to fall.

Then, despite the fears that caused investors to dump their Marks on a soft market, comes the much-needed help from neighbors. Throw in a couple of unfortunate military "misjudgments" on the part of the aggressor and Austria is back in business. Currency prices rebound, the powers who bought up Marks at a cut rate have increased their wealth, and who has lost? The public... the independent investor who originally bought Austrian currency at one price and dumped it an artificially-deflated low price. Not only did they lose the difference between their buying and selling prices, but the powers have further increased their wealth by virtue of the rebound in value of the Mark, thereby lowering the relative standing of the investors in comparison. All the while, nobody outside of this little group has the slightest inkling of what is going on.

But there's another level of intrigue here. Despite the official business arrangement, the powers don't quite trust one another and everyone is a bit worried about taking an orchestrated fall and finding out that the plan for your friends to help you back on your feet doesn't quite materialize. There are a bunch of small independent nations to beat up on, but what happens when they're gone? And so, of course, everyone is thinking about how to arrange things so that when something like that does happen, it wasn't during their turn on the ground.

And what of the outsider, England? Well, much as what happened earlier this decade, England goes through a change in leadership. Only England receives no second chance; the new leader is not invited to join the coalition of conspirators. After all, here's a real live sacrificial lamb. Somebody people can attack and not have to back off of afterwards. A victim who won't expect what's taken to be returned.

Everyone's happy, especially England's neighbors, the German, French and Russian leaders. After all, when England's holdings have been taken, who will be the ones to have done the taking? And they all talk nice about splitting up England equitably, but they' more secure. And all the other leaders say how nice the situation is too, all part of this grand plan, and aren't they all going to be rich together. But they're really wondering how they're going to be safe after the English demise causes Germany, France and Russia to outgrow them.

And so everybody smiles, and everybody starts to get tense. You see, the big flaw in this scheme is that there's no sunset provision to allow for a planned dissolution of the coalition. Everyone talks as if it will last forever, but everyone knows it can't. This idea allows the powers to steal wealth from investors, but the best way to steal wealth from other powers is to reduce the value of their own currency, and that requires military action.

Behind closed doors, people worry, they think about how things might fall apart and how soon that might happen. They consider trying to set up sub-alliances of powers who would agree in secret to jointly break the agreement together (for if one person did so alone, the other five members of the coalition could retaliate together and that one person would follow England into history). These devious fellows get more sophisticated in their thinking. One tries to think up ways of setting up a false sub-alliance with the intent of enticing one power to break the coalition, expecting others to do so at the same time, only to find that he's done so alone and brought the forces of the coalition against him. The plot gets quite thick and it's all very exciting, not as an action movie but from the perspective of the mind games that go on.

Alas, unfortunately, just a couple of weeks after I started to get rolling with this movie plot, a new movie opened up around here called Conspiracy Theory, starring Mel Gibson and Julia Roberts. And I really couldn't think up an alternative movie title that would do my idea justice, so rather than do as I had planned and write up a detailed synopsis so that I could shop around for a movie studio in Hollywood, I decided to scrap the whole thing. Then I decided that if I couldn't share my idea with the public as a movie, I could at least write it up for The Diplomatic Pouch and share it with the readers there. Pity things couldn't have worked out better, though, isn't it?

Of course had this movie eventually made it to the big screen, at the end of the movie credits would scroll the standard disclaimer:

"This motion picture is a work of fiction. Any similarity between the events or people depicted in this motion picture and events or people, living or dead, who may have been playing in a bourse Diplomacy game called dippouch is purely coincidental. Really. This plot is not, we repeat, not based on a true story, and even if it were, we wouldn't be able to admit it without getting into trouble. Could you imagine any self-respecting Diplomacy players pulling a stunt like that?"

And if you are wondering what ever happened to the dippouch game which has nothing to do with this article, much like my movie idea the game came to a premature end before its full potential could be realized. Things started to get quite interesting, but nowhere near as interesting as they were headed. Maybe I'll write an article about it sometime.

Simon Szykman
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