Playing the academic game: The life of an academic can be difficult. There’s the challenge of getting grants, competition between schools to recruit top students and faculty, staff shortages, and even the occasional scandal.
For Zach London, who teaches, practices, and directs the neurology residency program at the U-M, it is all a game—literally.
He’s the inventor of Endowed Chairs, a two-player game that pits the chairs of two neurology departments against each other as they seek to advance their three missions—clinical care, research, and education. To do that, they compete to recruit twelve prominent neurologists and neuroscientists, each with a unique set of strengths that are worth more on some missions than others. A “time machine” lets them recruit not only today’s luminaries but those from earlier eras; all are women.
“The whole game is poking fun at academia and academic medicine while celebrating the most illustrious women in neurology,” says London. “We call out the wage gap between men and women physicians, too.”
London knew that a pediatric neurologist in Portland, Oregon, Allison Christy, had been giving lectures about the history of women in neurology. “I found out on Twitter she’s into board games,” he says. Before passing Go, he had a collaborator.
“The luminaries are really interesting. Ali wrote a biography of each of them,” says London. These include Audrey Penn, the first Black and first female president of the American Neurological Association; Mary Putnam Jacobi, who chaired the neurological section of the New York Academy of Medicine and may have been the first female pediatric neurologist; and Martha Westerberg, the first woman on the U-M neurology faculty.
London got into gaming in the late 1990s, but his hobby “didn’t take off until the lockdown, when we started playing as a family … I started buying and borrowing every game we could, and we started reviewing them.”
It occurred to London that neurology-focused games could be useful in teaching medical students. He developed games that did just that, but thought they would be “a little alienating” for those without a background in medicine. So he decided to create something anyone could enjoy playing.
London says board games have become more complex and interesting over the years, and, despite competition from video games, Ann Arbor now supports three stores that feature them: the Vault of Midnight on Main, the Sylvan Factory, and Upkeep Games on W. Stadium. They don’t sell Endowed Chairs, though—it’s only available online, at thegamecrafter.com.