Former Purdue graduate students co-author book, Game of Thrones and the Theories of International Relations

Game of Thrones and the Theories of International Relations book cover

Ringo MacFiddlesticks may exist only in the realm of a small collection of Purdue students, but the made-up Game of Thrones character helped students comprehend difficult theories of international relations.

Ringo came to life during the first semester Laura Young, a former Purdue Political Science graduate student, used the immensely popular television series to explain concepts of international relations in her course on Bargaining and Negotiation.


Game of Thrones in the classroom

Young, now an assistant professor of political science at Georgia Gwinnett College and a lecturer at Purdue, knew that her students needed to participate in negotiation simulations to understand the material. She devised a simulation that was part Game of Thrones, part Risk and Monopoly.

Young said, "Game of Thrones happened to be all my students were talking about at the time,” and the series lent itself well to lessons of international diplomacy.

This simulated reality “allowed me to create a mini international system in the classroom, pitting students against each other with different levels of resources just like countries in the real world,” Young explained.

Students got so into the material they invented additional characters like Ringo MacFiddlesticks—“a musician that epitomized the essence of celebrity diplomacy," according to Young—even creating music videos for Ringo.

“It was such an amazing experience, and the students did so well in the class, I decided to see if the simulation was actually effective enough to improve student attendance and grades in all classes that used it,” Young said.

Young reached out to fellow Purdue graduate student Ñusta Ko, who was teaching Introduction to International Relations, to use the simulation in her course, too. (Ko is now an assistant professor of global affairs and human security at the University of Baltimore.)

The pair collected data on the effectiveness of the approach, which they then published as a journal article, Using Game of Thrones to Teach International Relations, published in 2018.

They received encouragement to turn the journal article into a book—Game of Thrones and the Theories of International Relations—which was released by publisher Lexington Books on December 15, 2019.


"An exciting new tool" for international relations professors

A manuscript of the book was well-received by students in Young's Introduction to International Relations course during fall semester, commenting that the book was enjoyable to read and explained international relations concepts more clearly than other textbooks on the topic.

The book will be used by Young and Ko in future courses on international relations theory and human rights. Ko said, "The book's material will help students understand how human rights can be connected with popular culture, and also help them envision what human rights violations may constitute in our world today."

Charli Carpenter, professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, told Ko that she intends to use the book for her upcoming Game of Thrones and World Politics course.

In an advance review of the book, Carpenter wrote, "Tying together an array of commentary, history, theory and literary analysis, Ko and Young have written the definitive primer on what the tragedies of Westeros and Essos tell us about how to understand world politics... the learned Maesters of the Citadel would be proud, and the international relations professors of the world have an exciting new tool at their disposal!"


Mentorship at Purdue

Both Ko and Young cited their mentors at Purdue as contributing to their lives and early careers as assistant professors. 

Young remarked, "I had excellent mentors at Purdue, especially Dr. Daniel Aldrich and Dr. Rosalee Clawson, whose dedication to their students and their research is something I have always admired and tried to emulate."

"The program at Purdue shaped me to value teaching as much as scholarship," Ko added. "The department has professors who are willing to go the extra mile in mentoring students in teaching and scholarship." Ko mentioned professors Rosalee Clawson, Patricia Boling, Harry Targ, Ann Marie Clark, Mark Tilton, and the late Michael Weinstein as being especially influential for her.



Professor Laura Young specializes in security studies with specific emphasis on resource scarcity and the impact climate change has on domestic and international society, especially as it relates to state development, conflict, and environmental policy.

Professor Ñusta Carranza Ko's academic interests are human rights issues that concern indigenous populations in Peru and transitional justice matters that relate to compliance with truth-commission and reparations work. 


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