Politics By Other Means – a Serious Game for Education?

I’m off to the Glasgow School of Art in mid-week for a Workshop on History & Games. The Workshop has the stated main goal “to give a state-of-the-art picture of Serious Games in Education, in particular in the learning domain of history, and to identify further opportunities of using digital or analogue games as a teaching tool in this domain, but also more widely.”

Although Politics By Other Means wasn’t specifically designed as a Serious Game in Education (and neither was Mission Command, the WW2 miniatures rules mentioned elsewhere in this blog), I wonder if it could be. Previously I said about the game, that it “would attempt to show the tendency to extremes that Clausewitz mentions, and that [it] might also introduce variants to show the limitations of more realistic warfare, such as 18th century so-called “limited” war, Napoleonic wars, even WW1 and WW2″. The current design does a lot of that, I think, though I’m having a bit of trouble with the WW2 variant.

There are two key issues for me with creating a Serious Game in Education. One is the extent, if any, of the compromises within the design that might need to be made to fulfil its educational purposes, and the other is how to wrap any information supporting the educational purposes around it. I am not a teacher.

The first issue is a vital one to me as a game designer. My original design for the Basic Game of Politics By Other Means had a potentially very abstract aim for the players. You won by having the most VPs at the end of the game, but “The game ends when both players agree to end the game.” My purpose in this original version was to get players to engage with the relationship between the end of a war and “winning” a war, particularly by looking at a typical end-state of the game. For example I have occasionally had games with this version, where a peace agreement was suggested on the basis that, although one side had more VPs, the other side had possession of the neutral country, and therefore both sides could claim some form of ‘win’. Or a draw might be offered and accepted, if both sides were under significant doubt about victory. Importantly, in the vast majority of games the end-state was very obvious devastation of each country (usually down to 0 VP-generating capacity) and very powerful armies (usually the ‘winner’ would have army strength increased from the starting 1 up to 5 or 6).

This notion of a messy end condition might work well in a philosophy or war studies class, so might be appropriate for an educational version, but isn’t so great when in a conventional gaming context, where two players are simply playing a “filler” wargame. Therefore, the current version of the Basic Game has more classical, readily understood end game and victory conditions: “The game ends at the end of any turn that both players agree to end the game, or when one player has gained 21 VPs. The winner is the player with most VPs.” The players’ aim in this version is to get the most VPs of the pool of 40 VPs available, so it avoids the messiness about the meaning of winning. The design gains by having a clear cut aim and outcome, which I consider quite important for a “filler” wargame, but loses the potential for discussion about what the aim and outcome might represent, when applied to the real world.

The second issue about the educational wrapping is critical, if I decide to make more progress with the game as a Serious Game in Education. This also applies to an extent with Mission Command. What do I need to put in the “educational wrapper”, and how do I wrap it?

I confess I haven’t got any ready answers yet. I’m open to suggestions and hoping to learn a lot at Thursday’s workshop!

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1 Response to “Politics By Other Means – a Serious Game for Education?”


  1. 1 Jonathan Garnett September 25, 2016 at 14:10

    Sounds like a very interesting potential development – balance is between a game-enjoyment and both sides with a chance of winning and maybe more of a simulation to understand the positions and possibilities of the respective combatants. I think a good game set in a historical context should always have at least an implicit aspect of education.


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