Games are a way to simulate complex, real-life situations in a simplified manner that anyone can understand. The interactive and engaging nature of the role-play experience is a model for experiential learning that is concentrated, but informative and engaging.
When applied to policy problems, games are able to simulate institutional mechanisms and complex policy frameworks to translate abstract theoretic concepts into concrete reality. While policy choices can often take years and decades to reap outcomes in the real world, games and simulations can help provide more immediate insight as to the consequences of specific policy choices. Gameplay provides an instant feedback loop for understanding how individuals make decisions based on the problem-definition of a policy problem. It also creates a space for the layering of otherwise discreet policy problems to simulate how different policies interact.
Games are useful in their ability to simulate:
• Decision processes based on the asymmetry of information
• Changes in norms and values over time
• Information overload and impaired decision-making capacity
• Policy incentives for cooperation versus fragmentation
• Consequences of the tradeoff between policy choices
• The balance of short-term self interest with long-term collective gain
• Challenges to fixed preferences
• Decision-making under conditions of scarcity
• Power dynamics and structures
• The influence of institutions in shaping behavior
For understanding complicated environmental policy problems, social and participatory games have recently emerged as a tool of understanding the multifaceted forces complicating effective policy solutions (Franklin, et. al., 2003; Klopfer, 2008; and Petranek, 1992). The Department of Defense created simulation training software for combat exercises and in military operation planning (NRC, 1997). In the healthcare arena, the Markle Foundation partnered with popular SimCity developer Maxis to create a simulation game called SimHealth, which created an interactive, virtual model of the U.S. healthcare system (WWICS, 2001). The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation in 2000 released Virtual U, which is being used as a training module for higher-education administrators and managers to understand the economic impacts of university management decisions. A few years ago, the United Nations World Food Program developed “Food Force” – the first humanitarian video game to teach children about the logistical challenge of delivering aid during humanitarian crises (UNWFP, 2005).”
- Kolpfer, E. (2008) “Augmented learning: research and design of mobile educational games”, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA
- National Research Council (1997) “Modeling and Simulation: Linking Entertainment and Defense”, Committee on Modeling and Simulation, Commission on Physical Sciences, Mathematics, and Applications.
- Franklin, S., Peat, M., and Lewis, A., (2003) “Non traditional interventions to stimulate discussion: the use of games and puzzles”, Journal of Biological Education, Volume 37 (2): 79-84
- Petranek, C., et al (1992) “Three levels of learning in simulations: participating, debriefing and journal writing”, Simulation and gaming, Vol 23 No 2:172-185
- World Food Program WFP (2005) “Food Force: The First Humanitarian Video Game”, http://www.wfp.org/how-to-help/individuals/food-force
- North American Simulation and Gaming Association http://www.nasaga.org/