Yesterday’s class presented an opportunity to do something that I have previously avoided: parallel games. Rather than have half the class play and the other half watch, I split the group (and the room) into two, so everyone had a chance to take part (except the one student who turned up late and took up an observer role).
The students were playing a game that modelled the difficulties of cutting budgets, having to coordinate national and single-currency zone responses, in a simplification of the current euro-zone situation, but also speaking to two-level games more generally. Individuals represented either different ministries or the national government.
The benefits of a parallel game became apparent during the debrief, when we discussed the very different approaches the two games took to achieving their goals: one was very focused on the national-level discussions, while the other concentrated on the international. This gave us a very good way into questions of how groups form, group-think and logics of appropriateness, all of which are less evident when only playing one game. This was in addition to more generic reflections on the influence of individual personalities on negotiations and the conflicting tensions of playing on two levels.
If there were downsides, then they would lie with the difficulties in observations. I had to watch two games at the same time, with only one other person doing the same, instead of the usual situation of one game and a dozen observers. Likewise, the capacity for individual players to consider what was happening across the room was limited, although I’d expect them to talk to each other outside of class about this.
Overall, I found it a useful experiment and I’d look to doing it again, especially with smaller games. Having said that, this particular game is set to get a lot more involved next time around, with more roles and much less likelihood of being played in parallel, but that can wait for another post.