This week I’d like to showcase a simulation created by Professor Timothy McCarty at Franklin & Marshall College. In the course of conversation he admitted that he had created his own game and we talked it over. Feel free to contact him if you’d like to get his playing notes and rules. (firstname.lastname@example.org) I wanted to share this because I LOVED the ideas and the easy merge with existing literature. He is the mastermind behind this and any errors or omissions are my fault.
McCarty was working with some theory texts as well as Mearsheimer’s book “Why Leaders Lie.” Rather than conduct a lecture or discussion, he crafted a game that he calls
“The Truth About Lies”
Students are leaders of their respective nations and are walked through a series of crises in which they must decide to lie or tell the truth to their citizens and other countries. Each student or team of students has a country for which there is an assigned “truth index” As leaders manage their crises and begin their lying a die is cast to determine the public and the other leaders’ degree of suspicion that the truth is being told. At risk is the potential for war, extinction, and revolution with each lie. He also creates variation among states based on their regime type: democracy, aristocracy, and monarchy.
The key notion that McCarty really enjoys about this simulation is the contingency associated with getting caught or getting away with the lie. Since it is decidedly the case that leaders lie for very strategic purposes, and according to Mearsheimer, more often to their publics than to other leaders, the game takes on an element of risk taking that ought to be a fundamental component of the debrief afterwards.
The part that really got my attention about this game is that it is DIRECTLY tied into the text the students are reading. Mearsheimer’s book has several chapters on the kinds of lies and the reasons for lying. As the students make their choices and gamble their way through each crises, McCarty only accepts their bids if they can point to and explain their choice based on the book–as in…pointing directly and referencing the text directly.
The book itself is highly readable, short, and punchy making the combination of the two remarkably easily to adjust to and learn.
McCarty tried this game over the course of one class period and strongly suggests that future attempts will be done with at least 2 class periods. McCarty has designed the game for a smaller class of up to 20 working in teams, and limits the number of overall countries in the mix because the interactions and managing the game would become complex with too many nations.
As I see it, the game is decidedly highly portable and can be incorporated into a basic IR course that incorporates presidential decision making, secrets, great leader theories of power, and any section on cognitive or psychological explanations. What I love most about this game is at its most basic form clearly and easily twins with the text and forces the students to operationalize Mearsheimer’s central thesis through active demonstration. It forces students to recognize the awful truth about pragmatism, leadership, and lying and when lying might just be the best thing to do.