Sense and sensibility in simulations: should we try to avoid offending people when we play games?

The festive break has done nothing for either my waistline or my ability to write snappy titles for my blog postings, but as someone noted to me the other day, correlation doesn’t imply causation.

Over the next month or so, I have a mini-whirlwind (a dust devil?) of taking my simulation work to new audiences and locations. The first stop is this morning, all the way at the other end of my campus, where I’m talking with a group of international agents for the university. My good colleague in marketing obviously feels that a simulation is a great way for people to experience what studying at Surrey can be like, so I’m running a game for them.

Deciding what game has prompted some thoughts, both specific and more general.

As in any situation, you need to consider what the purpose of the simulation is to be. Here, I want to showcase how engaging sims are, while also creating a positive environment that the agents will remember when recruiting or advising students. I don’t need to communicate any substantive information, although I will need to show that there are lessons to be learnt by playing the game.

Since this is a situation I’ve had before (including late last year, when the Duke of Kent came visiting), I went with small crisis game set-up that I’ve used many times. It’s quick, simple and the peril of the situation helps get people to buy into it.

I’ve got various different scenarios on file for this game, with varying degrees and types of peril. Conscious of the multi-national mix of the agents, I picked one that was only an indirect threat and which made no allusion to any identifiable part of the world. Having once caused mild offence by using a real country as ‘the enemy’ in a game, I have taken to the realm of my imagination for naming people and places.

Despite my efforts to be non-controversial, it was felt that the peril of the game was still potentially risky. Operating – in effect – as a sub-contractor to the organisers of the agents’ visit, I had neglecting to sufficiently consider the organisers’ needs. In retrospect, this is completely understandable, but it contains a wider lesson, namely the need to bear in mind all the stakeholders in the use of simulations.

Thus, when I go up to the North of England next week, to do teacher training, I’ll need to think about the Political Studies Association (who’ve organised this), as well as the teachers themselves. Likewise, a trip in February to Germany to help some colleagues in Freiburg needs to reflect my interests on this blog as well as my own personal interests, since they read this (hello!).

I’m comfortable with this, not least because I teach about negotiation most of the time and so I recognise the importance of understanding your interlocutors and the context. However, if this is something new to you, then you might usefully spend a few minutes reflecting on the question I posed at the top of the blog: what’s the purpose? Scope that as broadly or narrowly as you like, but scope it all the same.

In this case, I’ve got fall-backs, so since I can’t put my group of agents in peril, I will use them as guinea-pigs instead. You might recall my problems late last year with my slugs and worms game: people doing things I’d not fully considered as options. Well, I’ve rewritten (again) the gameplay, and I’m trying it out this morning. If it all pans out, then I’ll post it up and will tell you more. If not, I’ll still tell you about it.

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