Some extensions for the Parliament game

Interestingly, the European Banderwot is much larger than its American cousin

Chad wrote about his use of my parliament game just yesterday, so it’s a good moment to consider how else this basic model can be used. All my materials are here.

For me, the most interesting point is that Chad’s doing something really quite different from my original objective. Indeed, the game is a great one for me to reflect on, because it has undergone one of the more problematic formulation processes of any of my activities.

At heart, it’s a game about the cross-cutting tensions in accumulating power: Chad gives his students their card and another interest, while I have focused just on getting mine to balance ideological coherence with holding a balance of power in the assembly. In both cases, you can see how that can be built on, to illustrate further elements.

Most obviously, you can introduce a second strong cleavage, based on the suit of the card. In my original game, students start sitting with their suit, which represents their home country: that this quickly becomes irrelevant is part of the point, because it mimics the European Parliament. But it’s easy to see how you could make it a live-rail issue or some other factor – subject to lobbying from a particular group, or at risk of deselection – that could provide pause for thought in the formation of groups.

Equally obviously, you can make this an iterated game, with a succession of votes on a variety of topics. The simplest way of running this would be to give students two cards, one from each of two different packs: the first card would be used as above, but the second would add two more preferences that might determine voting. This would then need a system to give value to group cohesion, so that students would have to weigh up costs and benefits in staying loyal or defecting. If the mechanical nature of preference allocation that comes with using cards (and do remember you can stack the deck) is too random for you – or if it is felt to discourage  a more emotional engagement – then you could use Chad’s system of additional notes, given either to groups or to individuals.

However you do it, the idea is one of adding layers into the game, with issues or votes or incentives, each time pushing students to juggle more and more balls.

Indeed, part of me is now thinking that you could run this on a repeated basis, at the end of each class. You’d have the initial groups, then introduce a new topic or dimension before having a vote or two, then ask groups to decide whether to eject or accept individuals into the caucus/group. This might be based on the extraction of promises about commitments or red lines, which would need you to set out the parameters of the arc of forthcoming issues in advance (again, you might want to thrown in a curveball at some point). This would be all quite quick and easy, but illustrating the difficulties of managing political agents, the shadows of the past and the future, and the constant uncertainty of the political world.

Something to write up one day soon, I think.