Online asynchronous simulations – challenges and opportunities

For the past month I’ve been running my first online, asynchronous simulation, as part of the INOTLES project. We’re now coming into the final stretch of the game, so I’m thinking about how it went.

The game itself has a set of states who have to find a modus vivendi between themselves. They look a lot like the EU, some East European places and Russia, but with various things changed, so we don’t just reproduce those places and their relations. Players are given a state, some basic stats and interests and then are left to it. Weekly cycles require everyone to post positions and/or actions by Friday lunch, and if I need to intervene, then I’ll post on Monday morning.

One option I didn’t model…

The practical experience has been rather salutary for me.

Beforehand, I knew that getting participation was going to be the real issue and so it’s proved. The closest participant is about 200 miles away and the furthest is more like 1000 miles distant: teams for states were deliberately mixed up, so anyone playing has had to invest quite some time, just to get their team active. It would be fair to say that not all teams managed this.

I’ve not pushed very hard on this, partly because I have little scope so to do, but also because I’m running this as part of a training trainers exercise, so I want the players to think about how they are going to handle similar situations themselves. It’s a bit jujitsu, but there’s enough there for it to work.

The second big issue has been the asynchronisity/asynchronousness/not playing all at the same time. A week might make sense from the perspective of busy people trying to sort out positions, but it means that in four weeks we’ve not moved very far, or very fast. That reinforces the problems of engagement and participation: without a pressing problem, who’s going to feel a urgent need to react?

And this feeds into a final issue, the very open-ended nature of the game itself.

I’ve kept away from IR-type games, because it seemed like there was a lot I was less comfortable with, plus the notion of trying to capture all that international actors can do to each other was a bit daunting, especially in a made-up scenario. However, colleagues in the project had expressed interest in a sim about the European neighbourhood, so in I plunged.

The paradox seems to me to be that by saying to players that they can do pretty much anything, they end up doing little. Perhaps if I’d limited it to diplomatic exchanges then that might have focused minds some more, but that doesn’t necessarily help in building understanding of the complex interplay of factors. Indeed, I almost feel like using the real-world case would have generated more buy-in, even if it would come at a price of heightened emotional factors.

In short, it’s not easy, building games, especially when you’re trying something new, regardless of how much you’ve done it before.

Once I finish the sim, I’ll debrief the players and use that to inform some redesigning (which is also why I’ve not posted any materials yet). In addition, I’m also getting my students here at Surrey to play the game, all through to Christmas, so I’ve got some scope to try out a couple of ideas on them.

By treating a sim as being in a state of permanent beta, I can live with the uncertainty, and I can plan for it. In part that’s possible because I’m as interested in the process of negotiation and of sims as I am in the substance of the game itself, but it requires a bit of fore-thought and a willingness to adapt on the hoof.

The Real Thing II

Moxie Real Thing 2For my international relations course this fall, I’m introducing a series of brief simulations — two class periods each. I’ve created a preparatory writing assignment that I call the “briefing memo” for each simulation. Here are the instructions:

You are employed by the Humanitarian Information Unit at the U.S. Department of State (HIU). A new President has been inaugurated, and the President’s senior foreign policy advisors want to identify potential areas of conflict around the world. The HIU has been assigned the task of providing these advisors with its assessment of locations that have a history of political and economic instability. Your job is to write a briefing memo for your superiors that does the following:

♦  Analyzes and references the information that is contained in the articles and reports that have been provided to you by HIU staff.
♦  Identifies reasons why conflict might occur in this location.
♦  Explain what form the conflict is likely to take if it does occur.
♦  Recommends in one sentence what the U.S. government’s response should be if conflict does occur.

Your superiors are extremely busy and want information that is concise, detailed, and easy to read. The memo must be in single-spaced paragraphs with a blank line between each paragraph, 11 or 12 point font, and no longer than two pages. Sources should be cited within the text rather than with footnotes or endnotes—for example, “(Eggers, 87)”. The body of the memo should include sub-headings of “Overview” (one paragraph), “Conflict Scenario” (at least one paragraph), and “Recommendation” (one sentence).

I’ve linked these instructions with a sample memo on the course’s website.

Links to the entire Real Thing series:

Wealth Inequality Game

Here is a game that I recently ran in my class.  This was one of those occasions where I was thinking about how to teach a particular set of lessons, developed the game during the drive to campus, and decided to run it, half-baked as it was.  Despite that, it worked very well. As always, feel free to use and adapt in your classes–just let me know in the comments how it went!  A version of the below post was also recently published in the May 2014 ALIAS newsletter.

Wealth Allocation Inequality Game


This is a very simple game that helps illustrate some important ideas about wealth inequality, voting rules in international financial institutions, and the connection between wealth, merit, and fairness.

In the game, students must decide through discussion how to distribute a resource—a coin worth extra credit–amongst themselves.  In each round, there are a different amount of coins available for distribution, and the rules for distribution change.  At the beginning of the game, there are enough coins for everyone to have one, but they become scarcer as the game goes on, and those with more coins from prior rounds are given advantages that makes it easier for them to acquire coins in later rounds.  Those who receive fewer coins in early rounds are actually silenced in later rounds.

The point of the game is to illustrate how in the international economic system, wealth can beget wealth, and the power is in the hands of the wealthy.  Those who are poor tend to remain poor, and become voiceless in the discussion.  Using extra credit ties the exercise to students feelings about merit and fairness, and helps us explore the role of these qualities in wealth and the behavior of the wealthy.  Due to this, the game can easily be adapted to lessons on poverty, structural inequality, and even the political process of redistribution of income.

Learning Objectives:

  1. Give students a fun and engaging way to explore weighty concepts of global wealth inequality
  2. Provide an application of weighted voting that helps students understand how such rules matter in terms of outcomes.
  3. Illustrate one set of arguments on how rich countries stay rich and poor countries stay poor.
  4. Help students examine their thoughts and emotions about fairness and merit into and use it as a springboard for discussion about the obligations of wealthy states to poor ones.

 Equipment needed: some kind of monetary unit, such as fake coins, poker chips, printed money, etc., but with no value denoted on it.

# of students: tested fine with 20, but is easily scaled by size of the class; in very large classes you might split the students into groups by section to keep it manageable.

 Prior knowledge: none necessary, as this is an organic game (Kollars and Rosen 2013), but should be done in conjunction with a lesson on north-south relations and global inequality.  It can also work easily as an inroad for discussing poverty and inequality on a more local scale.

 Introductory Instructions: Tell the students that you are going to make a certain number of coins available for them to distribute amongst themselves, and that there will be several rounds to the game.  Each coin will have a set value of extra credit (EC) points (I structure my classes to be worth 10000 points so that EC is generally not overwhelming); the number of coins they have at the end of the game will determine how much EC they earn.

 Additional Instructions for the Instructor:  Do not tell students what each round is about; only tell them the rules. After you set the rules for each round, resist the urge to interfere in the discussion. In fact, studiously ignore the students until they have reached a decision for the round and inform you of that.  Don’t answer any of their questions, and don’t help them.  Instead, focus on recording their reactions and arguments so you can return to them for the debrief.

Students may want to redistribute their coins at various points in the game; it is up to you whether you want to let them.  I usually let them do so in between rounds, but not during.

 Gameplay:  The game has four rounds.  At the start of each round, you put a number of coins on a central table, instruct the students on the decision-making procedures, and then tell them the current value of the coins.  Feel free to change the rounds up and adapt to your group’s gameplay.  They always have the option to leave the coins in the common pool.  (You can, if you like, allow this to count as an investment, where coins in the common pool generate new coins for future rounds).

Round 1: Consensus + Plentiful Resources

Rules: the number of coins available = number of students in the class.  Decision on distribution of coins must be by consensus.  Coin value = 5 points of EC each.

Round 2: Majoritarianism + Scarce Resources

Rules: the number of coins available = # of students/2.  Decision on distribution method must be made by majority rule vote; each student gets 1 vote.  Coin value =5 points of EC each.

At the end of Round 2, record the coin count of each student; this is needed for the next round.

Round 3: Weighted Voting + Scarce Resources

Rules: the number of coins available = # of students/2.  Decision on distribution method must be made by majority rule vote; each student gets a number of votes equal to the # of coins they have.  No redistribution of coins is allowed until after the round is over.  Anyone with zero coins at the start of this round has no votes, and in fact is not allowed to talk at all during the discussion. Coin value = 10 EC points each.

Round 4: Absolute Rulers + Scarce Resources

Rules: the number of coins available =# of students/4.  They are given directly to the two students with the highest # of coins; they may choose to redistribute them or not.  They can accept arguments from the other students, but the decision is entirely theirs; the coins belong to them and they can keep them if they wish. Coin value = 10 EC points each.


Following the Steinwachs (1992) model of debriefing, start with unpacking the emotional reaction to the game.  Frustration and anger can flare up during this game, if perceived ‘undeserving’ students get large amounts of extra credit, or if the EC is distributed equally and those with greater need feel slighted.  One the emotions get unpacked a bit, move on to the second stage: analysis.  Ask them about their decision-making process, focusing in particular on how they decided who should get EC—were they committed to equality, to rewarding students who had demonstrated merit (via strong class performance), or to helping those students in need (those who admitted to low grades)?  Did considerations of effort weigh on their minds?  Did some students sacrifice their own self-interest for the sake of others, and if so, why?  The third stage is where you connect the game back to the course material.  In an IR class, you might discuss how the game illustrated the concept of weighted voting, and whether that resulted in desirable outcomes.  Or you could discuss whether their anger at the results should be redirected toward the equivalent actors in the international system (that is, if the wealthy students refused to redistribute their EC, and this made them angry, are they also angry at wealthy states who only redistribute a small amount of their GDP?)  I also found it useful to discuss perceptions of the poor—particularly the commonly held belief that wealthy people have more money because they work harder, and poorer people are simply lazy.

A fourth stage of debrief is always useful in a new game: ask the students what aspects of the game help them understand these concepts, and which don’t, and get feedback so you can adjust the game for future incarnations.

 Adaptations, Applications and Related Exercises:

This game can easily be adapted to lessons in other courses, such as structural inequality, local or national poverty, and decision-making,

You can also run the game by creating fake students, or having students play a role, where the information is very stark and available.  So each player has a given percentage grade in the course which can be openly shared, and students can choose to allocate or not a pool of extra credit to individuals.  You can then also make the allocation pool up from given grades—so a student with a 90% can choose to award 10% points to someone with a 50% if they wish.  The abstract nature of this helps them put into perspective the amount of extra credit being awarded (a grade moving from 50% to 52% is generally viewed as more acceptable than a single student getting 170 points in coins while others only get 10 or 20), and allows us to look at the differences between awarding gains (an extra credit allocation pool) v. losses (where points must be redistributed from those who already earned them).

If using the game for global inequality, a good follow up exercise is the Global Inequality Game in the Jet Wiki, where students attempt to guess at the distribution of global population and wealth.  As that game is more informational, it serves as a nice follow up for this one.


Kollars, N. and Rosen, A.M. (2013) “Simulations as Active Assessment? Typologizing by Purpose and Source. Forthcoming in Journal of Political Science Education 9, 2 (2013).

Steinwachs, B. (1992). “How to Facilitate a Debriefing.” Simulation & Gaming 23(2): 186-95.

The Attack of Dr. X: Collective Security Role Play

Here’s a quick role play exercise that takes about 5 minutes and zero preparation.  Announce to the class that Dr. X down the hall (pick any faculty member, preferably someone they might know or who seems completely non-threatening) has just run into the classroom and randomly tried to tackle a member of the class.  Then ask them what they plan to do about it.  If they hesitate, you can start giving a play by play of what’s going on, and then prompt them again to see if someone is going to intervene.  Usually at this point if not sooner, a student or two announce that they will tackle Dr. X; others might offer to hold him/her down or kick them.  You can continue storytelling–maybe the first tackler gets roughed up a bit. Once five or six students have announced their actions, however, offers dry up as the threat seems to be handled.  Then start quizzing the students who were not quick to act on why–you will get a range of reasons, but at least one student will note that their efforts weren’t necessary.

That is, of course, your in to start a discussion about collective security and the problem of free-riding.  Their willingness to allow other students to handle the threat is exactly the kind of behavior we predict amongst sovereign states in a collective security arrangement, where as long as the threat is handled it is in no single state’s interest to expend the resources for that purpose.

I use this exercise whenever I discuss collective security; usually this is in the context of discussing the League of Nations and why it failed.  Its useful because it is very quick, requires no preparation for faculty or students, and is very effective in making the point.  As an ‘organic’ simulation (see Kollars and Rosen 2013), it allows students to show the truth and practice of the theory through their own actions before studying it formally–thus making them more likely to understand and accept the theory.  Plus, Dr. X can become a villain for the rest of the course, and you can constantly reference him/her whenever you need to discuss ‘threats’ to state systems.


Mission U.S.: Teaching History through Games

Last weekend I had the privilege to attend the first annual CUNY Games Festival in New York.  The conference brought together academics and game designers to discuss means and methods of using games in higher education.  For me it was certainly a ‘these are my people!’ gathering and while I enjoyed presenting my own work (on my interdisciplinary World of Warcraft course), the highlight was learning about a variety of games that are available and useful for the college classroom.  Ill be posting about many of them in the coming weeks.

The first is Mission U.S, a series of free online games aimed at teaching American history to 5th-8th graders.    Designed by historians, each of the three games casts you as a fictional character at a crucial time in history–as a printmaking apprentice on the eve of the American Revolution in Boston; as a young slave in 1848, or as a Northern Cheyenne boy in 1866. They are all essentially single-player role playing games.  The major events are set (you cannot, for example, prevent the Boston Massacre) but you are free to take sides and actions as you choose.  For example, in the first Mission, you can choose your words or actions to support the Sons of Liberty, or to remain loyal to the British.

The games are most appropriate for history courses, but could also certainly be used as an out-of-class assignment to inform introductory or niche courses in American Politics.  For example, I always start my introduction to American Politics course with the historical background preceding the Revolution and the creation of the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution. The first mission could either substitute or complement that lecture, and really set the stage for students to understand the complaints of the colonists and how their experiences informed the writing of those documents.

I also quite enjoyed the gameplay.  Despite the pitch at a younger audience, the games would work quite well for the college crowd.  The interface is easy to use; the gameplay fairly simple but filled with interesting choices that impact the game (the path you choose does matter in terms of options available to you later); and the graphics pleasing.  The games are divided into chapters, which makes it easy to assign concrete chunks to students, and you are free to save the game at any time.  The creators also made educational guides for instructors available, which include lesson plans, learning goals, how-to guides, and cheat sheets.

Again, this is a niche game, and political science professors may find more value in playing it for their own interest and refresher than as an assignment to students.  It may be something to pass on to your colleagues in history–but it also may prove useful in various American Government courses.

Au revoir, zombie apocalypse

I guess I should actually be very happy with my students. Yesterday’s final session of my negotiating politics module was an opportunity for them to put all their learning to good use in dealing with the outbreak of a very infectious disease. That one of their number noticed I had written a zombie game for my website reasonably led some of them to conclude that they might be playing just that game.

The team has developed a measured response to the five cases of the new disease

Of course, we were doing pretty much that, even if I had adapted the game to be less zombie-ish, albeit with some bizarre disease pathways. that had been in response to last year’s group getting a bit too involved in ‘how to kill a zombie’ discussions, as I discussed at the time. However, much of the mechanics (and the crisis element) were re-used, in the form that I have now posted here.

I’ll happily admit that there was still much discussion of zombies (plus a possibly statutory reference to the use of nuclear weapons), but not nearly to the same extent as before. In part, this reflected the preparatory work element, that made space for more operational discussions.

However, it was the students’ discovery of the original game that most interested/exercised me. The ‘sit rep’ PPT had been printed out, so at least one group knew what was coming, leading me to throw in some extra cases, but still they were being shaped by the knowledge of the ‘other’.

During the debrief, I asked the students what they thought the impact had been. The one who had originally discovered it noted that in her role as part of the public communications group, she felt that it hadn’t changed much, since it only reinforced her sense that the scenario was extremely unfavourable, whatever they did, possibly to the extent of making it hard to imagine what action might be possible.

Certainly, this was always a latent tension within the game: plans prove to be inadequate, lines of control are breached, and so on. However, that is usually a growing realisation, rather than a starting point and I worry that the discovery made things more difficult than they needed to be.

From this I take a number of lessons.

Firstly, vary your scenarios. If I’d had some more notice of the discovery, then I’d build a very different scenario, with other locations and profiles, so that the participants genuinely have no idea of what to expect.

Secondly, be clear on what you want. Again, yesterday’s discussion was more strategic than specific (at one point, ‘10% of the army’ were conjured up to encircle Surrey!) and there was a temptation on my part to come back with queries. Indeed, a student-led response group, separate from the others, might be a good device for testing such details and inviting further debate and negotiation. This would require more detailed specifications and information and might make it difficult to run within a two-hour slot, but that’s neither here nor there.

Thirdly, zombies are hard to kill, both literally and figuratively. As soon as someone gets up from the mortuary slab, the zombie tropes come crashing in. As with last year, I have mixed feelings about this: it can open several very interesting questions, but it also become a distraction. How you chose to proceed is something that invites careful thought.

By Way of Discussion

ConversationAs part of my effort to make classroom discussion a more productive part of all my courses, but especially one that uses problem-based learning, I’ve been poking around for helpful advice. I found Discussion as a Way of Teaching, by Dr. Stephen Brookfield. It’s a concise document that makes a lot of great points about how to make discussion pedagogically effective, such as:

  • Students should establish ground rules for how discussions should operate.
  • Instructors can assign students specific conversational techniques and roles that enable them to strengthen connections with others and better exchange information.
  • Rotating students to different or progressively larger discussion groups can lead to a more thorough exploration of possible solutions to a problem.
  • Students can become aware of their own assumptions through a collaborative discussion with their peers, which is very different from having an authority figure (the instructor) telling them what they should know.

A method that I think could be particularly useful to my teaching is an exercise in which each student in a group chooses a conversational role that determines the form of their responses in a discussion. For example, the connector identifies “how participants’ contributions are connected to each other,” while the speculator introduces “new interpretations and possible lines of inquiry into the group.” I can see giving each student project group a list of roles, each member of the group selecting a different role, and students rotating to a different role each day.

Whodunnit? Part 2: Murder Mystery in the Classroom

Back in July I mentioned that I was toying with the idea of using a murder mystery party as a classroom tool.  Today I did just that in my methods class as a nice use of the half-week before Thanksgiving.

Essentially I bought and then adapted a commercially available murder mystery and ran it during a 1h20 session of class.  I assigned each student a role a month in advance, giving them a basic character sheet, some information about the world we were in (it was fairy tale themed), and instructions on what would happen on the day of the event.  The only thing required was willing participation, but I awarded extra credit for those who showed up in costume, threw themselves into the performance, or correctly guessed the murderer.  At the event itself (which I held in our usual classroom, but played music through the computer and brought in some baked goods) I gave them each a nametag, a list of initial objectives (questions to ask other characters and information to impart), some play money to use for bribing information out of others, and another copy of their character sheet.  They had 30 minutes to achieve their initial objectives before the actual murder occurred; then they received a second set of objectives and information and had another 30 minutes to try to figure out who committed the crime, why, and how.  The last 20 minutes I reserved for accusations, explanations, and debrief.

In terms of the event, everything went very smoothly and the students all appeared to enjoy themselves.  I played the victim so they could all focus on solving the crime, but I think that many of them got a bit too caught up in playing their roles and paid less attention to the evidence that I had gathered for them.  None of the students managed to guess the murderer, although several correctly identified the motive and/or the means.  Quite a few of them based their accusations solely on ‘shady’ behavior by a given character; some students admitted to never looking at the physical evidence despite my posting it prominently on the board and suggesting they do so.  I almost considered posting copies of the evidence online and tasking them with thinking everything through a bit more and not revealing the solution until next week, but decided against it mainly because I could not trust that the student playing the murdered would be able to keep quiet for a week, and had no opportunity to ask without raising suspicion. In retrospect, I should have done so.

The debrief phase did involve me tying the exercise back to methods–the whole point was that this was an exercise in analyzing evidence and drawing conclusions, and as students explained their reasoning I pushed them to discuss the evidence and how it influenced (or in several cases played no role in) their deliberations.  But as with most simulations, there simply was not enough time to really dig into this enough to satisfy me.

The Pros:

–the students had a blast, and anytime you can associate methods with ‘fun’ is a win

–the exercise really does have excellent ties to the overall course lessons and learning outcomes.

The cons:

–the exercise definitely needs more time.  Everyone managed to achieve their objectives, but there was little time available for students to really think through the information and evidence, and the debriefing was more abbreviated than I would have liked.

–this was also somewhat time consuming for me.  Although the mystery I bought contained everything necessary to run the event, I need to make a number of adaptations.  This may be particular to this mystery and/or company, but there were several mistakes in the mystery (conflicting information about where one character was living, for example) and the murder was pretty much impossible to solve as written.  I know this because I did a dry run with some friends (mostly faculty from various departments at my university) and got a lot of useful feedback on it.  I therefore had to re-write all of the objectives for each of the 15 characters, both to correct for the inaccurate information and to add information so that every player had enough to go on to be able to have a possibility of solving the crime.  That, as you can imagine, took some time, as did putting together the pre-game envelopes for each student.  All told, it took probably 3-4 hours of prep time for me in the last two days–not including the original character assignment or any time spent doing the prep for the dry run.

I still think this exercise has a lot of potential, so I plan to do it again but with some adjustments.  I would still do the roleplay in a single class session, but give them the evidence and the ability to continue questioning each other online over several days.  Then each of them will have to turn in a 1 page report stating their case, due at the next class (say Thursday for role play, Tuesday for paper + solution and debrief).

I also may experiment with smaller versions of this–ditch the roleplaying and just lay out the facts of the case and evidence for them and set them to solving the crime, rather than participating in it.  I think it will still be fun, but will keep the session more focused on the lessons at hand.

Unintended consequences in simulations

As part of my class for my negotiation module yesterday, the students played ‘Slugs and Worms’, a game that asks them to agree on levels of funding for research into these two fine members of the animal kingdom.

The game stemmed from a desire to explore the impact of voting weights on negotiation dynamics, as part of a session on power. But it’s also fair to say that this game, more than any other I’ve written, has produced numerous unintended consequences.

In its original version, students only got told to agree values for ‘Issue A’ and ‘Issue B’, the values being the same as the money amounts (i.e. what’s now £10m was 10). the upshot was that I spent most of the time in the gameplay trying to explain how it worked and what they had to do (essentially, find a pay-off between the two issues). Once that was done, we could get along, but it wasn’t very elegant.

Discussing slugs and worms. Or negotiation dynamics. Or possibly something else…

Indeed, those first iterations also showed that what I now consider to be the main revelation of the game was something that I’d included by accident. As a way of differentiating players, I’d given each one a name and a country. In gameplay began by sitting in national groups, before reconfiguring into groups with shared values, a process that closely mimics the formation of transnational groups in the European Parliament and which – more generically – highlights the importance of multiple identities.

Thus, I came to foreground this later point in my feedback, but the confusion still remained. After last year’s run, I rewrote the game to its current form.

On one hand, it was a success: everyone understood quickly and easily what they had to do and the whole time was spent negotiating, with the EP-style reconfiguration happening as before.

On the other, the gameplay was totally different, simply because of the use of monetary values.

In the original version, the level of abstraction was such that there was no BATNA (Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement): non-agreement benefited no-one. In the new version, I had unwittingly introduced such a possibility, since any failure to agree would produce a result that met the interests of several players (i.e. the ones with values of £0m for both slugs and worms).

Those students quickly appreciated this and played the room very well, building a blocking coalition and then being indeterminate in their willingness to be flexible, in turn producing more discussion and – ultimately – non-agreement.

In the context of a session on power, the validity of pursuing the BATNA is a very valid point and one that’s worthy of discussion, but it wasn’t what I’d expected to be discussing.

This all prompts two observations.

Firstly, and simply, students often notice things that pass academic staff by.

Secondly, and almost as simply, simulations present a seemingly simple face, but mask much complexity. On two occasions now, it has only been in the playing that the reality of this simulation has been exposed. Until you play, you don’t really know how it’ll work and that’s a useful lesson for all of us to remember.

Poverty Games, Part 6: Papers, Please

Papers, Please explores the challenges of immigration from the perspective of a low-income border checkpoint officer in the fictional country of Arztotska.  The player must make decisions about who to let into the country, examining their documents, trying to weed out potential terrorists, and confronting moral dilemmas on whether or not to help those that may lack the proper paperwork but desperately need assistance.  Each day new requirements are set on who can and cannot enter (one day a passport is enough, the next entrants need ID cards and work visas) based on various story elements, and there are multiple endings possible that result from the decisions made by the player.  Meanwhile, you also must consider accuracy and speed: your salary is based on how many people you correctly process, and failure to earn enough will result in being unable to make rent, heat your home, or provide medicine for sick relatives.  In my first time through the game, all of my family members died because I was too slow in processing entrants.  Thus there are numerous competing moral dilemmas: if I incorrectly process someone on purpose, I will help them, but my family will suffer; too many mistakes, and I will earn enough citations to be fired.

As one example: a woman came into the booth and all of her paperwork was in order–she was entering the country to work.  But as she left she handed me a note which indicated that a man behind her in line had tricked her and was forcing her and her sister into prostitution.  She begged me to keep the man from entering the country, even though his paperwork was in order as well.  Keeping him out would earn me a citation and I would not get paid for his processing, so I chose to let him in.  The news report the following day indicated that she died at the brothel. Human trafficking is therefore part of the story as well.

Papers, Please is a neat game, therefore, that will expose students to some of the challenges operating a border and some of the ways in which international relations (between Arztotska and its neighbors) trickle down to everyday life.  There is also the fascinating set of moral quandrays that you face and can raise questions about justice and the law.  It would work really well as a homework assignment prior to a class session on issues of immigration in general, human trafficking, terrorism, asylum, and authoritarianism.

The gameplay has a bit of an upfront learning curve, but then evens out.  I would recommend having students play through a couple of days just to get used to the procedures, and then load a new game to play for real.  The beta version of the game, which lets you play through about 8 days of the 30 available in the full version, is free here.  There is a full version for PC and Mac available for $10 if you want to have students play through everything.

Earlier entries in the Poverty Games Reviews series:

Part 1: Ayiti the Cost of Life

Part 2: 3rd World Farmer

Part 3: Free Rice

Part 4: Spent

Part 5: Inequality Monopoly