Hello all, as you may have noticed from Dyl’s post, we’re back. I’ve had my hands full with Tea-Powered Games recently. If you haven’t checked us out yet, go see if we are your cup of tea.
Sorry, I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t at least mention it, but I think we have some exciting stuff brewing for anybody who wants to see games tell stories in new and interesting ways. With the shameless plug out of the way, let’s talk about a game you might know nothing about: Democracy 3.
I first came across Democracy 3 when researching a politics-based game design idea, and honestly I was equal parts disappointed and pleased. Disappointed because I might have to seriously reconsider the design I was working on at the time (complete with flashback to possibly needing to scrap a year’s worth of PhD research because of one random paper). I was pleased, however, because it is always great to see serious modern topics given more than a token representation in games.
With that in mind, I’m looking forward to learning from Democracy 3.
Games as tools for learning
How relevant do you think the act or process of learning is to games? Perhaps this isn’t news to you, informed reader, but the answer is almost certainly ‘very relevant’. Many theories of game engagement or ‘fun’ relate directly to the player’s learning curve (take, for example, Raph Koster’s foundational A Theory of Fun for Game Design). These theories generally refer to the kind of learning a person absorbs instinctively through doing: learning by rote.
Democracy 3 is a strategy/simulation style game, so I’m assuming most of the ‘learning’ I can expect in this vein will come down to learning the details of succeeding within the system (how to balance the desires of a variety of voting contingencies and manage the budget, for example), and adapting strategies to best take advantage of that. Pretty standard stuff with a new skin. But wait, there’s more.
Extra Credits does a fine job of introducing and explaining something called tangential learning. Briefly, when a designer references real world facts without reckless abandon, he or she potentially leads the player to take a newfound interest in said facts by putting them in a new or more poignant context.
Go watch the video if you need some examples, but as someone who went and hunted down The Romance of the Three Kingdoms after playing a Dynasty Warriors game, this sort of learning needs little evidence for me.
I can’t help but feel this is the same sort of curiosity-driven force that movie studios rely upon when promoting films by creating a companion game (but utilised for the powers of good rather than twisted for evil). One good example that comes to mind is Spice and Wolf. While not a game, it is an anime and light novel fantasy-fiction with economic themes which certainly garnered my interest in the topic.
Personally, I’ve always felt a bit guilty about having a certain underlying apathy towards government affairs. Democracy 3 probably won’t cure that, but I’m hoping it will have enough substance and research behind it that I will at least have a couple of ‘Huh, didn’t realise that’s an issue’ moments.
So, we have rote learning through mechanics, and we have tangential learning through subject matter, but beyond these two (or perhaps combining them) games also present the opportunity to teach a perspective, probably more so than any other medium. Honestly I don’t have many great examples for this (or enough space here to really give any good examples their due), but it’s something I’m hoping to see more in games (starting, perhaps, with Democracy 3).
Rather than give you more of my exposition on the topic, I’d rather leave you to consider the difference between these two scenarios, and maybe even share your own thoughts in the comments:
1) A movie or TV series about the difficulties of governing (The West Wing comes to mind) which is both engaging and relatively accurate catches the attention of the public. Everybody nods sagely and discusses why it’s all so difficult (as framed by the movie/series or their own opinions), many stick to their beliefs in the face of opposition, maybe an exceptional few percent put in the extra effort to learn more.
2) A game about the difficulties of governing which is both engaging and relatively accurate catches the attention of the public. Everyone who plays it has the opportunity to try to vindicate their own beliefs through play, and also modify those beliefs should they not turn out as hoped (without ever being told by another person ‘You are wrong’). Any discussion around the matter can refer to results, possibilities and even flaws of the game.
It’s idealistic (and obviously lopsided given my career), but I think the scenario hints at the possibilities of conveying perspectives and meaningful testing grounds through games, even if the game itself is not a perfect replica of its subject matter.
I’ll be back in a couple weeks to reflect on my time with Democracy 3. Thanks for reading.