PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Gendering AFTERSHOCK

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Playtesting the AFTERSHOCK gender expansion at National Defense University.

Ever since AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game was published last year we have had numerous suggestions for modifications and expansions. One particular request came from Neyla Arnas, who works on women, peace and security at the Center for Technology and National Security Policy, National Defense University. Would it be possible, Neyla asked, to design a variant of the game that would help to highlight the ways in which gender can shape humanitarian need and humanitarian response?

We were happy to take up the challenge. In doing so we were driven by several key design considerations:

  • First, it is important that players understand that because men and women (and boys and girls) may be affected by disaster in different ways, their needs and vulnerabilities may differ too. Accordingly, effective programme delivery requires recognizing and addressing this. In presenting a gendered perspective as an integral element of operational effectiveness we hope the expansion set neither seems preachy (which might turn off some) nor treats gender as an add-on or side issue.
  • Second, we didn’t want to imply that all gender issues are about women, or that programs that address gender are always the most important priority. Indeed, in a disaster where humanitarian need is intense, urgent, and overwhelming, there may not be the time and resources to address some issues. A central part of the AFTERSHOCK experience is identifying priorities and trade-offs.
  • Third, any supplemental rules or procedures in the game has to be clear and straight-forward. It is essential that they not confuse, excessively complicate, or slow down game play.
  • Finally, any system used for introducing gender issues into the game must be fully compatible with any other expansions we might introduce on other topics in the future. Indeed, ideally all expansions would use the same mechanic, allowing a game to be customized with material from multiple expansions sets.

Initially we thought about simply introducing new events into the Event deck. However, there are limits to this sort of approach. If too many new cards are introduced it distorts the game balance. There is also no guarantee that issues will arise in any given game.

In the end, we have added a few new Event cards, and one new Coordination card. However, the main mechanism of the expansion set is a new “Challenge Phase” that takes place at the end of each game turn. During this phase, players draw a Challenge card, which outlines a problem or need that they can collectively try to address during the coming turn. If they succeed certain benefits will accrue. If unsuccessful, there are costs.

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A sample Challenge card.

As he did with AFTERSHOCK itself, Tom Fisher worked his graphic magic to make the new gaming components clear and engaging.

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Another sample Challenge card.

When we playtested it with volunteers at McGill University the feedback was very positive. This week I took it on the road and tried it out with a playtest group at NDU. There too there seemed to be agreement that the expansion did a very good job of raising issues without distorting the flow of the game.

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Playtesting the AFTERSHOCK gender expansion at McGill University.

We’ll be tweaking the design more in the near future, and hope that the expansion set will eventually be available later this year.

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