PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Still more reflections on a megagame

The following piece was written by Thomas Fisher, who served as Economic Control during the recent New World Order 2035 megagame in Montréal. You’ll find earlier reflections by Vince Carpini (Science Control) and myself (Map Control) here and here.


 

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New World Order 2035: A new era for Montréal gaming

February 20th, 2016 saw an historic gaming event for Montréal: her first ever megagame. Under the guidance and tutelage of the Grand Master of megagames, Jim Wallman himself, the Montréal Control Team and player community pulled off an exhausting, exhilarating and extraordinary day of gaming excitement.

The premise seemed simple (as if): in the near-future, faced with climate change, shifting power balance, unequal resources and (rather effective) rogue elements, the 100+ participants would shape the geopolitical, scientific and economic narrative of the world. Mastering the ever-shifting economics, research, technology diplomacy and military struggles of this new world became the aspiration of 16 country-teams, 4 mega corporations, the world’s press, cutting edge (rather competitive) scientists, the United Nations, and a very sly cadre of anarchist terror cells with their own chaotic agenda.

The game culminated in a possibly scary future where an independent AI believed it knew what was best for this technology-dependent, über-connected world, and began acting on this belief.

Of course, the destination only part of any journey’s story. Along the path to the New World Order, scientific discovery, unhindered by controls lead to the regeneration of dinosaurs, but also the cure for cancer. Altruistic countries came together, forging an alliance made possible, in particular, by the diplomatic efforts of the Vatican, and free sharing of technology by states such as Canada, to ratify a complex and comprehensive Climate Change Treaty, forcing all countries to take an immediate and substantial economic hit for the greater good. This New World saw a nuclear warhead fall into the hands of a terror cell, whose goal it was to detonate the devastating device in New York, and they succeeded. Meanwhile, mega corporations, merged and plotted as they were developing technologies that saw them achieve near country status as they weaponized bio-weapons and agents, selling cures to only the highest bidders.

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The immediate takeaways were how immersive and engaging the MegaGame experience could be. Emotions ran very high in some instances, but the players did, certainly, keep all in perspective (and fun).

It became immediately clear that game success relied on player buy-in, and quality a Control team to keep things running smoothly. While we may have used more Controls, I do not think we could have found any better. Playing the careful role of arbiter, coach and occasional encouragement provider/shoulder to lean on, the Control team performed exceedingly well in this baptism of fire!

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Following discussions with various Control members and some player-participants, room for improvement was certainly identified:

  • Megagames have been the domain of experienced war gamers, role players and the pro gamer community. This run with a more casual-gamer, student population revealed a need for a simplified guide to the possible. A number of players felt initially overwhelmed by the vastness of the possibilities in play, being used to more structured rules-based games. Adapting the rules and guidelines to the particularities of the Montréal setting will be a priority to future megagames.
  • Some roles need to be more clearly defined, with hands-on guidelines to keep players engaged. Particularly the Press role who, as arbiters of information and shapers of the narrative, have tremendous power in the game, yet a number of the Press-players felt the opposite. Discussions are ongoing among the control group to develop a game mechanic highlight the media’s role and bring it to the fore.
  • Technology is a powerful asset—when it works. We had unfortunate screen and audio failures (leading to this Control bringing out his old rugby-coach voice) that needed backup. While we recovered with manual substitutes, the confusion was not insignificant to some teams.
  • It became apparent that some game mechanisms were either ignored or deemed insignificant by the players. While a stock market component should have been of particular importance to the corporate teams, they seemed nonplussed by any changes in the market. Whether overwhelmed by other aspects of the game or simply not caring, these small issues will certainly be addressed, and either given prominence in their effect or adapted (dropped) in favour of more effective metrics.
  • Certain Control-specific functions have been identified for improvement. There are certainly some logistics issues with regard to economics that have been identified which will simplify the transfer of funds. Items such as treaties, deals and alliances were handled on the fly with Control-improvised adaptations that will certainly be built into future games. Fortunately, through discussions with players, the participants were completely unaware of any logistics issues that sprung up. Again, highlighting the impact Control has on these games.

As the megagame movement evolves in Montréal, I see it having a very bright future, indeed.

A very special thanks goes out to Jim Wallman for developing the megagame revolution and bringing it to Montréal, that has opened up such possibilities and avenues for gaming excitement.

Rex Brynen, organizer, adapter-of-rules, and all-around games guru, provided such insight and played the role of local control team Captain as only he could.

Vince Carpini, Science Control mastermind and the fastest idea developer and typist I have ever known, who shared this particular megagame baptism of fire with me as hundreds (if not over a thousand…) of emails flew back and forth in the weeks leading up to the awesome event.

The rest of the Control team consisting of: Kaitlyn Bowman (UN), Merouan Mekouar (Corporate), Claire Sinofsky (Americas/Pacific), Karen Holstead (Europe/Central), Ruth Gopin (Africa), Isabelle Dufresne-Lienert (Media), performed so well and with such aplomb that their impact on the game can never be overstated. The success this game enjoys is thanks to you and the engaged players who made for an exceptional day!

Tom Fisher (Economic Control)

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