Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

A refugee crisis megagame

The following is a guest post by Tom Grant (Serious Games at Work).


Before I say anything, many thanks to Rex for giving me a guest spot here on his blog. Rex and I both have a deep passion for serious games; both of us use them, in different ways, in our day jobs. Rex invited me to write this blog entry to tell you about a megagame planned in Washington, DC in February. Here are the details.

The goal

Now that the US election is over, the natural question is, “What comes next?” The answer: Quite a lot. The agenda during this political season shrank to a minuscule set of issues, leaving many questions—about the economy, national security, education, infrastructure, and practically everything else—unaddressed. Worse, the acrimony that saturated this election made it difficult to have a real discussion about practical solutions. Instead, we got yelling.

One of the issues that got very little attention was the refugee crisis. Americans are not facing the same influx of refugees as Europeans are, but that’s a temporary condition. The US government chose to do less that it could have in the face of the current crisis. However, what we are seeing now is just the first wave. Climate change and future conflicts are likely to compel more people to leave their homes, looking for safety or opportunity elsewhere.

The infrequent conversations about this topic that we have had in the public forum have been acrimonious and fact-free. We feel strongly about refugees, swinging between sympathy and fear. However, most people who are not already deeply involved in refugee issues don’t have basic information that might guide their sentiments in a practical direction. How many refugees are there? How many are men, women, and children? How much does it cost to re-settle a refugee? How big is the risk of a refugee being a hidden terrorist?

The game

That’s why we’re organizing a megagame about the refugee crisis: to provide a forum for a more informed and practical discussion. To play the game, you need answers to the sort of questions that I cited in the previous paragraph. (And we’ll give participants those facts.) It’s a good opportunity to learn a lot in a short period of time, as part of what you’re doing in the midst of the game.

The game is also designed to get into practical solutions, instead of just voicing concerns. The scenario puts the players in the midst of a political controversy here in the nation’s capital: What would happen if the District of Columbia government decided that it wanted to do more for the refugees? This scenario pulls in all the major parts of the US federal government, plus various groups outside the government, from charities to churches to anti-immigration groups to the refugees themselves. It gives them all a chance to make or influence policy…If they can build coalitions, make persuasive arguments, and work within the constraints of politics and the law.

Finally, the game is an opportunity to create greater empathy—and not just for the refugees. One of the reasons we moved to DC was to bring the benefits of serious games to serious political discussions. In the game, you might play a role of someone with whom you don’t agree in real life. You will have to listen to other people in order to win their support. You will have to do more than state positions if you want to get anything done.

The game itself is designed for around 50 participants, organized into a variety of different groups (refugees, DC’s mayor and city council, Congress, Homeland Security, the White House, etc.) We will have a team of referees, as is typical for megagames. It’s free for anyone to join, as either a player or a referee.

If you’re interested in participating, the game is scheduled for Saturday, February 11, from 10 AM to 3 PM. You can sign up on our web site,, where you will find more details, too. Even if you can’t make it, there are ways to support the game.

By the way, there were other topics we considered and could have selected for this megagame, such as terrorism, climate change, and police shootings. We plan on future DC-based megagames to cover these and other topics. There’s a lot for Americans to discuss, so there are a lot of reasons to hold future megagames covering other topics.

Tom Grant

2 responses to “A refugee crisis megagame

  1. Rex Brynen 22/11/2016 at 8:55 am

    Lorenzo: I’ve toyed around with a couple of game approaches on this, one at Connections UK 2016 (where players assumed the role of human traffickers) and another at Dstl (where we discussed a possible matrix game approach to the migrant crisis). Let us know how you get on!

  2. Lorenzo Nannetti (@LorenzoNannetti) 11/11/2016 at 3:53 am

    Dealing with the migrant flows to Europe myself – will give a lecture to NATO personnel at the end of this month – I was thinking about creating a game on similar topics but from an European perspective, with European dynamics at play. I feel that the two main dynamics would be 1) the differences between perceptions and reality, both in the phenomenon itself and in the effectiveness of solutions; 2) the differences between how different perceptions influence national responses (as we see inside EU). This will likely be something I’ll work on next year.

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