PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Review: Mission Zhobia

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Mission Zhobia is a free, online game developed to develop professional skills for those working on development projects in conflict-prone areas:

Practitioners who are being deployed to conflict-affected settings require strong peacebuilding competencies to navigate through complex socio-political environments, adapt to unforeseen peacebuilding challenges and adjust their strategies accordingly.

This game intends to strengthen these peacebuilding competencies:

1. Conducting context and conflict analysis on an on-going basis
2. Identify and analyse stakeholder perspectives, views and interests
3. Engage effectively in dialogue and build trust with stakeholders
4. Actively engage local stakeholders in finding solutions that fit the context
5. Use the analysis and insight gained to reflect on the implicit theory of change and adjust programming accordingly

It was developed by a consortium of international peacebuilding institutions that “came to together in August 2013 to think about an innovative approach to train essential peacebuilding competencies.” Participating groups include United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), the African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (ACCORD), the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), the Geneva Centre for Security Policy (GCSP), and the PeaceNexus Foundation, in partnership with the game development company &RANJ and the Creative Industries Fund.

Zhobia-image-1.pngIn the game you are a newly-hired project manager being sent by a development contractor to develop and submit an implementation plan for a rule-of-law project in the fictitious, conflict-affected country of Zhobia. In developing your recommendations you will be expected to research the country, consult local stakeholders and earn their trust, and keep abreast of local developments.

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Ultimately you will need to make recommendations about the location of the project, the kind of legal mechanisms your project will support, and the training you will provide. Many of your Zhobian interlocutors favour different things, however—and all the time you are under pressure from your boss to get things moving.

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Once you’ve submitted your recommendations the game will score your proposed solution, as well as how well you understood the local context, engaged with key stakeholders, identified perspectives, built trust, and adjusted your proposals to fit local circumstances.

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The game mechanics are fairly straightforward, and it is playable in 30 minutes or so. More information becomes available to you as you play, whether in the form of background readings, phone messages, local media reports, or meetings. As you enter into dialogue with stakeholders you are periodically given a menu of possible statements or responses. Choose badly and you may damage trust and alienate your counterpart. Choose well and you will build trust and gain better understanding of the situation. You will also “unlock” new options or interlocutors.

Be warned, however: if you mess up, you can’t retrace your steps or set up a second meeting. If you fail to “unlock” certain stakeholders or initiatives, your options will remain limited.

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Overall, I thought Mission Zhobia was very well done. I wasn’t convinced in absolutely every case that the game’s preferred response was actually the best response, but they have done a good job of introducing some degree of challenge and not making every choice blindingly obvious. It can seeming a little “gamey” when you want to do something but need to find the stakeholder dialogue to unlock the possibility, but this only a minor quibble, and perhaps unavoidable given the designers’ emphasis on an intuitive interface and gameplay.

One major shortcoming is the absence of guidance on integrating gameplay into a broader pedagogy. The website could be enhanced by some suggestions on debriefing/discussion, which is often the single most important part of games-based learning. It would also have been useful if they had suggested resources for additional reading.

I will certainly be using Mission Zhobia in future in my own peacebuilding course at McGill University. I also look forward to seeing what other learning materials the consortium might produce.

2 responses to “Review: Mission Zhobia

  1. Frauke de Weijer 22/06/2017 at 6:50 am

    Dear Dr Rex Brynen,

    Thank you very much for discussing our game Mission Zhobia: Winning the Peace in your blog! It is really good to see it is being picked up across the world, and it would be fantastic if you would indeed integrate it in your course at the University.

    We would like to offer a quick answer to your last point about the guidance for trainers. The reason we did not integrate this into the website is because our consortium members are all training institutes themselves. They will integrate it into their own training programs, and develop their own pedagogical material around it. However, as we put it out online for all to use (with the exception of commercial training institutes, who we expect to make a contributing to the running costs of the game), it may be worthwhile to still consider putting some guidance up for institutions such as yours. We will take it into consideration again in our future consortium meetings.

    best regards,
    Frauke de Weijer & Peter Cross
    PeaceNexus Foundation

  2. Rex Brynen 22/06/2017 at 2:18 pm

    Thanks for the comment on my comments!

    In my experience many humanitarian and peacebuilding organizations do a very poor job of debriefing simulations–typically, much worse than universities. Consequently, developing some recommended best practices would probably be quite helpful, especially if you develop other games going forward.

    ECB, of course, did a major project on humanitarian simulation a few years back (http://www.ecbproject.org/ecb/the-ecb-project-case-study-simulating-the-worst-to-prepare-the-best-a-study-of-humanitarian-simulations-and-their-benefits). However, while this repeatedly mentioned the importance of curriculum integration and debriefing, it offered very little guidance on how to do this well.

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