My colleagues at Carleton University recently hosted me in Ottawa for two days to teach a professional development workshop on “Serious Games for Policy Development and Capacity Building” for the Office of Professional Training and Development at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs. I’m happy to report that it all seemed to go very well.
The eighteen students in the workshop varied widely in terms of past experience, ranging from game designers and professional wargamers to those new to serious gaming. The group’s backgrounds and interests were equally varied: national defence, public safety, international development, peacebuilding, housing policy, employment and social development, and communications.
While much of what I had to say was pitched at an introductory level, none of the more experienced folks seemed too bored. Indeed, they were all very generous in offering their ideas and insights to the group.
Talking about serious games.
On the first day, I provided an overview of how games have been used to better understand public policy and national security challenges, drawing upon both historical cases and my own serious gaming experience. We then moved on to look at a range of key issue areas, including:
- setting objectives
- resources and infrastructure
- scenarios and roles
- models, rules, and procedures
- game control, facilitation, and data collection
- prebriefing and debriefing
After lunch we discussed seminar and matrix games. To illustrate the latter, we played through a few turns of the Reckoning of Vultures scenario from the Matrix Game Construction Kit. While hopefully not too directly related to anyone’s official duties—the game involves a dying President and coup plotting by his would-be successors in the fictional Republic of Matrixia—it nicely highlighted the ways in which matrix games can encourage both innovative thinking and critical analysis. It was also rather fun, for the participants turned out to be a rather cunning and devious lot!
Plotting and counter-plotting in Matrixia.
That evening, about a dozen of us from the workshop congregated downtown for dinner and casual gaming at The Loft Board Game Lounge.
Gaming at The Loft.
The following day we discussed interactive narrative (“choose your own adventure”) games, a variety of advanced gaming techniques, gaming pathologies, online resources, and materials and graphics.
We also held a “game lab” session in which workshop participants were broken into three groups and asked to develop a serious game proposal. Three very good sets of ideas soon emerged:
- An election game, highlight the role of contemporary media in influencing key political demographics.
- A foresight and brainstorming (matrix) game, exploring the positive and negative effects of artificial intelligence on differing groups and sectors in Canada (business, workers, the tech sector, government).
- A matrix game exploring the public policy, urban development, economic, and planning issues around the proposed effort to move the Ottawa Senators hockey team to a new arena in the LeBreton Flats area near downtown.
We then discussed the strengths and weaknesses of each proposal, offering suggestions on how the preliminary design might be further refined.
The workshop ended with a broader discussion, and few final observations. For those who are interested, the full set of workshop slides can be downloaded here (81MB pdf).
The participants were all enthusiastic and brimming with ideas, which made it a really enjoyable two days. I’m very grateful to Bryan Henderson of NPSIA-PT&D who organized the workshop. Special thanks are also due to fellow PAXsims editors Tom Fisher and Major Tom Mouat (Defence Academy of the UK), and to Colonel Jerry Hall (US Army). Tom, Tom, and Jerry not only facilitated the various game lab sessions on the second day, but the four of us also shared a single large suite at Les Suites Hotel—temporarily rendering it something of extra-dimensional nexus of global matrix gaming experience.