In the face of war, learning games can promote understanding 

In our volatile and ever-changing world, game-based approaches to learning can provide a deeper understanding of democracy, politics, economics, conflict, and even war – and point us towards active citizenship. 

By Christos Anthis, Chief Learning Strategist 

So, war broke out in Europe. For most of us, this development was contrary to all expectations and beliefs held until hours before the invasion of Ukraine. Now, weeks later, many of us are still in shock and trying to understand the particulars. How, and why is aggression of such scale possible in a supposedly inter-connected world, where what happens at one end of the Earth has immediate impact at the other?

We question our technological and social progress as a species, and we fear future developments which seem totally unpredictable, perhaps almost random. We doubt the value of diplomacy and communication between nations. We are distracted from work and play, and we wonder what must happen for the war to stop. Some of us send aid. Some take to the streets in protest. Most of us are just confused and disappointed. 

I strongly believe that answers to the most pressing issues the world is facing begin with education and learning. Certainly, the global rise of populism, which in turn leads to the abuse of democratic processes and institutions – and often to violence, is largely due to poor education.

Lack of ability to evaluate arguments objectively, poor grasp of history, incomplete and inaccurate understanding of how economic resources are created and allocated; these are shortcomings that plague billions of people worldwide, even in so-called ‘first world’ countries. And they’re all symptoms of an almost global take on education that values exam results more than real knowledge and skills. Antiquated teaching practices prevent active learning, disengaged learners do what they need to do to pass an exam, enter university, get a degree, but not what they need to do to truly learn, and understand the world around them. 

With understanding comes action. At CCS, we are convinced that well educated citizens are astute and active citizens. No politician, however shrewd, can ever convince an educated electorate that armed conflict is the only answer.  

Today, we look at two brilliant examples of learning as it should happen. With plenty of interactivity, with the learner deeply engaged, and with life-changing learning objectives being achieved.

DEMOCRACY by Positech Games 

Democracy casts you as the leader of a country facing several problems and challenges. Opportunities for economic and social progress are there, too. How you will approach the situation is up to you. The game is a sandbox learning environment where you can test your political ideas. Guess what: there is no great secret, no recipe for success. No matter what you do to please your electorate, there will always be those who vehemently disagree with you. 

The developers themselves label the game ‘a strategy game, not a political protest’. The game doesn’t take sides. It won’t judge your approach – it will just force you to make extremely difficult choices and face their consequences.

Will you prioritize production over scientific research? Will you make people temporarily poorer in order to build a green economy? Will you cut military spending in order to help small businesses?

In the end, will you pursue your vision of a better country, or will you try to please as many power centres as possible in order to cynically win the next election? 

The interface of Democracy makes it very obvious that every political decision you make affects more things than you think.

Democracy is a complex political simulation, one that achieves literally hundreds of learning objectives. The most important one is that social compromise is key to the progress and even the survival of society. 

SUZERAIN by Torpor Games 

As newly elected President of the much-troubled country of Sordland, you are faced with an ailing economy, internal strife, an unstable global environment, and people clamoring for democratic reforms.

Suzerain is less complex than Democracy, less of a simulation and more of a story-based experience. But the massively detailed information about your country’s history and its key people, as well as the insanely interesting choices you have to make, result in a learning experience filled with ‘a-ha!’ moments.  

As President, you will enact economic, social, diplomatic, and military policies. But you will also have to decide who to please, who to trust, and, importantly, who to sacrifice.

Your Vice President has also been your best for decades, and although he has only the country’s best interest in mind, he is quickly sliding down the path to alcoholism. Will you keep him in service, or replace him? Your son has failed to get into university. Will you teach him a lesson by making him resit the exam next year, or will you send him to a private university abroad? 

While Democracy offers deep learning about the technical side of running a country, Suzerain focuses more on the human dimension of politics.

As a learning experience that takes place more in the affective domain, it helps you understand that political actions are not always politically motivated. In the late stages of the game, when an invasion by a much larger country is about to happen, you are given choices which are painfully similar to today’s reality, and you are left to realize that well-educated minds are fair, peace-loving, and resourceful minds. 

If you want to talk to us about learning games and how they can help the world, please get in touch. 

May peace return soon.

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