Getting started

TGnew3sI’m starting this blog to communicate the progress of this project, think aloud, and invite feedback on our work. The Refugee Megagame is a labor of love, so I really want to give it the biggest chance of success possible. That’s only possible if people who might be involved hear about the goals, our progress towards those goals, and the points where they might provide some good insights into how we might improve our efforts.

Since I used the phrase “labor of love” in the previous paragraph, I should explain why it’s important to me. In my professional life, I’ve had many happy occasions when I saw how effectively serious games changed the normal rules of interaction for the better. For example, in my work with software development teams, I developed a game that illustrated how important it is to address a sticky problem, technical debt. If you don’t know what that means, it’s easy to understand, even if you’re not involved in the software world. Coding software is a lot like many other creative activities: you can rush through the effort, taking lots of shortcuts that will make it harder for you to fix any problems later on, or even build on what you’ve created. Where did I put that picture of our great-grandparents that I need for our family reunion scrapbook? If I didn’t give it an easy-to-understand file name, I might not be able to find it, let alone anyone who might be trying to help me finish that project.

I’ve been running the technical debt game, Dice Of Debt, with a lot of groups over the last years. I’ve seen the proverbial lightbulb go off during these exercises, among people who did not fully grasp how damaging technical debt could be, and how important it is to make some tough decisions about cleaning it up. Even better, one participant told me, after the session, that she took the game back to her work, played it with her manager, and convinced him that it was worth investing the time and effort to staunch the geyser of technical debt they had created.

Serious games have had the same effect in politics, too. The best example is the city of San Jose, whom my friend and colleague Luke Hohmann convinced to use a game to involve the community in making some very difficult budgetary decisions. Not only was that first exercise a huge success, but San Jose has institutionalized a yearly game as part of its budgetary process.

Luke also ran an online version of a game about the Affordable Care Act, at the time when people were yelling at each other in town hall meetings. In contrast with those screamfests, our session created a serious, respectful dialog among people who fundamentally disagreed over the right approach to fixing the current health care system. The medium matters, and in this case, the game gave us a “magic circle” in which we stepped, where the normal rules of political argument, which were ending regularly in bitter acrimony, didn’t operate. Instead, we focused on how we could arrive at a package of policy decisions on which we could all agree.

Four years ago, when my wife and I moved to Washington, DC, we made it our mission to find ways to bring games to the most acrimonious of political settings. We needed time to establish ourselves, build up contacts, and probe the opportunities and obstacles that might exist.

It’s now time to get started. The Refugee Megagame is our first foray, but definitely not the last. If you’re interested in the results, stay tuned. If you want to get involved, even if you don’t live in the DC area, welcome to the team!


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