Saving Setrus: walking a mile in the president’s shoes.

For a blogger presumably focused on education, I’ve written a fairly large number of posts that touch on civil wars and military interventions. While it’s depressing that the world keeps giving me new events that I could work into posts, that sober fact is also a reminder of why I think this subject ought to come up in discussions of education. While I can hope that today’s students won’t ever have to develop informed opinions on if or when military interventions can be justified, I think we’d do well to prepare them for the eventuality. You know, just in case.

It’s my experience that there are two possible dangers when forming opinions on complicated domestic or foreign political issues. The first is that we will be, in the words of Bruce C. Hafen, whom I’ve previously quoted, “more interested in being certain than [we] are in being right.” The second is simply feeling overwhelmed by complexity and resisting coming to any sort of firm conclusion. While there’s something admirable about recognizing when one feels unqualified to participate in such an important discussion, developing informed opinions is also a democratic duty. Furthermore, to not enter the discussion is to give more room for the “certainty over credibility” crowd, which, by the way, is well represented across the political spectrum.

Saving Setrus is an educational game designed at the UK-based Open University that puts students in the shoes of the prime minister of “Hanmark.” Hanmark’s neighbor Laurania is in the middle of a bloody civil war that is now threatening the lives of some Hannish expatriates, not to mention countless Lauranians, and the Hannish PM (that is, the player) is faced with the unenviable task of deciding how to respond. I’ve had the chance to play through a full game of Saving Setrus, and I feel that it does a good job of addressing the two dangers that I mentioned earlier. Let me tackle them in reverse order from how I presented them:

screenshot

First, Saving Setrus puts you in the driver’s seat. Whether or not you feel qualified to make the decisions that the game asks of you, playing the game requires making those decisions. Of course, players are generally not obliged to play a game, but people who are interested in developing an informed opinion on an issue may get more from playing a game that “forces” them to make a decision than from simply chatting about a real world issue at the dinner table or inventing hypothetical scenarios to test out their opinions. If the president or prime minister is the person who has to make the judgment call, we have plenty of incentive to let her shoulder the burden and continue on our merry way. When we’re the decision-maker, though, we have to prepare ourselves to make the important decisions – there’s no one else to rely on.

screenshot 2

I believe that any player who takes Saving Setrus seriously is going to have their certainty rattled. As you can see in the lower right-hand corner of the above screenshot, there are three different scores in the game: humanitarian concerns, legal concerns, and political concerns. There’s no real way to win the game, but there are three different ways to lose, and every decision that advances your score on one track is likely to lower it on another. Initially confident players may have no problem following one of these tracks, but can they stick to their original confidence and still manage not to lose?

Saving Setrus deserves more attention than I can give it here, but I do think it has a lot of potential and I highly recommend that others take a few minutes to try it out. In fact, I can’t wait to play it again myself! I can’t really say that the game is fun, but I do feel like I have a better handle on current events now that I’ve been the PM of Hanmark.

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