I wrote a blog post before I played the The Climate Change Megagame (CCM) in the beginning of the week. I was very excited, the concept and the instructions were hilarious and I went overboard and ran with it. After I played the Megagame (all day Monday) I am not quite as enthusiastic, so this blog post will be an exercise in trying to understand what happened (including figuring out why I was frustrated).
The rules had already in advance stated that you shouldn't try to understand the whole game (it's too complex), but rather concentrate on understanding your own role and then "talk to people". I respect that but I found several different types of complexity that can't possibly have been part of the planned game experience:
- Technical platform complexity. Most people participated on location in Linköping but it was a hybrid game and I participated from Stockholm through my computer. I had not used Discord before - at least not for a task that was as complex as this, and there were unfortunately various technical issues with the platform during the first half of the day, including basic stuff like hearing what was said during the walk-throughs in the room where it all happened in Linköping. We also used a Miro board that I was comfortable with but that was very complex (see images below).
- Hybrid meeting complexity. I can totally understand that people who are on location try to round remote (online) players, because it's a hassle to deal with us. I played a politician, but it was unclear why people would want to talk to me except to beg me for money to solve sudden emergencies that flared up in the game or to get money so their company could solve specific-problem-X. The instructions I had received indicated that it was important to me to have good relations with and try to influence the university and its' researchers, so I posted a message on the researchers' online message board two minutes after the game started. I tried again 45 minutes later but still didn't get any answer. One hour later I instead decided to start to profusely thank the researchers for having done what I had requested two hours earlier in the game (a decade or so had then passed in the game at that time).
MÖGA is very happy that Linköping University decided to start up a slew of transition-compliant educational programs! The students from Linköping are doing miracles and we welcome even more transition engineers, transition economists, transition psychologists, transition teachers and so on! You are needed and you are welcome to continue the Good Fight for a better future for our children!
It is unfortunate but expected that there is some resistance to large (lifestyle) changes but as long as most people understand the need for these changes and work together to reach our climate targets, we are proud of the support from the generous, hard-working, salt-of-the-earth citizens of Östergötland!
To conclude, the researchers basically ignored me (or didn't notice me) because they didn't need me. But if they didn't need to talk to me and perhaps I didn't need to talk to them, who in the game did I actually then need to talk to and who actually needed to talk to me? This was not clear to me also after the game had finished. I even tried to use the media to "wake the researchers' up" in the game, for example by making this statement:
@Ferm Media - Johanna G#4018 We have tried to reach the research community. Are they asleep? They don't read their message board and don't attend to us politicians - despite us picking up the bill for their ivory-tower navel gazing. That's at least what it seems like to us politicians because they are very non-responsive to the needs of the region and are apparently off doing their own things at the taxpayers' expense!?
- Linguistic and temporal complexity. It doesn't make sense to have a game with dozens of Swedish participants and a single player who participates remotely from nine time zones away who doesn't speak Swedish. I cooperated a lot with fellow in-game politician Bryan, but really, he shouldn't have been in the game. And perhaps I shouldn't have been in the game as a remote participant either. I was sometimes drafted to translate to my fellow politician Bryan (representing the political party "Forest Muppets"). He represented a different political party so me translating to him was perhaps not optimal, but we had a great cooperation during the first half of the game - mainly because the one representative from the third political party, Market Prophets, didn't show up at all due to illness. Forest Muppet Bryan predictably zoned out and dropped off halfway through the game very late at night or very early in the morning in California. Me summarizing what happened in the room in Linköping to Forest Muppet Bryan:
- This is a huge change but MÖGA can make it happen
- The Forest Muppets are more than welcome to help us attain those goals, Bryan!
- Rule complexity. If you are going to play a complex game for a whole day, it's good to start off by going through the rules (or at least the parts I needed to understand). While there was a practice round of sorts, as an online participant I did not get enough help and was instead to a large extent left to my own wits to try to figure out how to play the game, what it was (really) about, what a politician in the game was supposed to do etc.
The three main tasks that I set myself during the game was to:
- Understand how the game worked
- Understand what I could do in the game that would make a difference
- Role-play and enjoy myself
@Ferm Media - Johanna G Policy statement for the media: Make Östergötland Great Again (MÖGA) and the Forest Muppets feel ready to take responsibility for trying to solve the climate crisis mess we are in. Market Prophets might not in fact be traitors, but their megalomanic growth-promoting policies are misguided and constitute a treason of generations to come!
My player briefing stated in the first paragraph that "Playing different actors in the region, we travel through the next three decades to lay the foundation for a sustainable region characterized by high quality of life. Hence the key challenges in the game is to reach net zero, and then negative, climate impact and adapt to climate change while maintaining or improving the quality of life for the population".
When a city council member approached me (regional politician) about this or that emergency (flooding, climate refugees etc.), I tried to understand how big our budget was and it if was reasonable to meet the city council member's demands fully or partially. I sometimes role-played and said that "we can give you this much now and more next year" when I should probably have been more generous and just handed over the money, but I wanted to use money on my political platform (above), but was pretty sure my fiscal discipline did not at all benefit me in the game. In fact, I wasn't very interested in having these kinds of conversations at all - they were below my pay grade as a regional politician whose most important goal was to reach net zero emissions thirty years down the road. There was thus a tension between the short term (solve immediate problems) and the long term (reach our climate targets). I wanted to spend as little of my time as possible solving "practical" problems here-and-now and instead wanted to create policy and make decisions that would solve the stated "key challenge" of the game (net zero emissions by 2050). I let my coalition partner, Forest Muppet Bryan, handle many of these issues, but this was probably a mistake since I think he came out as more "kind" and got more votes that I did later in the game because he had "helped" people and I hadn't (as much). Later in the game, after Bryan had left, I made quick decisions, allocated money and specifically told city council members and others to "work out the details with the civil servants who worked for me" (just like a real politician would have done).
After the game was finished, I realized that it would have been much better for all involved parties if I had instead just been a puppet - a politician who only reacted to local emergencies as they happened, gave away all the money that was asked for (budget allowing) and settled for letting the game decide where and at what pace we were going on a strategic level. As far as I understand, the game just pretended to give agency to the players and instead was scripted to disregard any input from individual players that didn't fit the pre-made script. At one point I asked where all these climate refugees came from and if I really had to dish out money to pay for them every time I was asked to. I couldn't get a straight answer so I decided (in line with my Make Östergötland Great Again political party platform) to refuse to give any more money to help climate refugees:
@Ferm Media - Johanna G. Make Östergötland Great Again (MÖGA) believe that the interests and priorities of Östergötland should go first. We understand the climate refugees' plight, but we have welcomed enough of them and are not prepared to accept any more. It's now time for our neighbors in Västergötland to step up and take responsibility! We will pay for ads communicating this message! From now on it's Östergötland first, Östergötland first, Östergötland first!
That was fun and I partly did it to see if this act of mine would upset the game's script, but it didn't have any consequences whatsoever in the game so my guess is that most of what I did had no effect at all on what happened in the game. Which made me fell powerless and frustrated. What was my role in the game? Was I just a pretty face? Why am I here and what difference can I make in the game, if most of what I say and do is ignored and/or irrelevant in relation to the game's outcome?
I instead gradually came to a realization during the game - but especially after the game was finished - that forests and forestry apparently had been the key to reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 - not food, goods, transport, housing or anything else. But there was no hint about the importance of forests in the instructions I received (except for the fact that a competing political party was called "Forest Muppets"), so I definitely felt cheated or even kidnapped into a storyline that I didn't know existed and failed to notice until the game was over. I don't personally see forests as the overarching key issue to solve the multiple sustainability challenges of the 21st century - but the game and the underlying model apparently do. I don't know how many of the other players had an inkling about this unexpected twist before or during the game?
My conclusion is that the game was exceedingly complicated, but not in the intriguing way I had hoped and had been led to believe beforehand (when I read the instructions). I understand that different stakeholders got different information and different objectives and that all players need to talk, negotiate, find overlapping interests and compromise - and that is fun. But I don't see how any of that could have made a dent in the underlaying assumptions that drove the game in one (and in only one) pre-determined direction. That the game board was exceedingly complicated (see the images below) and the fact that I never really understood even the small part that was supposedly important to me as a politician (the Regional Council board, see above) is not a good thing. A game should be as complex as necessary but as simple as possible, and it is my conclusion that this game did not succeed on that account. It was, as far as I can tell, overly complicated for no particualar reason at all. It had boards and charts and rules galore (see images below, but there were more...), and while we were supposed to role-play and be imaginative, the game very much seemed to be overly static and scripted. This didn't make sense to me and there was a mismatch between what I thought the game was about (based on the instructions I had received) and the actual game (session). The instructions were humorous, open-ended and invited role-playing while the game itself seemed to be opaque, complicated, scripted and role-playing didn't much matter as individual initiatives didn't fit/were hard to incorporate into the gaming session.
The game was in the end very exhausting - a whole day online with background noise and a need to concentrate deeply floored me. We have previously discussed starting a course at KTH and have our students work together and/or in parallel with the students in Linköping, but I honestly don't know how that is supposed to work out based on my own experiences of playing remotely. I don't understand how two remote sites are supposed to cooperate. I do however understand that despite the fact that the gaming session wasn't great, the course might have been. To have students (re)design parts of the game means they have to learn a lot about climate change, agriculture, forestry, urban planning, economy and so on, even though I currently have few insights about the university course itself.
I do feel that Megagames could be interesting, but I can also imagine that it would be better for KTH to work with a game designer (just as Linköping does) but instead design a much smaller and simpler game that emphasizes player interaction and acting/role play, rather than aim for gratuitous complexity for (seemingly) its own sake.
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