By now you have almost certainly heard that, in an historic referendum, the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union. Whilst markets and quite possibly nations crumble, an interesting idea occurred to me. Where is the game about this?
Well, of course, there’s unlikely to be a game about this issue specifically because it has only just happened, and it was not the outcome which was expected at that. No, what I am really getting at is where are the games about a topic like this. There are a lot of games, primarily in the simulation/strategy/management tent, which focus on some kind of aggressive acquisition of objectives. Be it land, money, resources, there’s plenty of games out there if you want to relive the campaigns of generals from Alexander to Napoleon. But what if you’d rather a game where you choose between playing Lloyd George, Clemenceau, Wilson, or Orlando, in an effort to get the best deal possible after the war is over?
In games, conflict is rarely boring. You are thrust into the action whether as a foot soldier or high-level commander, and charged with anything from assaulting Caen to stopping an armored breakthrough with limited resources to crossing the Rubicon. And these are often mightily enjoyable experiences when you’re in the safety of your own home. On occasion a game takes a look at the costs of war too, whether through the strikingly austere presentation of DEFCON or by directly putting you in the shoes of a civilian, as in This War Of Mine. Yet the end of war is never treated with the same kind of detail. In some games such as those from Paradox there is often a nod to the complexities thereof, for instance by making wars require explicit casus belli, but even this is not the norm. Generally peace is achieved through extracting resources, territory, or both, and nothing more is said on the matter.
Moreover this is far from the only kind of non-conflict topic which could be examined in a game. As I said, what about a game where you have to negotiate a country’s exit from (or indeed accession to) the EU? Whatever one thinks of that decision nobody denies that leaving will be a vastly complicated and lengthy procedure, with an extraordinary number of issues that have to be settled before the exit can actually take place. Or what about a constituent part of the UK, where you play as for instance Scotland trying to negotiate independence from the UK and EU membership at the same time?
These do have the potential to be dry topics. One of my classes in university was on the EU, and much of it was indeed quite a dry and thick topic. However, our final exam was not a written one but rather a role-playing exercise where we formed groups of delegates from EU member nations, and the EU itself, to try and resolve a policy issue that was put to us. This was stressful due to being an exam, but it was also a lively back-and-forth affair of trying to set out our position, suss out everyone else’s, and of giving and getting compromises until everyone went away annoyed but ultimately willing to commit to the deal.
There are a vast number of examples where peaceful negotiations, peace treaties, and so forth could be used as a model for such a game and I am just providing a couple of particularly salient examples to make my case. The next question, if that basic idea is accepted, is how could such a game be made? In truth I am quite a bit less certain about this than that it should be tried. It would not be a totally new genre – games such as Democracy 3 and Shadow President provide at least an outline to start from – but it would nonetheless be something that needs to be developed largely from scratch, without the convenient genre conventions (and occasional crutches) that typically provide the framework for both designers and players to rely on.
We can draw some outlines though. First is to establish what constitutes win, and lose, conditions. I suspect it would be best to focus on a particular situation, such as Brexit or Versailles, rather than to have a one-size-fits-all approach with multiple scenarios. That sounds limiting, and I do believe some element of randomness should be present (e.g. a Versailles game should involve a possibility for the US to be absent, or Imperial Russia to still be present with no Brest-Litovsk having taken place, or so forth). How to define victories and losses in such a game would be the real problem, in no small part because such things were hotly contested in real life. My proposition would be that the country or interest you represent would have some semi-random objectives it wishes to achieve, and your job is to do that. Post-game, you would ideally be shown the longer-term consequences of these choices, but I’m not sure that it would be good to e.g. be France at Versailles, get everything Maréchal Foch wanted, and then see that twenty years later your success as a player led to WW2. Failure states, conversely, could encompass a whole array of things, from simply not getting everything you wanted to reigniting the war.
Gameplay itself could meanwhile take quite a variety of forms. The two which most immediately spring to mind are either dialog trees and responses, something like L.A. Noire perhaps, or by making some sort of card game in the style of Fate of the World or the diplomacy side of Star Ruler 2. These are obviously fairly at odds in how they approach matters and the former would seem to be much more difficult to implement well than the latter. Regardless it would be a venture into untested waters, and in the absence of glamor I expect such games would be exclusively the domain of indie devs. If any do want to give it a shot, you’ve certainly got one potential customer who would be deeply interested in taking a look!
I would love to hear what you think about this possibility. Have I missed any obvious ways it might be implemented? Any problems you can foresee? Are there in fact such games in existence, which I am unaware of? Please leave your comments!