Imagining the future: rethinking the first iteration

Rethinking a concept even before I begin to create the game happens to me all the time – and so it was not unexpected that it would happen for this game too. What was unexpected was when it happened: a week before we were set up for a playtest. As it turned out, the playtest was cancelled and we made a workshop of it with a few of the participants instead, and in this post I’ll discuss some of the ideas that came out of the workshop and which I will consider implementing in the first version of the game to be playtested, likely in February 2023.

The version I had intended building have been discussed in an earlier post, and the one-hour version of the game that was one of the things that made me rethink the concept I’d settled on was the subject of the previous post. In short, what I had in mind was six teams of players using their resources – in the form of five different forms of capital – to realise and maintain enablers over several game turns, reshaping the way parts of society works and hopefully managing to reduce CO2 emissions for Sweden as a whole. I had a map laid out which would be used to show geographical differences, but on the whole the game would be about using legislation and local initiatives to incentivise and force a non-player population represented by various numerical values into doing what the players wanted them to. Both the population and the players would be affected by the outside world in terms of events that would be played into the game by Control based on what changes the players managed to implement.

The first bug to hit my windshield came from a member of the project team who, when I mentioned the number of different types of capital commented that there ‘were a lot of them’. This brought to mind something another megagame designer said at one time about resources in megagames: ‘there should ideally only be one, so as not to complicate things too much’. This stuck in my mind and as I created the one-hour version, this turned into every player having only one card, but in a different colour.

The second came during the workshop, when the use of the map was questioned – there are really no geographical issues to deal with in the research we’re communicating, as consumption patterns has a different set of boundaries. In combination with the fact that it was stated early on that we are not to focus on individual con-/prosumer perspectives as related research shows that consumption patterns are not guided primarily by the choices made by individuals but what’s made available to them by businesses, I began to think that the map we should be playing on should be more of a mental/social character rather than geographical. In connection with this, we discussed using Raworth’s doughnut as a possible way of showing progress in the game, and this may be the kind of map we’re looking for.

During the workshop, we also discussed the overall structure of the game and I put forward the idea that we structure it so that there are number of endpoints that the players will encounter depending on which enablers they manage to realise and maintain: call it a number of paths they can walk down, but with a rather short space between them, so that if they take a sharp turn during one round, they will end up with a very different endpoint, but still one Control has planned for. This would be beneficial to Control, as they would not have to wing it every time, trying to assess what things are plausible, but instead would have a scoring system that they can rely on to tell them which path is nearest and which events would make the most sense, and then improvise based on that (or stick to the script). Most of all, it will benefit the players, as they will be aiming for an endpoint (happy ending) which simply isn’t available – and this will make the debriefing and learning outcome the more rewarding. We’re considering using something like ARUP’s Four Plausible Futures as inspiration, and the idea is for the endpoints to be not quite what the players expected, and hopefully different most of the time, in order to increase the replayability of the game.

What’s left to consider, which became apparent during the one-hour game, is the enablers themselves: they are (part of) what we aim to communicate, and so should be explored more in detail. Rather than having a set of fancy systems controlling resources, buildings, and trade, we should be focusing on the enablers and go into more details regarding what each enabler really involves – who needs to know what and be working with which things, and when? Here, the easy solutions – let someone else do all the work, i.e. just have the politicians put some legislation in place to fix the problem (and look surprised when no one followed it or everyone used vague wording to get away with doing only 1% of what was intended) – will likely be very tempting, whereas the more groundbreaking changes involving players going against their roles (e.g. businesses forgoing profit to achieve long-term goals) will be more challenging. How this system is supposed to look is as yet veiled in mist, but I’m thinking they should consist of several smaller steps, each of which risks interfering with other players’ agendas and counteracting other enablers.

Another aspect is that of ‘business as usual’ activities: if the only choice in the game is between which enabler to realise and doing nothing, the game risks being rather dull and predictable. Ideally there should be a range of actions to choose from, only some of which are beneficial to enablers, so that players are tempted to improve their situation by e.g. economic growth with the vague hope of doing something in the last round that will change everything and win the day. This part of the game, i.e. making what we’re doing currently as exciting and promising (in some ways but not in others) as the future envisioned by the enablers, should be given some real thought, so as not to end up with the ’business as usual – spend all your resources to make €5 and wait for the next round to begin’ action.

These are my thoughts at the moment, and over the coming month they will be developed into what I’m hoping will be the first, playable prototype of the Changing the Game of Consumption megagame. Did you have any thoughts when you read this? Feel free to express them in the comments section below!

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