Since before the second playtest of Switching the Current, we’ve discussed the need for the game having a backdrop, or a scenario, which lets Control know which global effects are to be played when. This may sound suspiciously like directing the game and tailoring the ending of the game, but it’s not as nefarious as that: we simply want the players’ individual actions to be aggregated to the global level and – like a car trying to stay on a slippery road while driving at top speed – decide which of three different (more or less undesirable) scenarios will emerge during the game. Thus, Control won’t decide, but the actions of the players; the importance of this is that players will be told during the debriefing that the potential future they encountered during the last round was one of their own making, and have them reflect on this.
First, let’s have a look at the three scenarios: the first sees corporate interests overpower those of politics and democracy, the second gives rise to a state apparatus so strong as to all but erase all interests that do not belong to the collective, and the third involves the decentralisation of society into self-sustaining units so small as to make global markets and nation-states all but powerless. As you can imagine, these all come with their own problems, and neither are the one that players are aiming for as they start the game: a world in which technology and social advancements assist in creating a sustainable society in which energy-saving go hand in hand with social equality and a (sustainably) high quality of life. We’ve based these four scenarios loosely on the Swedish Energy Agency’s ‘Four Futures’ report: Forte leading to a corporate-controlled future, Legato to a strong (and somewhat repressive) state, Espressivo to the decentralisation of society, and Vivace to a perfect, technology-driven balance act (which is too good to be true).
The last scenario is the only unattainable one – simply because if players achieved it by the end of the game, they would likely assume this was the path the world is already on, and reflect no further. Also, it would ruin the replayability of the game – who would spend another full day playing a game that they ended up winning the first time they played it? Also, wouldn’t that mean to most people that the game was rigged, and thus not relevant to real-world problems? Our view on this is that only by having players striving to achieve a good, sustainable future and instead ending up with something that doesn’t sit quite right with them (or originate from their worst nightmares) despite them having tried their best to stay on course and realising all their favourite pet projects in the garden of hundreds of thousands of homes, they will take the lesson to heart and consider the implications of their actions and desires being implemented on a regional scale.
So far, the game experience has been overpowering for the Control team – so much so that the effects on the game of the scenario has been almost non-existent, aside from the world market reacting to military conflicts and trade wars, causing minor difficulties to players. In coming playtests, this side of the game will be developed in order to change the conditions in the game so much as to have players stop and reconsider what they are doing: much like the covid pandemic and the war in Ukraine has affected Swedish society. This will involve clearly defined game effects, including changes in market prices, shortages, and extreme weather striking blows to food production, among other things. These effects will be laid out and studied by Control beforehand, so that they can be swiftly and effectively implemented once the results of player actions (project cards played, lifestyle choices made by the population, political decisions made) come in during the resolution phase.
This is one way in which the players’ actions will be visible in the game and thus fuel the discussion during the debriefing session after the game. However, what happens if some players have to leave early and are unable to discuss their experience with the other players, especially if they have had a very frustrating task during the game (see previous blog post)? This is what the next blog post is about, and there I will also discuss player agency.