Today we wrap up the four-part series from guest blogger Mary Gross. In this final entry, Mary describes a game in which students participate in strategic gambles that result in reallocation of resources represented by chips. While this game is intended for use in a history classroom, like all the games Mary has presented, the ideas here can be reimagined for a number of subjects. As we have seen, one does not need to “reinvent the wheel” for successful game-based learning; simply stripping down a game, identifying its core mechanics, and rebuilding its aesthetic layers with a narrative on top allows for adaption for many subjects. Thank you Mary for your examples of game-based learning in this series, not only to create historical empathy but also to encourage active learning and student reflection in any higher education classroom.
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Anger and Hope
By Mary Gross
In the fourth part of this series on the use of game mechanics to create historical empathy, we look at limited resource mechanics to create anger and resentment. It is often difficult for American students to empathize with people who resort to violence or terrorism in order to achieve an independent nation-state. Fundamentally, nationalist movements reject the idea of multiculturalism. This occurs most often because they have been oppressed by an empire which seeks to destroy them as a people with a separate identity. Assimilationist policies and structural oppression, ironically, tend to feed the desire of nations to remain separate, reinforcing the use of minority languages and other cultural distinctions.
The use of limited resource mechanics can mimic the choices that imperial governments make about the allocation of power. This is more pronounced in imperial governments which have a large number of minority populations and face multiple nationalist movements. Giving benefits to one group causes resentment among others, but giving benefits to all creates instability and the complete loss of power. Such governments, if they wish to remain powerful, must walk a tight-rope, creating alliances and carefully doling out benefits so as to keep the system balanced.
Students frequently misunderstand the actions of such governments. They see oppression or the withholding of benefits as evidence that governmental officials are mean or hate the minority populations. They also tend to view the aspirations of any minority group that engages in violence as bad, unless it is the American forefathers in 1776, in which case they are good. Engaging them in the true nature of the situations is more difficult.
“Keeping the Empire When the Chips are Down” is a simulation of the Austrian Empire before the Ausgleich, the 1867 decision to create the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. At that time there were seven nations at various stages of national development within the Austrian Empire. They ranged from the powerful Hungarians, who had never lost their unique language and culture during the centuries under Austrian Rule to the Romanians living in Transylvania who had endured years of assimilationist polices and were only just developing a sense of identity in the wake of the 1848 revolutions. All seven had some desire to obtain the rights to use their own language in local government and in public schools. Most also wanted to have greater local government control. Because the Austrians made up a minority of the Empire’s population, they relied on the people of these nations for their army and economy. A successful revolt for one nation was likely to cause a cascade of revolutions. Each successful revolt would deprive Austria of much-needed resources. It was imperative that no revolts were successful.
Students are divided into eight teams which vary according to the nations’ power and population. Austria, as the most powerful, has at least 5 members. Hungary has at least 3. If the number of students in the class is small, the Slovenes, Serbs, Croats, and Romanians may only have one person on the team, consistent with their lack of power within the empire.
The Austrians are given a bag of 60 small chips. The winner is the nation with the most chips at the end of the game. The game ends 5 minutes before the end of the class period or when the Austrians no longer have any chips. The game is played in rounds. Each round begins with the Austrians having a short period to determine their collective goals. The representatives of the other nations are then allowed to negotiate privileges with the Austrians. They negotiate for use of local language in their government, the use of local languages in school, some autonomy in their local government, full autonomy in their local government, some autonomy in the national government, and full autonomy in the national government. Each privilege gains them a set amount of chips. Nations can also gain two chips if they agree to remain loyal to the Austrians when another nation revolts.
Once the negotiation phase is over, nations can choose to revolt. If a nation decides to revolt, the chances of success are calculated. Each has a base percentage chance of succeeding based on population and resources. Hungary, due to its size and abundance of resources, has 50% base chance of success. Slovenia, because of its small population and only recently emerging sense of nationalism, has only a 10% base chance of success. The chance of success increases by 10% with every chip that the nation has and every successful revolt that has occurred. It decreases by 10% for every other nation that remains loyal to Austria. Once the chances are calculated, a representative from the nation roles a 10 sided die to see if the revolt has succeeded. If the revolt succeeds, Austria must give the nation 5 chips. If the revolt fails, the nation must give all of its chips back to Austria. The round is finished when all nations that want to revolt are given their chance.
The chips represent the resource of power. The Austrians begin with all of the power and, because it is a limited resource, they must dole it out carefully. If they are too eager to give privileges to all nations, they will increase the likelihood of revolts. They must ensure that they have at least four nations that have committed to help them in revolts so that the chance of successful revolts is kept at a minimum. They also must deal with the power of the Hungarians. Some students have used the strategy of not negotiating with the Hungarians. Giving some privileges to the other nations and gaining support in the event of a revolt greatly lessens Hungary’s chances of success. Other students have offered a lot to Hungary in order to keep it loyal. These students tend to prefer not giving the less powerful nations like Slovenia any privileges at all.
Austrians who decide to deal harshly or who are rude with their subject nations quickly find that the nations have nothing to lose by trying to revolt. I have seen games where the lowly Slovenes were sent away without chips. They stand to lose nothing if they revolt. If the other nations don’t support Austria in a Slovenian revolt, the Slovenes still stand a 10% chance of succeeding. Once one nation is successful, revolts become more common and more successful.
The limited resources force difficult decisions to be made. The Austrians must create a strategy in order to be successful. They cannot give out chips without considering carefully the benefits of doing so. This demonstrates the delicate diplomacy that is required to maintain an empire which has many nationalist movements within it. The nations must weigh the benefits of getting chips and the risk of losing them. Getting many chips early and waiting to revolt is a good strategy to maximize the number of chips received. Once they are sufficiently powerful, they can turn on Austria, and frequently do.
In addition to forcing decisions, limited resources create resentment and anger at the “unfair” way in which the Austrians make their decisions. They will be asked “why did that nation get more?” Resentment often leads nations to revolt even when the odds of success are limited. Although the nations cannot join forces in a revolt, they can agree not to support Austria. More astute students often determine which nation has the best chance of success and encourage that nation to revolt first, thus potentially increasing everyone else’s changes for success. The resentment frequently becomes palpable. There are cheers as revolts are successful and the Austrians often feel that they are the victims of the other nations. Resentment builds there to.
In the debrief, anger and resentment are heard in students’ comments. Charges of “that wasn’t fair” are frequently heard. “I was so mad when…” is also common. Students reflect later about how the Austrians weren’t in a great position and it was difficult for them to balance their power, but they are also quick to say that the Austrians could have done a better job both in the game and in reality to work with the nations so that their empire could have been stronger.
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