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Tinkering with Political Utopias and Dystopias in DEMOCRACY 3. An Educational Perspective

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The article looks at the possibility of tinkering with political utopias and dystopias in the turn-based political simulation DEMOCRACY 3. Political utopias are understood as coherent sets of political ideas and/or policies following a particular theory of justice, such as political philosophies, political ideologies, or manifestos from political parties. Political dystopias refer to political utopias that do not suit the player’s ideological standpoint or that went objectively wrong in the practice of playing. In this sense, playing DEMOCRACY 3 is read as applied political philosophy which might be utilized in political education. The contribution reconstructs the game’s implicit learning possibilities and exemplifies observable learning processes, which become visible in “affinity spaces” around the game, for example, on platforms such as YouTube, when players present and discuss their own realizations of utopian or dystopian policies in Let’s Play videos. Finally, the article argues for an application of the game in political education in upper secondary school.
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Tinkering with Political Utopias and
Dystopias in Democracy 3
An Educational Perspective
ANDRÉ CZAUDERNA
This is the author’s version. The final version is published in: Beyel, B./Freyermuth, G.
S./Schmidt, H. C. (eds.): Playing Utopia: Futures in Digital Games, Bielefeld: Transcript.
The present contribution looks at the possibility of tinkering with political
utopias and dystopias in the turn-based political simulation DEM OCRACY 3
(2013), which offers players the opportunity to slip into the role of a West-
ern democracy’s president or prime minister and to govern the selected coun-
try as long as they are not thrown out of office. In contrast to many articles
of the present volume, this one focuses on utopias and dystopias as non-fic-
tion.
Political utopias are understood as coherent sets of political ideas and/or
policies following a particular theory of justice, such as political philoso-
phies, political ideologies, or manifestos from political parties. Political dys-
topias refer to political utopias that do not suit the player’s ideological stand-
point or that went objectively wrong in the practice of playing. In this sense,
playing DEMOCRACY 3 is read as applied political philosophy which might
be utilized in political education.
After a brief overview of the field of digital games for political education
and a short introduction to the topic of political utopias and dystopias with a
special focus on the perspective of political philosophy, the present contri-
bution reconstructs DEMOCRACY 3’s gameplay. Afterwards, the game’s im-
plicit learning possibilities in regard to political philosophy will be outlined.
The article will then exemplify observable learning processes and outcomes
elicited by DEMOCRACY 3, which become visible in “affinity spaces” around
the game, for example, on platforms such as YouTube, when players present
70 | ANDRÉ CZAUDE RNA
and discuss their own realizations of utopian or dystopian policies in Let’s
Play videos. Finally, the article argues for an application of the game in po-
litical education in upper secondary school.
DIGITAL GAMES FOR POLITICAL EDUCATION
The use of games in political education is not only a phenomenon of the dig-
ital age. The “Model United Nations,” for example, in which the players take
on the role of diplomats and simulate the work of the United Nations, has
been part of the repertoire of political education in and outside schools for
decades.
The potential of digital games for political education has also been dis-
cussed for some time. According to Motyka and Zehe, digital games can be
used to illustrate complex relationships as well as to investigate values and
norms. They furthermore enable players to change their perspective. The au-
thors conclude that digital games could expand the methodological repertoire
of teachers and counteract the often-criticized lack of methods in political
education.1
Among the more well-known serious games (i.e. digital games that pur-
sue a purpose beyond pure entertainment) with relevance for political educa-
tion are games such as ENERGETIKA 2010 (2010), FOODFORCE (2005), and
PEACEMAKER (2007). ENERGETIKA 2010 deals with energy policy in the Fed-
eral Republic of Germany, FOODFORCE with the United Nations World Food
Program, and PEACEMAKER with the Middle East conflict, which the player
must resolve either as representative of the Israelis or as representative of the
Palestinians. While these games refer to single fields of policy, other games,
such as GENIUS. IM ZENTRUM DER MACHT (2007), supported by the German
Federal Agency for Civic Education (Bundeszentrale für politische Bild-
ung/bpb), represent political processes in general.
A large part of the present studies measuring the learning effects of seri-
ous games with relevance for political education relate to their effect on
1 Motyka, Marc/Zehe, Mario: “Lernen mit Computerspielen im Politikunterricht.
Empfehlungen und Fallbeispiele für die Praxis,” Politik unterrichten 29/2 (2014),
pp. 37-43.
TINKERING WITH POLITICAL UTOPIAS AND DYSTOPIAS IN DEMOCRACY 3 | 71
political attitudes.2 The effect on the understanding of political processes is
less well investigated. However, studies on digital games relating to other
domains of knowledge—including studies on commercial games such as
CIVILIZATION III (2001)—suggest that digital games might support the un-
derstanding of political processes in general.3
POLITICAL UTOPIAS AND DYSTOPIAS
Political utopias have been developed for millennials—starting in ancient
times with philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle. According to the
Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “Utopianism is the general label for
a number of different ways of dreaming or thinking about, describing or at-
tempting to create a better society.”4 The term utopia as such has been coined
by Thomas More in his book of philosophical fiction, Utopia, published in
15165—in which he
“described a society significantly better than England as it existed at the time, and the
word utopia (good place) has come to mean a description of a fictional place, usually
a society, that is better than the society in which the author lives and which functions
as a criticism of the author’s society.”6
2
E.g. Cuhadar, Esra/Kampf, Ronit: “Learning About Conflict and Negotiations
through Computer Simulations: The Case of PeaceMaker,” International Studies
Perspectives 15/4 (2014), pp. 509-524; Alhabash, Saleem/Wise, Kevin: “Playing
Their Game: Changing Stereotypes of Palestinians and Israelis through Video-
game Play,” New Media & Society 17/8 (2015), pp. 1358-1376; Gonzalez, Cleo-
tilde et al.: “Learning to Stand in the Other’s Shoes: A Computer Video Game
Experience of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict,” Social Science Computer Review
31/2 (2013), pp. 236-243.
3
E.g. Squire, Kurt: “Changing the Game: What Happens When Video Games Enter
the Classroom,” Innovate: Journal of Online Education 1/6 (2005).
4
Sargent, Lyman Tower: “Utopianism, Routledge Encycloped ia of Philosophy
Online, Thames: Taylor and Francis 1998, https://www.rep.routledge.com/arti
cles/thematic/utopianism/v-1
5
More, Thomas: Utopia, Kindle 2012 [1516].
6
L. T. Sargent: “Utopianism.”
72 | ANDRÉ CZAUDE RNA
Thereby, utopias cannot only be understood as dreams, but also as objectives
of social reform: “In some cases it is intended as a direction to be followed
in social reform, or even, in a few instances, as a possible goal to be
achieved.”7
The antonym of utopianism is dystopianism which paints the future in a
pessimistic fashion. Huntington’s well-known book The Clash of Civiliza-
tions and the Remaking of World Order, published in 1997, is just one ex-
ample for writings (including monographs and essays) that predict an unde-
sirable and frightening future and thus can be interpreted as dystopias. In the
case of this monograph, the author develops the hypothesis that future post-
cold war conflicts will be about cultural and religious identities.8
Utopias and dystopias are two sides of a coin. It depends on one’s per-
spective whether one perceive a certain political state and/or its effects as
utopia or dystopia; someone’s utopia is someone else’s dystopia. And each
(theoretical) utopia might end in (practical) dystopia.
Both of these genres of non-fictional writing—utopias and dystopias—
have their twins in fiction throughout the media: from literature to digital
games telling stories about a better or worse society. In fiction, today, dysto-
pias are more common than utopias. This might be because the description
of a fictional dystopian scenario alone seems to imply an enormous appeal
to readers, viewers, players as well as it offers a more interesting background
for plot and character development. As all utopias imagine an ideal commu-
nity or society including an assumed ideal life for its citizens, the god place,
and all dystopias are about undesirable communities or societies, the not-god
place, politics are central in both genres by definition—even though the re-
spective story does not have to be about politics in the first place, but the life
of people living in the depicted society. A couple of dystopias became liter-
ature classics, among them Huxley’s Brave New World (1932) and Orwell’s
Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), to mention only two famous examples. Alt-
hough fictional utopias and dystopias are interesting for political education
as well, this contribution looks in particular at utopias and dystopias as non-
fiction.
7
Ibid.
8
Huntington, Samuel P.: The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World
Order, New York City: Simon & Schuster 1997.
TINKERING WITH POLITICAL UTOPIAS AND DYSTOPIAS IN DEMOCRACY 3 | 73
The academic discipline that systematically develops non-fictional polit-
ical utopias—in terms of outlining their normative theory and claiming their
justice—is called political philosophy. According to Miller in the Routledge
Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “Political philosophy can be defined as philo-
sophical reflection on how best to arrange our collective life—our political
institutions and our social practices, such as our economic system and our
pattern of family life.”9 Historical figures in political philosophy include, for
instance, Thomas Hobbes and Karl Marx. Contemporary political philosophy
is very much influenced by John Rawls and Jürgen Habermas, for example.
Political philosophy aims
“to establish basic principles that will, for instance, justify a particular form of state,
show that individuals have certain inalienable rights, or tell us how a society’s mate-
rial resources should be shared among its members. This usually involves analyzing
and interpreting ideas like freedom, justice, authority and democracy and then apply-
ing them in a critical way to the social and political institutions that currently exist.”10
While “[s]ome political philosophers have tried primarily to justify the pre-
vailing arrangements of their society,” others have developed utopias: they
“have painted pictures of an ideal state or an ideal social world that is very
different from anything we have so far experienced.”11 The latter branch of
political philosophy is called utopianism.
When players experiment with political utopias in DEMOCRACY 3, it can
be seen as an application of “normative political philosophy”, i.e. recent
theories of a just or free or good society.”12 Consequently, the game might
be a useful tool for political education. In political education, political phi-
losophy helps students to evaluate historical and contemporary policies and
politics. Upper secondary school seems to be a good place to discuss political
9
Miller, David: “Political Philosophy,” Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Online, Thames: Taylor and Francis 1998, https://www.rep.routledge.com/artic
les/overview/political-philosophy/v-1
10
Ibid.
11
Ibid.
12
Kymlicka, Will: Contemporary Political Philosophy: An Introduction, Oxford:
Oxford University Press 2002, p. 1.
74 | ANDRÉ CZAUDE RNA
philosophies—as the moral development during late adolescence includes
systematic thinking about concepts such as justice and a good society.13
In his introduction to Anglo-American contemporary political philoso-
phy, Will Kymlicka outlines the following schools of thought: utilitarianism,
liberal equality, libertarianism, Marxism, communitarianism, citizenship
theory, multiculturalism, and feminism. All of them are principally relevant
for applied political philosophy in DEMOCRACY 3—though some of them
might be easier to implement in a digital game than others and not all of them
are equally important for the curricula of political education in upper second-
ary school.
Political dystopias are interesting for political education too, but in a
more implicit way. In political discourse, the prediction of dystopian scenar-
ios is a common rhetoric tool to discredit political opponents, especially in
times of increasing political antagonisms, e.g. when it comes to the topic of
immigration in general and refugees in particular. Therefore, it seems to be
important for students, as citizens, to critically assess the value of those dys-
topian scenarios. In addition to non-fictional dystopias, fictional ones, such
as the above-mentioned classics by Huxley and Orwell might also play a role
in political education—especially, when political education is perceived as
an interdisciplinary endeavor which spans other subjects such as literature as
well.
GAMEPLAY OF DEMOCRACY 3
In DEMOCRACY 3, which is the third installment of a series of turn-based
government simulations developed by the British indie studio Positech
Games, in fact almost single-handedly by the programmer Cliff Harris, the
players slip into the role of a head of state or government, i.e. the role of
president or prime minister. At the beginning of the game, the player decides
which country they want to govern. They can choose between Australia, Ger-
many, France, Great Britain, Canada, and the United States of America. The
player takes over his or her government office immediately after winning an
13
Kohlberg, Lawrence: The Philosophy of Moral Development: Moral Stages and
the Idea of Justice, Vol. 1, San Francisco: Harper & Row 1931.
TINKERING WITH POLITICAL UTOPIAS AND DYSTOPIAS IN DEMOCRACY 3 | 75
election. The main goal of the game is to win the approval of a majority of
the voters in elections.
DEMOCRACY 3 is a turn-based game. This also means that there are no
time-critical components in the game. The players can make their decisions
without any rush. They decide for themselves when they want to finish a
round of the game. Each round represents a period of three months.
Interestingly, the game cannot be won. The players always lose—either
because they lose an election or fall victim to an assassination. In the manual
of the game it says aptly: “All political careers end in failure.”14
As shown in figure 1, the main interface of the game is based on a com-
plex network of relationships between numerous political and economic var-
iables. These are represented in the interface as circles and sorted according
to policy fields. DEMOCRACY 3 distinguishes between seven policy fields:
tax, economy, public services, welfare, transport, law and order, and foreign
policy.
Figure 1: Main Interface
Source: Screenshot from DEMOCRACY 3
14
Positech: “Democracy 3. Institute of Effective Government: Briefing Notes. Ver-
sion 1.0,” 2013, http://cdn1.macgamestore.com/macgamesarcade/manuals/De-
moracy3_Manual.pdf
76 | ANDRÉ CZAUDE RNA
The grey circles represent policies that can be designed by the player. The
blue circles contain additional data or statistics that cannot be influenced by
the player. The green and red circles are good situations, such as a technology
advantage over other countries, or bad situations such as alcohol abuse prev-
alent in the population.
Statistics and situations result directly from the player’s policies. To be
successful in DEMOCRACY 3, both statistics and situations must be perma-
nently monitored. A selection of the most important statistics is presented to
the player after each round in the respective quarterly report. These are data
on gross domestic product, health, education, unemployment, crime and pov-
erty.
The relationships between different variables become visible in the inter-
face when the mouse pointer is moved over a specific item. Animated, con-
necting lines appear between the selected variable and other variables. A
green line means a positive effect; a red line a negative effect. The small
characters on the lines indicate the direction of the effects. The faster the
lines move, the stronger the effects between the variables. Figure 2 illustrates
the complex interrelationships of the gross domestic product.
Figure 2: The relationship between variables using the example of
gross domestic product
Source: Screenshot from DEMOCRACY 3
TINKERING WITH POLITICAL UTOPIAS AND DYSTOPIAS IN DEMOCRACY 3 | 77
If the game refers to positive and negative effects, it does not make any val-
uations. A positive effect on unemployment implies rising unemployment. A
negative effect on pollution means decreasing pollution. Whether the effects
are desirable or undesirable does not matter.
Players who want to be successful in DEMOCRACY 3 must first and fore-
most satisfy their voters, because it is they who decide after the end of each
legislative period whether the player may continue to govern or whether the
game is over for him or her.
In DEMOCRACY 3 voters represent a cross-section of society in their en-
tirety. Each voter has different characteristics: They are more or less liberal
or conservative, they are more or less socialist or capitalist, and they belong
to a certain income group: low, middle, or wealthy. In addition, each voter
belongs to other groups, such as parents or motorists. The degree of attach-
ment to the respective group varies.
The affiliation of individual voters to groups is subject to change: it is
influenced by the policies of the player insofar as successful policies imply-
ing a certain ideology or favoring a certain group might convince individual
voters to ‘switch over’ and thus increase the number of voters affiliated with
the respective group of voters (and the other way round). The distribution of
voters among these groups differs from country to country.
The happiness of the 20 voter groups with the policies of the respective
player is shown in the middle of the main menu (Fig. 1). For the player it is
important to understand that the happiness of a certain voter group is always
only an abstract value—because the happiness of a single real voter is not
only based on his or her belonging to one group. Accordingly, even a voter
who, as a socialist, agrees with the player’s policies can ultimately decide
not to vote for the player—because they dislike the player’s policies in other
respects.
Players who would like to get a closer look at their own voters in the
game can use the focus group feature. In the focus groups of the game, the
player can look at individual, randomly selected voters in detail. A diagram
shows the player how strongly the individual voter identifies with the voter
groups to which they belong. In addition, the player receives information on
the effect that the individual membership to a particular group is currently
having on his potential voting decision.
The central gameplay in DEMOCRACY 3 is the implementation of policies.
This includes, for example, the passing of laws as well as modifying of
78 | ANDRÉ CZAUDE RNA
budgets and investing in various policy areas. Political actions are paid in the
game with the currency of “political capital.” With this concept, the political
effort involved in a certain policy is symbolically represented. Smaller, less
controversial projects cost less political capital than large, controversial pro-
jects. At the beginning of each round, the player receives new political capi-
tal. The amount of political capital per round is linked to the player’s popu-
larity among the electorate and the quality of his or her cabinet government.
The player changes a policy with the so-called “policy slider.” With the
slider, they determine the intensity of a policy in a certain area. In the case of
laws, the slider usually regulates something like the severity of punish- ment
for non-compliance with this law. In the case of expenditures and in-
vestments, it determines the amount of the invested sum. And in the case of
taxes, the player regulates the respective tax rates via the slider.
Some policies are easy to implement. They come into effect immediately.
These include, for instance, tax changes that can take effect as early as the
next quarter. Other policies, such as the construction of new railway lines or
the establishment of a space program, require several quarters in order to be
implemented. Investments in science and education also only pay off in the
long term.
The costs and revenues of a policy depend not only on the actions of the
player, but also on other factors. For example, the costs and revenues are
influenced by the effectiveness of the respective minister. External factors
play a role as well. If, for example, certain diseases occur more frequently in
the population, the costs for the state health system can skyrocket. Last but
not least, the player has to deal with a global economy that is subject to eco-
nomic cycles and is not directly influenced by the player.
In addition to adapting (or abolishing) existing policies, the player can
also introduce new policies. DEMOCRACY 3 has its own menu for this purpose
under the heading “policy ideas.” Again, the player can choose from the
above-mentioned policy fields: Foreign policy, welfare, economy, tax, pub-
lic services, law and order, and transport.
In the game, the national budget plays a special role, with the player ini-
tially being confronted with a certain degree of national debt in all countries.
In principle, there is no obligation to pay off the mountain of debt. As long
as the state can afford the interest, the debts will not get the player into any
major difficulties. However, a financial imbalance can arise if interest rates
rise significantly. This is the case, for instance, in certain economic
TINKERING WITH POLITICAL UTOPIAS AND DYSTOPIAS IN DEMOCRACY 3 | 79
situations, or when the credit rating of the state governed by the player is
downgraded because of concerns about the stability of the government or the
solvency of the state.
While in DEMOCRACY 3 the players normally decide for themselves
which policy areas they want to pursue at which point in time, they are oc-
casionally confronted with so-called dilemmas. These are time-critical issues
or debates that require a player’s positioning or decision.
The length of a legislative period, i.e. the duration until the next election,
depends on the country selected. In each country, however, there are only
two parties: that of the player and that of the opposition. The election itself
is then always carried out as a direct election of the president or prime min-
ister.
According to the logic of political processes, the elections in
DEMOCRACY 3 have a special significance. Thus, each election can lead to
the end of the player’s political career, i.e. to the end of the game. Following
the simulation of the election by the computer, the player is informed of the
turnout and the result of the election. Immediately thereafter, the game is
either over or continues with the next legislative period.
Another way to lose the game is to fall victim to an assassination attempt
by a terrorist organization. Terrorist organizations are formed in the game
especially when the player’s policies do not adequately consider a particular
interest group at all. For example, if patriots feel permanently disadvantaged,
a small proportion of them will join terrorist organizations, increasing the
risk for the player of losing the game as a result of an assassination. This is
another reason why it is important for players to keep an eye on internal se-
curity. In the game, terrorist organizations are monitored via the so-called
“security screen.” Terrorist groups can be fought at short notice by intelli-
gence services. In the medium term, a change in policy can help.
The power of the player as president or prime minister is great. Political
negotiations and control processes between the executive, legislative, and ju-
dicial branches are not simulated. Nevertheless, the power of the player is
restricted by a limited amount of political capital and the player has to deal
with a cabinet government made up of ministers from different departments.
First, the ministers generate political capital that enables the player to
implement his or her policies in general. Second, they specifically influence
the success of policies in their ministry. And thirdly, they help the player to
make a good impression on certain groups of voters. If the player is
80 | ANDRÉ CZAUDE RNA
dissatisfied with the performance of ministers or considers a strategic repo-
sitioning necessary, they can dismiss and reappoint ministers or reshuffle the
entire cabinet government. It is important to stress that in DEMOCRACY 3
ministers do not make their own decisions. The government’s policies lie
solely in the hands of the player as head of state or government.
All in all, the mechanics (and narration) of DEMOCRACY 3 allow players
to play with political utopias as well as dystopias. Players can freely try out
a certain set of coherent set of ideal policies, implement them and test its
effects, check whether they lead (inside the system of the game) to an ex-
pected utopian or dystopian outcome. In other words, players can tinker with
political ideologies and philosophies—at least as long as they get re-elected
and not assassinated, i.e. as long as their experimental play is approved by
the rules of the game.
In contrast to narrative games discussed in other contributions of this vol-
ume, in the political simulation of DEMOCRACY 3, the appearance of utopias
or dystopias is not a necessity initiated by the game in any case. Instead,
utopias and dystopias can be created by the players themselves—as an op-
tion. The game is not telling a pre-defined utopian or dystopian story, but the
player is creating this story voluntarily, by his or her own choice, including
a significant creative freedom in terms of the direction of this story. How-
ever, of course, players cannot control the course of the game, which includes
that they might end up in utopia or dystopia accidently. Furthermore, the ef-
fects of their policies depend on biases of the game.
From time to time, DEMOC RACY releases expansions that extend the ex-
isting game in a certain direction. The extension EXTREMISM (2014) is of
particular interest for the context of this article because it supports the design
of more extreme political ideologies and philosophies. The game’s website
describes the expansion as follows:
“This expansion for DEMOCRACY 3 adds 33 new situations and policies that reflect
the more extreme side of politics, all within the framework of a democracy. Fed up
with just adjusting taxes and government spending in the conventional sense? Perhaps
you think your people need the national anthem sung at the start of every news broad-
cast? or maybe what they are crying out for is a ban on divorce, or same-sex relation-
ships? Alternatively, you might like to close your countries [sic.] airports to save the
environment, or maybe outright ban private education? How far to the extremes can
TINKERING WITH POLITICAL UTOPIAS AND DYSTOPIAS IN DEMOCRACY 3 | 81
you take your country and still maintain the support of the people (and avoid some of
them putting a gun to your head).”15
Another interesting expansion relevant for the topic of utopias and dystopias
is CLONES & DRONES (2014):
“What challenges are to come for the politicians of the future? Mass unemployment
due to the automation of factories? Or will this lead to a leisure society and equality?
Will ubiquitous drones lead to better law enforcement and less traffic congestion or
to widespread crime and infringement of privacy? Should we give the go-ahead to
human cloning? Will climate change cause problems for our country? Are we going
to run out of rare earth metals? Or oil...? The people look to YOU for leadership in
these turbulent times. Can you keep the country happy and prosperous as we head to
the 2020s and beyond?”16
Finally, from an educational perspective, it is worth mentioning that the
game is open to modding. The central mechanics of the game can easily be
changed by everyone. This offers players the opportunity to become co-de-
signers of the game. A selection of DEMOCRACY 3 mods is published on the
official website of the game. The featured mods introduce, for instance, new
countries or new factors such as inflation/deflation. Interestingly, there are
also mods that might be facilitated to support players by implementing sev-
eral political ideologies and philosophies, in other words, working/playing
towards political utopias:
“Keynesian Economic POlicy (by nikosb1995): Change: Adds Stimulus Package as a
policy to help stimulate the economy (if played under USA the stimulus costs 800
billion just like the most recent US stimulus).”
“The Happy Capitalists Mod (by Gikgik): This mod makes Capitalists a little happier.
They do no longer react to child or disability benefits. They get happy from private
pensions, housing, healthcare, schools, and relaxed border controls, and angry from
inheritance tax.”
15
http://www.positech.co.uk/democracy3/extremism.html
16
http://positech.co.uk/democracy3/clonesanddrones.html
82 | ANDRÉ CZAUDE RNA
“Migration (by Gikgik): Three new policies: Immigrant Language Courses, Immi-
grant Welfare and Work Visas. Two situations: Emigration and Labor Shortage. Bal-
ancing of Immigration causes and effects. Six dilemmas related to ethnic and racial
issues. Complexity: + (Marginally more complex) Difficulty: + (Marginally harder)
Version 1.22.17
The first two above-mentioned mods, for example, would increase players’
scope when it comes to economics—by offering the possibility to implement
a stimulus package, a tool of Keynesian economics (Keynesian economic
policy), and by allowing players to easier increase the happiness of capitalists
which might be useful in scenarios that favor, but also disfavor that particular
group of voters (The Happy Capitalists Mod). The third mod could help play-
ers to create a multicultural utopia.
LEARNING POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY BY TINKERING
WITH POLITICAL UTOPIAS AND DYSTOPIAS
In the following, I will look at learning possibilities offered by DEMOCRACY
3 with a special focus on the application of political philosophy. However, I
will start with a broader perspective: What can players learn in DEMOCRACY
3 in general?
First of all, by assuming the role of prime minister or president, players
have to deal with the effects of political actions. In the course of the execution
of their government business, the players are directly confronted with the
consequences of their political decisions for the economic, social, and cul-
tural situation of the governed country. Furthermore, the players experience
the effects of their policies on the approval of the electorate, i.e., they will
find out whether they can win elections with the implemented set of policies.
In the course of the game, the player is made aware of the complexity of
political decisions. Ultimately, the player is given the opportunity to realize
how difficult it is to reconcile the various demands placed on a government,
such as meeting the needs of as many voter groups as possible, presenting an
appropriate state budget, and increasing the gross national product.
17
http://www.positech.co.uk/democracy3/mods.html
TINKERING WITH POLITICAL UTOPIAS AND DYSTOPIAS IN DEMOCRACY 3 | 83
In general, the players can govern in three (strategic) ways: (a) they can
act based on ideology and/or philosophy, i.e. play with a coherent set of pol-
icies which are implicitly or explicitly influenced by certain kinds of profes-
sional or amateur political philosophies, (b) they can follow a form of “Re-
alpolitik” from the very beginning, or (c) opt for a pragmatic combination of
aforementioned forms of governance, i.e. balance ideological or philosophi-
cal preferences and coherence on the one hand, and political success (i.e. re-
election) on the other hand—in order to prevent that their adopted direction
of political ideology or philosophy fails in practice, in other words, that his
or her policies ends in dystopia.
The availability of options (a) and (c) indicates that DEMOCRACY 3 offers
learning possibilities in terms of an application of political philosophies. Ac-
tually, the game makes it pretty easy to implement ideal and even extreme
forms of political programs, at least in the first place—because, in the logic
of the game, the player, as government, is actually not really controlled by
other political institutions, such as the parliament. However, even in the
game, change requires time—because the implementation of policies must
be paid with resources that are limited: political capital as well as money. In
the longer run of the game, over a couple of rounds, change furthermore war-
rants the support of the electorate including many groups of voters. The
player must make the electorate happy to stay popular. One-sided radical
policies imply the constant risk of failing, i.e. losing the game due to not
being re-elected or being assassinated.18
DEMOCRACY 3 can be understood as a test laboratory or experimental
field for political ideas, ideologies, philosophies. The game enables the
player to implement political philosophies in an ideal way and to observe its
consequences directly. Political philosophies might mean (a) professional
political philosophies—in various grades of abstraction starting from simpli-
fied versions of socialism or liberalism to theories of justice from contempo-
rary political philosophy as described e.g. by Kymlicka,19 or (b) amateur
18
As the distribution of people to voter groups differ between countries, at the be-
ginning of the game (which is however subject to change)the US has a higher
amount of capitalists than Germany, for instancethe selection of the country
matters. It is, for example, more difficult to pursue social democratic policies in
the US than in Germany.
19
W. Kymlicka: Contemporary Political Philosophy.
84 | ANDRÉ CZAUDE RNA
political philosophies envisioned by the player—i.e. their own ideas about a
just society, which might be (consciously or unconsciously) influenced by
(one or more) professional political philosophies.
Of course, the game’s evaluation of the player’s set of policies cannot be
fully unbiased. The system has been designed and programmed by a human
and humans cannot be completely neutral by nature—although in this case
the designer/programmer, Cliff Harris, who owns a degree in Economics
from the London School of Economics, consciously reached for realism and
political neutrality.20 While he based the game/system on political, societal,
and economic realities, it is certainly his interpretation of reality. Further-
more, the system, as a game, must necessarily imply a significant reduction
of complexity. Therefore, players should not understand the outcomes of
their policies as absolute truth, but as one legitimate interpretation of reality.
In addition to tinkering with normative political philosophies, players might
also play with ideas suggested by political parties for implementation, as e.g.
outlined in manifestos. These are in many cases built around a partic- ular
ideological standpoint, but somehow already shaped by the constraints of
reality including economic, cultural, and political conditions. Even though
these sets of policy suggestions are not purely ideal, they are still relatively
pointed—since political parties know that due to the logics of politics in par-
liamentary democracy, they will never have to implement a pure version of
it.
Manifestos from radical political parties might be of particular interest.
As these will not necessarily reflect the player’s own ideas, applying them
might be like playing with dystopia (rather than utopia) for them. As already
said, political utopias and dystopias are two sides of a coin. It depends on
your perspective whether you perceive a certain set of ideological policies as
utopia or dystopia. And utopia can end in dystopia.
The journalist Dan Griliopoulos actually tested a consistent implementa-
tion of manifestos in DEMOCRACY 3 several times. Among others, he applied
the Tory manifesto for the 2017 United Kingdom general election. In an ar-
ticle, published in the political weekly The New Statesman, he outlines that
“the results were terrifying”:
20
Benson, Julian: “Programming Prejudice and Why Democracy 3 is So Hard to
Rip Off, Kotaku UK, 2017, http://www.kotaku.co.uk/2017/02/21/programming-
prejudice-and-why-democracy-3-is-so-hard-to-rip-off
TINKERING WITH POLITICAL UTOPIAS AND DYSTOPIAS IN DEMOCRACY 3 | 85
“Events, dear boy, events. She [the British Prime Minister] couldn’t shake off the
general strike, which pushed GDP down, which in turn pushed up unemployment, and
high unemployment just destroys everythingI didn’t go into the detail, but there
were armed gangs on the streets, horrible alcoholism everywhere, and poverty ga-
lore.”21
It ended, somehow, in dystopia.
At this point, reference should be made to a feature of the game: the “po-
litical compass.” This tool shows the player, with the help of a coordinate
system, where his or her own policies can be located in the political field.
The horizontal axis locates the player’s policies in the spectrum between so-
cialism and capitalism. The vertical axis refers to the spectrum between lib-
eral and conservative policies. In the case of a won election, the player can
then compare the ideological positioning of his policies with the election vic-
tories in previous rounds and, if applicable, with the election victories of his
friends (Fig. 3).
Another way of the game of offering its players feedback on the direction
of their policies and encouraging them to tinker with political philosophies
is the conferment of awards, which include, among others: “Socialist Uto-
pia,” “Egalitarian Miracle,” and “Green Utopia.”
Although players are relatively free to set up their ideal states, in the
course of the game, reality usually strikes back: players need to win a major-
ity in the elections as well as they have to avoid to get assassinated by mi-
norities they have isolated, who organize themselves in terrorist groups. Most
utopias based on a polar political philosophy end up being voted out or col-
lapse due to counter-revolution. In the course of implementing radical poli-
cies, the player may find that the goal of the game—not to be voted out and
not to fall victim to an assassination attempt—cannot be achieved with such
a polarizing policy. At least, the player would then have learned that the po-
litical, economic, and cultural realities could stand in the way of the realiza-
tion of political ideals.
21
Griliopoulos, Dan (2017): “We Ran the Tory 2017 Manifesto Through a Video
Game … and the Results Were Terrifying,” The New Statesman, 2017,
http://www.newstatesman.com/2017/05/simulection-we-ran-tory-2017-manifes
to-through-video-game-and-results-were-terrifying
86 | ANDRÉ CZAUDE RNA
Figure 3: The political compass feature
Source: https://store.steampowered.com/app/245470/Democracy_3/
As a reaction to the failure of such a polarizing set of policies, the player may
then change his or her tactics by implementing a more moderate version of
his or her idealistically shaped policies in order to satisfy the needs of differ-
ent groups of voters and ultimately achieve a political majority. In other
words, they might add a certain degree of “Realpolitik” to their strategy. Al-
ternatively, players might keep on tinkering with political utopias or dysto-
pias in further rounds of the game—independent of his or her political suc-
cess, respectively, the goal of the game. In the end, as we know from player
research, players of digital games are not always following (solely) the goal
of winning. Playing with the system, experimenting, tinkering, and even de-
stroying can be interesting too—depending on a player’s motivations and
characteristics, as e.g. described by Nick Yee’s in his taxonomy of player
types.22
22
Yee, Nick. “The Gamer Motivation Profile: What We Learned From 250,000
Gamers,” in: Proceedings of the 2016 Annual Symposium on Computer-Human
Interaction in Play, ACM 2016, pp. 2-2.
TINKERING WITH POLITICAL UTOPIAS AND DYSTOPIAS IN DEMOCRACY 3 | 87
It can be concluded that DEMOCRACY 3 offers players the possibility to
learn about political philosophy by tinkering with political utopias and dys-
topias, in other words, by playing with ideas and ideologies. The processes
and outcomes of this learning becomes visible when players document their
play online, on video platforms or in their blogs, for instance. The next sec-
tion takes a closer look at this phenomenon.
EXAMPLES FROM AFFINITY SPACES AROUND THE GAME
Educational researcher James Paul Gee uses the concept of “affinity spaces”
to situate those interactions and learning processes that take place between
players outside the actual space of the game, in discussion boards, wikis,
blogs, or video platforms, for example.23 An observation in affinity spaces
around DEMOCRACY 3 reveals that the above-reconstructed learning possibil-
ities offered by the game indeed initiates various learning processes and out-
comes in the area of political ideas. In YouTube, for instance, players upload
Let’s Play videos showcasing their utopian or dystopian policies, respec-
tively, demonstrating how they reached their own utopias or dystopias. The
presented sets of policies are mostly based on simple interpretations of one
or more professional political philosophies or their own thought-out amateur
political philosophy (which might be inspired by one or more of the afore-
mentioned normative theories of justice). In some cases, the publication of
one player’s video essay leads to a discourse in the comments. There are, for
instance, discussions about the adequate and/or consistent application of a
particular theory, or about the correct interpretation of crucial terms such as
“liberal.” In the following, I will refer to several examples from YouTube
and one example from a player’s blog in order to exemplify the learning pro-
cesses and outcomes that can be elicited by DEMOCRACY 3.
A selection of relevant YouTube videos’ titles alone uncovers the phe-
nomenon that players of DEMOCRACY 3 tinker with political ideologies and
utopias throughout the political spectrum:
23
E.g. Gee, James Paul: “Semiotic Social Spaces and Affinity Spaces: From The
Age of Mythology to Today’s Schools,” in: Barton, David/Tusting, Karin (eds.),
Beyond Communities of Practice: Language, Power and Social Context, Cam-
bridge, UK: Cambridge University Press 2005, pp. 214-232.
88 | ANDRÉ CZAUDE RNA
“DEMOCRACY 3 - All DLC - Canada - 1 - Capitalist Utopia”24
“Niko plays DEMOCRACY 3 - turning United states into a utopia for liber-
als”25
“DEMOCRACY 3: Creating a Social Democratic Utopia and trying to Bal-
ance the Budget!”26
“M Plays DEMOCRACY 3: Socialist Utopia”27
“Challenge: DEMOCRACY 3 - Make the USA Communist”28
“DEMOCRACY 3 - Communist USA 01 - Max Difficulty”29
The following text written by the YouTube user “Socialist Progressive
Games” as a teaser for his video “DEMOCRACY 3: Creating a Social Demo-
cratic Utopia and trying to Balance the Budget!” shows that players deliber-
ately follow a political ideology/philosophy as well as that they explain their
policy choices with a systematic argument (in opposition to other political
ideologies/philosophies):
“In my first gaming episode, I show you the Social Democratic policies I have imple-
mented such as strict rent controls and a large state housing program! I also implement
new laws such as raising the corporation tax to 50%, legalizing cannabis and LSD,
and I implement the ‘Welfare Fraud Department’ I also ramble on about why Liber-
alism is ineffective on combating contradictions within the Capitalist system.”30
A lot of posts reveal that players autonomously determine creative and/or
difficult goals and pursue (partly humorous) thought experiments, in other
words, that they tinker with political ideas, ideologies, and philosophies.
“The Educational Gamer,” for example, introduces his video “DEMOCRACY
3 - Communist USA 01 - Max Difficulty” as follows:
24
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5fePpdyH9m4
25
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=isSI3bPbcpU
26
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qIqciTW2LkI
27
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ooBtHlvfuI
28
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UMkW4RWfYKE
29 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B_zeDmv2T8&list=PLBCKdXwKFwSh0At
uNXyfnxxaFaN_61Zw1
30
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qIqciTW2LkI
TINKERING WITH POLITICAL UTOPIAS AND DYSTOPIAS IN DEMOCRACY 3 | 89
“We are trying to turn the USA into a communist dictatorship in DEMOCRACY 3. Our
goal is to unlock the ‘Socialist Paradise’ and the ‘Surveillance’ achievements at the
same time.”31
Other players systematically apply their own thought-out political philoso-
phy, i.e. they design a set of policies and test their effects in the system of
the game. The blogger Matthias Schulze offers insights into this process in a
longer post. He starts by outlining his approach to government as well as his
ideas of just policies:
“You can govern completely ad-hoc in a Merkelian style (which did not work out for
me!) or have a plan for a communist, neoliberal or surveillance utopia in mind. To test
the extreme types and see what happens was the most fun for me. […] This got me
thinking: What would be the BEST for my digital voters, for me as a digital politician,
for the country itself and for the world? I decided on the following political goals and
principles:
Increase economic growth and reduce debts in order to finance the following
initiatives.
Get the best education and free education in the world, with free university ac-
cess and high science and research funding which results in being a high-tech
nation.
Decrease crime rates.
Decrease unemployment rates.
Have a high degree of social equality and a high basic income and minimum
wage.
The economy must be environmentally friendly and as green as possible.
Increase foreign aid for third party countries. Change to voluntary military ser-
vice.
Have the best welfare system with high degrees of public health.
Stay in office as long as possible.
Do not engage in any surveillance practices and stick to the rule of law.
Separate church and state and ban creationism from public schools.
31 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B_zeDmv2T8&list=PLBCKdXwKwSh0
AtuNXyfnxxaFaN_61Zw1
90 | ANDRÉ CZAUDE RNA
Get a space program! Because? Spaaaace, final frontier, developing mankind
etc. You get the idea!”
In his blog post, Schulze afterwards summarizes the effects of his consequent
implementation of the above-mentioned set of ideas:
“To sum up: I managed to achieve all of my goals and the game awarded me several
achievements. I reduced unemployment, got a stable, egalitarian (Egalitarian Miracle
Award) and green economy (Green Utopia & Kyoto Award)). My finances were solid
(Economic Miracle, Sovereign Wealth and Budget Balancer Award). My state had the
best education (Intelligentsia Award) with several Nobel prizes, a space program and
leadership in the high-tech market (Technological Superiority Award). With the help
of taxes I managed to create a healthy society (Healthy Minds and Bodies Award).
My electorate loved me (Legitimate Leader, Elder Statesmen Award) and in several
elections I obliterated the opposition (Landslide Award and One-Party State Award),
gaining 94% in popularity ratings. This was also because I established a Crime Free
Utopia (Award) without even touching any surveillance measures. In sum: I created a
role model democracy and most of my voters where happy, except one type: the cap-
italists. In order to build my green, socialist, intelligent & health, technology utopia I
had to adopt several policies which capitalists didn’t like: minimum wages, education
standards, housing initiatives, inheritance and corporation taxes, food & consumption
standards, CO2 tax and several more. In the end, I realized everything that is good for
a society and the world in general but got assassinated by a radical capitalist Batten-
berg group of which my secret service warned me several times.”
Finally, the blogger reflects on his own learning experience—among other
things, in terms of the relationship between political ideology/philosophy and
“Realpolitik:”
“The moral of this story is: the world won’t become greener, more educated, more
peaceful because in the end, capitalist interest will assassinate you. This was really an
astonishing insight: even though the economy was thriving and I reduced public debt
and also adopted several investor-friendly policies, capitalists hated me whereas the
rest of the people (except the Catholics) were happy. This is the second lessons: you
have to listen to the people equally and do not favor one type of interest over another
for the whole time. In some cases, it is necessary to adopt policies against the short-
term interest of the voter and adopt policies with a long-term effect (education grants,
TINKERING WITH POLITICAL UTOPIAS AND DYSTOPIAS IN DEMOCRACY 3 | 91
drug taxes, CO2 tax). This requires you to adopt a certain ‘basta! mentality: giving a
damn about the next election and hoping for positive effects in the future. I observed
myself saying: f*ck the election, this is good for the people (increasing welfare cov-
erage), the country (increasing education) or the planet (CO2 Tax).”32
Assessing this blogger’s contribution in context of a discussion of
DEMOCRACY 3’s educational merit, it certainly has to be taken into account
that the player/author is a political scientist himself, at the time of writing a
PhD student, and thus his playing/reading of the game does not necessarily
have to be representative for the average player’s practices (though it can be
assumed that players of DEMOCRACY 3 are rather well-educated in general).
However, his postings clearly disclose possible learning processes and out-
comes the game can elicit.
Dystopian scenarios are also being presented in the affinity space of
YouTube. “Allohmon,” for instance, tried to set up an “Orwellian night-
mare.” In the beginning of his video titled “UK - Let’s make an Orwellian
nightmare!”, he massively increased the police force, community policing,
and intelligence services. He also supported the proliferation of CCTV cam-
eras. In order to save money in his budget, he backed out of state pensions,
which led to the development of a system of private pensions. He furthermore
raised military spendings. As an innovation (policy idea), he introduced tech-
nology grants. At this time, the human rights society already said that it ac-
tively encourages its members to oppose the current government. Then the
player implemented strict alcohol laws (including strong restrictions) as well
as another policy idea in maximum capacity: robotics research grants. In-
between two of his rounds, he banned same sex marriage in a so-called event
which asks the player for a decision. Afterwards, the player introduced com-
pulsory work for all the unemployed living in his state. In addition, he en-
couraged the building of gated communities. The combination of all his pol-
icies yielded among other things an extremely low gross domestic product,
massive deficits, and a recession, as well as homelessness and a stress epi-
demic, which means according to the game itself “dangerously high levels of
stress for people with full time jobs” diagnosed by medical doctors. As a
32
Schulze, Matthias: “What I Learned Playing Democracy 3 or Why the World Will
Not Change,” 2015, https://percepticon.wordpress.com/2015/01/07/what-i-learn
ed-playing-democracy-3-or-why-the-world-will-not-change/
92 | ANDRÉ CZAUDE RNA
reaction, i.e. to get rid of that deficit, the player cut the country’s public
health service. The final end of the game/story is not reported.33
A discussion of DEMOCRACY 3’s affinity spaces must mention that there
is another sophisticated practice of tinkering with the political simulation
outside of the game: modding, i.e. a manipulation of the game’s system, in
other words, a contribution to game design. Sometimes, the process of mod-
ding considers political philosophies as well. The community, for instance,
creates mods which support players to set up particular political philoso-
phies, such as the previously mentioned “Migration” mod which fosters the
implementation of multiculturalism.
Since the learning possibilities of DEMOCRACY 3 are used by players in
the informal setting of affinity spaces, from the perspective of education, the
question arises how the same processes can be harnessed in the formal setting
of political education, in which players could be asked to follow a more struc-
tured and professional way of playing with political utopias and dystopias.
PLAYING DEMOCRACY 3 IN SCHOOLS
Although DEMOCRACY 3 was not designed as a serious game, the developer
of the game regularly receives requests from teachers who are interested in
using the game in school. To meet this demand, the developer offers licenses
to schools and other educational institutions at reasonable prices. A license
for 40 students costs 100 British pounds. According to the developer, the
game is already used by more than 70 schools and universities to teach poli-
tics and economics.34
In view of the complexity of the game, I assume that it is particularly
suitable for use in upper secondary education. A meaningful play of
DEMOCRACY 3 presupposes basic knowledge of politics and economics. Oth-
erwise, players will not understand many of the concepts and interrelation-
ships that appear in the game.
Since DEMOCRACY 3, as a game, is based on an oversimplified simulation
of politics in parliamentary democracies, which implies that the player can
govern with an unrealistic amount of power (i.e. without being dependent on
33
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3iuRHc94kok.
34
http://positech.co.uk/democracy3/educational.html
TINKERING WITH POLITICAL UTOPIAS AND DYSTOPIAS IN DEMOCRACY 3 | 93
negotiations and approvals of other political instances such as the parlia-
ment), the teacher should make sure that students understand the difference
between the simulation of the game on the one hand and real politics on the
other hand. In another article, I have rendered these deficits of the simulation
as a didactic opportunity. I have argued that the empty and weak points of
the game’s simulation of political processes are actually offering special
learning possibilities for a school context, because they virtually challenge a
critical analysis of the simulation, i.e. a comparison with the reality of poli-
tics—which could lead to a deep engagement with political processes in gen-
eral.35
The game furthermore requires a certain ability to concentrate as well as
frustration tolerance. The players do not receive immediate feedback on each
of their actions, as it is common in other (e.g. more action-oriented) genres.
Instead, the players have to deal with a complex system to which they have
to devote themselves over a longer period of time without receiving direct
rewards after each and every action.
From an educational point of view, the game offers various learning pos-
sibilities when it comes to political education in a formal school setting.36
However, in the context of this volume, I will solely emphasize those learn-
ing opportunities related to the study of political philosophies as well as ide-
ologically connotated concepts of political parties (such as manifestos)
which are relevant when it comes to the overall topic of utopias and dysto-
pias.
As outlined throughout this paper, DEMOCRACY 3 invites players to tinker
with political ideas, ideologies, and philosophies in various forms. Upper
secondary education, in which students are already in their late adolescence,
seems to be a good time to discuss the normative questions of political phi-
losophy—because the moral development during this time includes system-
atic thinking about concepts such as justice and a good society.37 While ex-
perimenting with political philosophies, students will ultimately also deal
35
Czauderna, André: “Unvollständigkeit als didaktische Chance. Überlegungen
zum Einsatz von DEMOCRACY 3 im Politikunterricht,” in: Riemer,
Nathanael/Möhring, Sebastian (eds.), Videospiele als didaktische
Herausforderung, Potsdam: Universitätsverlag Potsdam 2019, pp. 260-285.
36
Ibid.
37
L. Kohlberg: The Philosophy of Moral Development.
94 | ANDRÉ CZAUDE RNA
with the possibly disenchanting question of what effects, including associ-
ated difficulties, the consistent implementation of political philosophies
could provoke.
In contrast to the informal learning environment of affinity spaces, for-
mal education in schools will probably aim for a more systematic way of
applying political philosophies as well as a stricter and more appropriate in-
terpretation of textbook knowledge.
The observed applications of political philosophy in affinity spaces
around the game are based on oversimplified professional political philoso-
phies or amateur political philosophies, which include individual concep-
tions of players, i.e. personal utopias which are sometimes an unconscious
merger or remix of several professional political philosophies. They mostly
refer to political ideas from socialism, liberalism, and capitalism. Although
some of them might be quite sophisticated, i.e. may include a coherent set of
political ideas and in case they are presented in Let’s Play videos sometimes
even an intelligent and/or humorous discussion, they usually lack academic
rigor, e.g. an explicit link to textbook political philosophies or an explicit
discussion of the underlying theories of justice. While these video play-
throughs show an application of a set of policies following one or more di-
rections of political philosophy, they do not display a discussion of reasons
why this set of policies is better than other sets of policies in terms of its
justice. They also do not depict the diversity of normative theories discussed
in political philosophy.
For a school context, it would be necessary to apply political philosophies
more accurately as described in textbooks including an acknowledgment of
their complexity as well as to cover the broadness of the field—although, in
addition, teachers might let students develop and then tinker with their own
amateur political philosophies. As a starting point, it would be worthwhile to
look into contemporary political philosophies as summarized by Kymlicka:
utilitarianism, liberal equality, libertarianism, Marxism, communitarianism,
citizenship theory, multiculturalism, and feminism.38 More recent develop-
ments in normative political theory such as multiculturalism and feminism,
following the cultural turn in the humanities and social sciences, might bring
different perspectives than the usual applied classical theories focused on
economic conditions. Teachers’ selection of adequate philosophies for
38
W. Kymlicka: Contemporary Political Philosophy.
TINKERING WITH POLITICAL UTOPIAS AND DYSTOPIAS IN DEMOCRACY 3 | 95
application in DEMOCRACY 3 must also consider which ones are most rele-
vant for the respective curriculum as well as easier to grasp and (re)construct
in a digital game. As playing the game as such does not require a reflection
of the chosen political philosophies’ justifications and reasonings, their dis-
cussion must take place prior to and/or after the gaming sessions.
In addition to textbook normative political philosophies, ideological con-
notated concepts of political parties, such as manifestos, which are relevant
when it comes to the overall topic of utopias and dystopias, are also interest-
ing for political education in schools. For example, it might be worthwhile
to let students replay current manifestos of radical political parties (which are
situated on the poles of the political spectrum rather than being a plan for
“Realpolitik” already shaped by political negotiations) and thus let them test
their effects, which might include that they end in dystopia. This could be
followed by a critical discussion of political ideology on the one hand and
“Realpolitik” on the other hand.
The previously mentioned feature of the political compass could be a
very helpful tool for the use of DEMOCRACY 3 in political education—since
it grants students a visual overview of the field of political ideas while also
facilitating reflection and discussion. The political compass situates the play-
ers’ policies in the coordinate system of political ideas. It furthermore allows
a comparison with previous rounds of the game as well as with the rounds of
other players.
The role of the teacher during the application of DEMOCRACY 3 in schools
should not be underestimated. They must, among other things, embed the
educational tool of the game in a broader teaching unit and its didactic ap-
proach as well as assisting students to fill the apparent gaps of the game. The
game does not stand alone. According to many authors contributing to the
literature on digital game-based learning, the processing of the gaming expe-
rience within the framework of a so-called “debriefing” is absolutely neces-
sary in order to initiate sustainable learning processes.39 Thus, for the use of
39
E.g. Crookall, David: “Serious Games, Debriefing, and Simulation/Gaming As a
Discipline,” Simulation & Gaming 41/6 (2010), pp. 898-920; Arnab, Sylvester et
al.: “Framing the Adoption of Serious Games in Formal Education,” Electronic
Journal of e-Learning 10/2 (2012), pp. 159-171; Kolb, Alice Y./Kolb, David A.:
“The Learning Way: Meta-Cognitive Aspects of Experiential Learning,” Simu-
lation & Gaming 40/3 (2009), pp. 297-327.
96 | ANDRÉ CZAUDE RNA
DEMOCRACY 3 in education, in line with the “experiential learning” ap-
proach, it is recommended that, after a certain period of play, a comprehen-
sive debriefing—e.g. a class discussion or group work—should be provided.
Afterwards, the students would play again and then participate in another
debriefing—and so on and so forth. In short, play and reflection phases
should alternate.40
To sum up, the application of DEM OCRACY 3 in a school context allows
students to tinker with political utopias and dystopias as well as to experi-
ment with political ideas, ideologies, and philosophies. It could thus contrib-
ute to a deeper understanding of normative political philosophy in particular
and an active and critical examination of politics in general. And perhaps
even more important: It could stimulate utopian thinking, i.e., encourage stu-
dents to envision a significantly better society than the one they are currently
living in. Thereby, it might motivate political commitment.
LITERATURE
Alhabash, Saleem/Wise, Kevin: “Playing Their Game: Changing Stereo-
types of Palestinians and Israelis through Videogame Play,” New Media
& Society 17/8 (2015), pp. 1358-1376.
Arnab, Sylvester et. al: “Framing the Adoption of Serious Games in Formal
Education,” Electronic Journal of e-Learning 10/2 (2012), pp. 159-171.
Benson, Julian: “Programming Prejudice and Why Democracy 3 is So Hard
to Rip Off,” Kotaku UK, 2017, http://www.kotaku.co.uk/2017/02/21/
programming-prejudice-and-why-democracy-3-is-so-hard-to-rip-off
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GAMOGRAPHY
CIVILIZATION III (Infogrames 2001, O: Firaxis Games)
DEMOCRACY 3 (Positech Games 2013, O: Positech Games)
DEMOCRACY 3: CLONES & DRONES (Positech Games 2014, O: Positech
Games)
DEMOCRACY 3: EXTREMISM (Positech Games 2014, O: Positech Games)
ENERGETIKA 2010 (Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung 2010, O:
Takomat)
FOODFORCE (United Nations World Food Programme 2005, O: Playerthree
and Deepend)
GENIUS. IM ZENTRUM DER MACHT (Cornelsen 2007)
PEACEMAKER (ImpactGames 2007, O: 2007)
... In Cities: Skylines, for instance, players can dedicate themselves solely to build a beautiful or recreate an existing city instead of building an economically successful city. In Democracy 3, players can tinker with political philosophies and try to set up a utopian state of their own choice beyond the supposedly rational decision-making of "Realpolitik" [31]. ...
... Thus, games offer players the possibility to adapt their decision-making in a safe space, enabling them to try out a variety of different decisions, learn about their effects on the system and possibly correct previous decision-making, which can be seen as another learning mechanic for the practice of decision-making. In addition, to facilitate the repetitive practice of decision-making, the possibility of "time travelling" also fosters creative experimentation with the possibility of a number of decisions, e.g., when players adopt/try out different perspectives from political philosophy in Democracy 3 [31]. ...
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... Auch für die politische Bildung, die in Deutschland eine fächerübergreifende Aufgabe ist, liegen neben Lernspielen (Cuhadar und Kampf 2014;Motyka 2018) etliche geeignete Unterhaltungsspiele vor (Czauderna 2019;2020;Preisinger und Aumayr 2020). Insbesondere in vielen zur Unterhaltung entwickelten Strategie-und Managementspielen lassen sich typische Themen der politischen Bildung wiederfinden. ...
... Wenn die Spielerinnen und Spieler mit zahlreichen Herausforderungen gleichzeitig, und insbesondere mit Zielkonflikten in polytelischen Situationen (Dörner 2002;Betsch, Funke, und Plessner 2011, 142 f.), konfrontiert werden, erhalten sie die Gelegenheit, ein Gefühl von Verantwortung und Einfluss zu erfahren sowie den Zustand des «Flow» (Csikszentmihalyi 2009) zu erleben. Die Entscheidungssituationen bewerten die Designerinnen und Designer dann als interessant, wenn sie den Spielerinnen und Spielern «Trade-Offs» abverlangen (weil sie auf Zielkonflikten basieren), sie emotional berühren und ihnen Spielräume lassen, den Problemen mit kontroversen Lösungen zu begegnen sowie mit verschiedenen Philosophien und Strategien zu experimentieren (Czauderna 2019). Somit verfolgen die Designerinnen und Designer durchaus eine Interessenorientierung im Sinne des Beutelsbacher Konsenses, die ihren Spielerinnen und Spielern unter bestimmten Bedingungen -z. ...
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... Firstly, these roles are appealing to players, as they match certain power fantasies and empower them to make an impact on the game world, which satisfies basic psychological needs such as competence and autonomy (Przybylski, Rigby and Ryan, 2010). Secondly, they may be also beneficial for learning, as an "overpowered role" enables players to try out different measures, to influence several areas (of city development, politics, etc.) at the same time, to learn how their decisions affect the world, and to try different political approaches (Squire, 2007;Czauderna, 2019). Thus, we do recommend those powerful roles due to both entertainment purposes as well as their benefits for contextual, self-empowered, experimental learning and multiperspectivity. ...
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Many educational games have been criticized for their lack of enticement to players, which is attributed, among other factors, to a low degree of complexity and a limited amount of choices, when compared to entertainment games (Sanford et al., 2015). From the perspective of learning theory, this is insofar problematic as successful processes of learning require player motivation, great agency, and a well-balanced level of complexity, which correspondents and adapts to players’ knowledge and skills (Gee, 2007). We thus assume that educational game design can learn from entertainment games, i.e., must look at them in order to improve educational games when it comes to their allure, their simulation/moderation of complexity, and their enabling of meaningful choices. With this in mind, we conducted a series of studies on commercially successful and critically acclaimed simulation and strategy games such as Cities: Skylines, Civilization VI: Gathering Storm, and Tropico 6 referring to the topics of climate change, urban planning, migration, and/or resource management – from the perspective of geography education. Our research focused on different aspects such as the games’ realism, complexity, geographical topics, facilitation of decision-making, and principles of political education, utilizing 18 game analyses and 8 qualitative interviews with game designers of these games. Based on the results of these studies, the present paper derives seven recommendations for the design of games on complex societal problems that can be used for educational purposes in geography education. Overall, the paper contributes to the greater effort to bridge the gap between entertainment game design and educational game design, thereby facilitating the creation of games that are both motivational and educational.
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Der Beitrag beschäftigt sich mit dem Potential von Computerspielen für den Politikunterricht. Im Mittelpunkt steht die Frage, ob sich die Politiksimulation DEMOCRACY 3 für einen Einsatz in der gymnasialen Oberstufe eignet. Es wird herausgearbeitet, dass sich die Spieler von DEMOCRACY 3 mit den Auswirkungen politischer Entscheidungen auf die ökonomische, soziale und kulturelle Lage eines westlichen Landes auseinandersetzen, während die Komplexität politischer Aushandlungs- und Entscheidungsprozesse in demokratischen Regierungssystemen nicht erfahrbar wird. Die hier festgestellte Unvollständigkeit der politischen Simulation wird für die pädagogische Praxis aber nicht nur als Problem, sondern vor allem auch als didaktische Chance gesehen. Denn es sind gerade die Leer- und Schwachstellen der Simulation des Spieles, die besondere Anknüpfungsmöglichkeiten für den Unterricht bieten, da sie eine kritische Analyse der Simulation bzw. einen Vergleich mit der Realität politischer Prozesse und damit eine tiefe Auseinandersetzung mit Politik im Allgemeinen herausfordern. Schließlich werden drei konkrete Ideen für die schulische Praxis vorgestellt.
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This experiment explores the effects of a role-playing videogame on participants’ attitudes toward Israelis and Palestinians. Participants (N = 172) were randomly assigned to the role of either an Israeli or a Palestinian leader in PeaceMaker, a videogame simulation of the Palestinian–Israeli conflict. Participants’ explicit and implicit attitudes toward both groups were assessed before and after a 20-minute gameplay experience. Results showed that gameplay changed participants’ explicit stereotypes of the two national groups in a role-congruent fashion. Participants assigned to play the role of the Palestinian President or the Israeli Prime Minister negatively changed their evaluations of the opposing national group. Moreover, implicit bias moderated stereotype change. Results are discussed within the framework of self-persuasion and an associative-proposition evaluation model of attitude change.
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Programming Prejudice and Why Democracy 3 is So Hard to Rip Off
  • Julian Benson
Benson, Julian: "Programming Prejudice and Why Democracy 3 is So Hard to Rip Off," Kotaku UK, 2017, http://www.kotaku.co.uk/2017/02/21/ programming-prejudice-and-why-democracy-3-is-so-hard-to-rip-off Crookall, David: "Serious Games, Debriefing, and Simulation/Gaming as a Discipline," Simulation & Gaming 41/6 (2010), pp. 898-920.
Semiotic Social Spaces and Affinity Spaces: From The Age of Mythology to Today's Schools
  • James Gee
  • Paul
Gee, James Paul: "Semiotic Social Spaces and Affinity Spaces: From The Age of Mythology to Today's Schools," in: Barton, David/Tusting, Karin (eds.), Beyond Communities of Practice: Language, Power and Social Context, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press 2005, pp. 214-232.