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Education Game : Militarism/Environment in Israel

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Nadav
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Joined: 12/31/1969

This may seem a daunting dask, politically and logistically, but I am attempting to craft a board game to depict the environmental consequences of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and militarism in general. This is a project of my (suicidal?) choosing for a class on Environmental Education at the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies in Israel (http://www.arava.org). Quickly for background on why I am doing this: I am here at a small school comprised of Israelis, Palestinians, Jordanians, and students from Western countries who live and study together at a small kibbutz in southern Israel. We try to look at the conflict and peace-building efforts from an environmental perspective -- hence the game.

I'll go over what information there is generally on this issue, and what I have assembled so far, and then perhaps we can work together to imagine some sort of structure for the game to follow. We should remember this game will be for Israelis (and potentially Arabic-speakers) around the 12th grade (or end of high school).

The goal of this game is not to be political, but to display the matter-of-fact environmental impacts of certain routine military behaviors, the impacts of certain campaigns, and some of the indirect effects of militarism. I also have some instances where the military does positive things for the environment (although the list is smaller). And I have discussed with a few of the students here some "Chance cards." The overall goal might be to reach the "solution" (without saying what that is) without losing all of your "environment points" or losing the least, compared to other players. The board might look like a map of Israel, and players would traverse across Israel and the West Bank and Gaza, learning about certain environmental problems at different locations and losing or gaining points.

All of the design elements I outlined above are tentative, and completely open to change. I'll paste below a few of the potential "stops" and some of the ideas for chance cards. My list is much bigger, but a few examples might help visualize this issue:

STOP: Bet J'ala
Issue: Air Pollution from Checkpoint Ques and Destructive Fugitive Roads

STOP: Jerusalem
Issue: Separation Wall

STOP: Negev Desert #1
Issue: Weapons Testing

STOP: Nablus
Issue: Deforestation and Tree Uprooting

STOP: Rosh Tsurim Settlement (Bethlehem area)
Issue: Agricultural Discharge

STOP: Haifa-Kiryat Bialik
Issue: Large Weapons Factory

CHANCE Cards:
1. Curfew Imposed: Garbage Builds Up
2. New Section of Wall Built
3. Forested Sniper Area Uprooted
4. Forest Fire
5. Illegal Toxic Waste Dumping
6. Sinkhole
7. Trash Hauler Strike

In advance, I appreciate any help, and open dialogue.

Cheers

Kreitler
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Joined: 12/31/1969
Re: Education Game : Militarism/Environment in Israel

Nadav wrote:
This may seem a daunting dask, politically and logistically, but I am attempting to craft a board game to depict the environmental consequences of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and militarism in general.

In advance, I appreciate any help, and open dialogue.

Cheers

Hi Nadav,

This is a fascinating problem!

I am not a student of Palestinian/Israeli relations, so I apologize in advance for statements made in ignorance.

My first thought is that you might want to abstract the game away from any actual region of the world and associated peoples. Your school sounds like a very enlighlightened place of learning. Even if everyone comes to the game expecting to work together in the best interests of humanity in general, each person's individual experiences will color his approach to play. You may want this, in which case your choice to set the game in the real world is a good choice. If your intent is to explore environmental impact as freely as possible, you may want to use a fictional setting, or a completely abstract one. This will allow your players to more easily set aside personal feelings and play roles more freely.

My next thought is that, while you have many interesting play elements in place, there is no concrete goal nor any established play mechanics. It's hard to have a focused discussion without these elements -- unless you're looking for people to start tossing entire design ideas around. :-) Which is what I intend to do. :-)

I can imagine an abstract game board that represents a geographical region. It is divided into 4 colored territories and several "disputed" regions. The map is overlaid with a grid of hexes (like a standard chit-and-dice war game map).

Each player owns a fixed number of cubes in his color. These represent his population. Various hexes in each territory contain icons representing things like population centers, points of resource production, natural landmarks, etc.

Players play the role of government or military officials who carry out policy (NOTE: they carry it out, as opposed to making policy). Each turn, players draw from a deck of "Directives". These are actions their leaders require that they perform. Example Directives might be:

Remove all "foreigners" (cubes not of your color) from one disputed territory on your border.

Move 5 of your cubes into a disupted hex.

Construct a wall to cut 1 foreign hex off from a disputed territory on your border.

And so on. There would be simple rules governing all such actions (e.g., you can't move cubes into a disupted hex unless the final total of your color exceeds those of the current majority color). You would also have a simple array of tools for controlling things like cube populations (you might have a "Military Response" power which moves or removes 3 cubes of your choice from a hex at the cost of inflicting a certain amount of environmental damage).

Each tool would also have a cost to use in terms of resources. As your country takes more environmental damage, its resource production declines.

Each Directive would have a "priority" representing its importance to your country's leadership. Each player would be forced to play Directives totaling a certain minimim Priority number each turn. The minimum priority might change depending on the "world situation" (for instance, normally you might have to play only 3 points' worth of Directives, but if your country goes to war, this would double to 6 points.

Each Directive would necessarily inflict a certain amount of environmental damage when played (for example, using a Military Strike in a hex with a "Resource Production" icon might inflict 4 damage). Every country would have a scoring track to maintain a running tally of damage.

You could experiment with different game goals. For example, under "Realistic" rules, the winner would be the person who played the most points' worth of Directives without exceeding a fixed threshold of environmental damage. This reflects a "we must 'win' at any cost" mentality by the country's leaders. Under the "Idealistic" rules, the player with the least environmental damage wins. This might represent a representational government trying to restrain conflict-happy leaders.

In the "Realistic" game, players try to maximize their Directive points, which damages resource production and therefore makes it harder to use the tools required to play Directives.

In the "Idealistic" game, core gameplay is trying to play the fewest damaging Directives (i.e., balancing the leaders' wishes versus the environmental cost).

I say again that this is a fascinating project. I wish you the best of luck with it. I hope you'll keep us posted on your progress.

Good luck!

Kreitler

jwarrend
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Joined: 08/03/2008
Education Game : Militarism/Environment in Israel

Nadav,

Welcome to the group. I think Kreitler raises some good points. I would additionally ask what your goal for the project is. Is this simply something you want to turn in for your class project and forget forever, or are you trying to develop a game that you'll continue working on after the class is over?

I'm going to assume it's the latter, but if it's the former, you may not need very much more than what you've already got.

My impression based on what you've said thus far is that the game will feel sort of like Monopoly but without a single linear track. You move around the board and flip some cards and do what they say. My chief concern is that this will be agonizingly boring, and that it won't be something people will want to play again and again. You won't be able to communicate your message if people don't have fun playing.

There is a tough balance that educational or moralizing games (and come on, there is no way your game isn't trying to send a political message; no one would tackle this subject just for the fun of it!) need to strike between delivering their message and being enjoyable to play. My Dad is a retired water quality engineer, and he once brought home a game from work called "the Game of Watershed Management", and it was torture. The reason was similar; it was all information, no fun.

So I think that Kreitler's ideas are excellent. Instead of bombarding players with facts about environmental effects of war, bombard them with decisions. Players should represent the involved nations and should need to make military decisions that can bring about victory but also which carry environmental consequences. If you abstract the situation outside of Israel, you can incorporate environmental effects that have factored in to other wars as well: for example, mine fields, etc.

As Kreitler notes, the more you tell us about your game at present, and what your design goals are, the more helpful we can be.

Best of luck,

Jeff

Hedge-o-Matic
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Joined: 07/30/2008
Education Game : Militarism/Environment in Israel

As a teacher I created a simulation of the conflict as it stood a few years ago, around 2001. In my view, the intractability of the situation was mainly caused by the factions within both of the main powers. Each student was given a faction, rather than assigned the role of Israel or the Palestinians as a whole.

The Israeli side had both political parties (Labor, Likud, Meretz, Shas and so on), as well as a core of electorate citizens. The parties were committed to certain goals within the game, and the electorate were distributed a random set of matching goals, making it unlikely that one elector player would be matched one-to-one with any party. The electorate players also had well-being tokens, by which they could further help their causes. An elector without well-being could not influence the political process through voting, however.

The Palestinian side had a number of official factions (Most of them beign groups within the PLO, such as Fatah, PFLP, DLFP, and so on), which, like their Israeli political counterparts, had a fixed set of goals. The Palestinians also had an electorate with voting power and well-being tokens.

Generally, the electorate on both sides was busy arguing among itself to try to get other members of the electorate to give power to the party that most represented them, sometimes trading well-being or promises to get others in the electorate to act as desired. The politicians met with each other to hammer out the official agenda, satisfying some small number of goals in any given year. Many of these goals were mutually exclusive, and required the two sides to meet with each other to agree to final status. Every five minutes the electorate of one side or the other held elections.

The electorate was directly influenced by the agreements of the politicians, in the form of gaining or losing well-being based on their individual desires. If an elector were ever brought to zero well-being (or less!), they had a number of options:

1.) Petition the Government: The player can immediately make a request for a certain policy change. If the politicians granted it, the elector would gain a single well-being point, allowing them to influence the political process through legitimate means of voting.

2.) International Protest: The disenfranchised electorate players could band together and, if the majority of the electors (on both sides) in the game chose to allow it, force through a single change on their side's agenda. This was often used to derail the completed work of the politicians.

3.) Take Radical Action: Though not explicit, this represented all manner of extremeist actions, from terrorism to slash-and-burn underground politics. Generally, this hinted at violence. The elector player designates a single pair of goal tokens, and, if any electorate player has them, they must forfiet a well-being token to the extremist. Once a player begins extreme action, they may continue to do so, but cannot use their well-being in political ways (i.e. influenceing elections and voting) until they disavow extremism (this was before the election of Hamas, of course). Extremism could be used against any elector, even one "on your side", but this was rarely done.

The two sides were not symettrical. The Palestinian side had far more electors, each with far less well being (a single point each, to start), while the Israeli side had fewer electors, but each held more well being (three tokens each). This caused the Israelis to usually try a petition first, followed by international pressure against their politicians, since the larger Palestnian electorate would see this as an easy way to get a second chance at failed negotiations.

Meanwhile, almost every completed negotiation point would do away with the single well-being token of at least one or two of the Palestinian electors. Considering how difficult any accord was, Palestinians politicians were unlikely to allow a political remedy to an elector's problems, and international pressure was usually defused by the great numbers of satisfied electors on both sides. This often left only the choice of radical action. The Palestinian radicals saw this as a way to level the field by bringing Israeli electors to their own powerless state, in the hopes that they would begin pressuring their own politicians from within before they lost their well-being entirely.

All said, the simulation worked exceptionally well. Each side had their own agendas, but the same options were technically open to either. The Palestinians didn't have the sole use of extremism, nor did the Israeli side have a monopoly on non-violent political protest.

But the simulation was often heated. With so many factions working against every policy, the students were as frustrated by the competing needs of their "own side" as they were by the others. But the simulation showed how difficult an accord on the issues remains, not because the people are incapable of compromise, but because large groups of people want so many mutually incompatible things. There is a solution to the problem built into the system, though. It is possible within the structure of the goals and needs to satisfy everyone. But, when playing with real people, with real emotional investment, the solution is almost impossible to see.

The students gained a definate understanding of why the issues of the region resnate so strongly with those involved. Even the actions of terrorists, though not excused or condoned, became understandable, and there were long discussions about how to defeat terrorism not through military force, but through keeping people from the desperation that made it so attractive. The students began to recognize the danger inherent when people are left with nothing to lose. In my book, this simulation worked well.

Nadav
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Joined: 12/31/1969
Update on the game

Friends,

Thank you for all of your input. The semester has now finished, and the game board that ultimately resulted was a great success. I just wanted to let you know exactly how it came out... which is much differently than I had presented it... surprise surprise!

In essence, the idea of using Israel as a game board became immediately too political. In discussion with other Israelis, from children up to adults, there were major political differences affecting how people viewed certain game squares at way too many points.

So I opted for using the world, very loosely, as a game board. In essence, I took a simple world map, and surrounded the edges with squares ala Monopoly. Squares were either red, blue, or green. Red squares, environmental problems as a result of militarism (land mines, nuclear tests, etc.) caused a loss of points (of which a reserve is given to start the game), and blue squares (Geneva Conventions, United Nations Environmental Programme ...) caused points to be gained. Green squares were chance cards that read very much like natural disasters or major political breakthroughts - loss, gain of points, or moving up and down the board.

In each game square was a picture of the issue at hand (usually a small photo), and above or below was a very brief description of what the issue was. The goal was to reach the end (Geneva Convention) without losing all of one's reserve points.

The game lasts about 10-15 minutes and probably should be accompanied by a classroom lesson on some of the more difficult concepts to grasp.

The "Israel" issue did not escape the game. Many of the issues presented were directly or indirectly related or applicable in the Israeli context, and the classroom activity addressed many of the local aspects.

For sure, the game is not slated for mass production, but it is a very beautiful game board... was received very well by 10th graders at an Israeli high school, and is an effective pedagogic tool.

Those interested in seeing the game can email me and we can work out a way to transfer the 5 MB PDF.

Thanks for your tips!

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