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What If?

Posted: 04.07.08

In computer games we have one word terms that are taken for multiword definitions. For example, if I said simulation what would think of? Probably you’d think of a game that requires you to use a strategy to simulate an aspect of reality but your actions would be mitigate by the sim engine’s rules, as is done in a life game, geo-political, geological, or in a stock exchange game. (There are a dozen classes of sim game BTW.)

However some of you might think of something totally different, like a military weapon simulation (e.g., an atomic bomb test) or an F-117 flight simulator, or even a car driver training simulation or simulator. And still others might think of trial forensics, or accident simulators.

One person’s simulation is a game where another’s is a factor in a real life, life or death decision. There’s been a lot of talk in the U.S. about adopting some kind of a national service policy, to put kids into the real world for a while before they’re sent off to college, and to teach them about the needs of others, and the rewards from helping. That’s something that can’t be simulated, you can’t smell the stench of an open sewer, or of festering bed sores, with a computer, and you can’t feel a person’s hand on your arm when you deliver food or medicine. Kids need to learn that.

I have an additional proposal.

World War I horse simulator—this ain't no damn game private.

What if anyone running for office was required to play a simulation game for a full day before they were allowed to run? And this would be for each race they wanted to run in. What if a person who wanted to run for governor had to play the governor simulation game. Such a game would start out with a fixed budget and some other resources. And then it would have forest fires, earthquakes, floods, and massive storms. It would have crops and transportation issues, water usage disputes, and demands from the federal government for the National Guard. Schools would have to be built and repaired, as would roads, and hospitals.

The problem is all, not just most, all newly elected officials come to the job with no experience. They’re all, just like you and me, think they know what to do and hopefully what not to do (especially if sex is involved.) But they are untested ideas.

On one side of the government realm simulators are used to avoid serious problems in design, and save gazillions of dollars in trial and error prototyping, and millions of lives in safety and fault testing.

On the other, the realm of politicians, a simulator would teach them (I may be being too generous here to suggest that a politician is capable of learning anything, but let’s pretend) would teach them the consequences of their actions. And in the case of some of them would also teach them where places like Turkacacus are and who lives there and next door. It would teach them that if they don’t repair the roads and there is a flood, people may not be able to escape to higher ground. And it might teach them that if we know there is a high probability of an earthquake some reserves should be put aside to deal with it when it happens. I’d like the game to have a consequence of education too. What if we don’t give our kids a good education, where do the tax receipts come from to pay for the governor’s new airplane?

The problems in getting this adopted are two-fold. First off the people who would have to pass the law to mandate would be affected (and effected) by it, and we all know they’re not going to do anything that changes their fat-cat deal. And if it were seriously proposed, it would be buried in committee for study. And problem number two—who decides what is in and not in the simulation, and what the weighted consequences are?

But what if, our “leaders” had to take what-if training? Do you think they might think differently about some of their actions? Aw hell, it’s just a game, right?

Epilog—there have been some government simulation or political simulation programs (we can’t call them games, that’s not serious sounding) such as training simulations for managing law enforcement policies (such as racial profiling), or the simulation of hospital responses to emergency situations. There was a rather famous game, Balance of Power, designed by Chris Crawford and published in 1985 that featured the conflict at the height of the Cold War, using political and policy decisions to shape outcomes rather than warfare. And of course we have the famous US Army game. But in all my research I haven’t (so far) found any simulator or simulation program or game that would teach a president, governor, senator, mayor, or chief of police what-if. s

Here are a few that are interesting (and free).

The closest I came to finding a training game for potential candidates is: