Tuesday, 7 September 2004

Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell Game and Geopolitical Brinksmanship (an Online Course)

Goal-based, game-based and role-play learning are all good strategies for motivating learners to acquire knowledge and skills within a "fantasy" - which acts as a safe environment where making mistakes is OK. Learners are set in a "suspended belief" stage to play out the role of a character and interact with the environment. (In typical implementation of goal-based and game-based situations, the environment is filled with AI agents; in role-play environment, the environment is filled with other roles dirven by other learners.)

While there are multi-player games, the communication channel between the players in these games is usually quite restricted. As pointed out by Susan Nash, in a multi-player shooter game, the game's grammar is shooting. "Shooting is a metaphor for communication; it is a way to involve the non-verbal in an environment (online) that tends to be highly restricted in its communication options.".

Typical implementation of goal-based environment is what I refer as "glorified multiple choice" engine. The instruction is delivered via other roles within the scenario as canned responses (as expert advice or resource material). The communication aspect is almost next to nothing.

On the contrary, role play depends on communication between the roles. It is a “glorified discussion” environment! There is no explicit delivery of instructions. The learners need to research, discuss and strategize in group (that is why Fablusi’s supports playing a role by a team). The learning occurs at several levels: a self reflecting level, a team level and at an inter-role level.

At the self reflecting level, the player constantly (and most of time, unconsciously) ponders between “how can I (as in the player) do this?” and “how would this role I am playing do this?”. These two sub-level of reflection is a very powerful technique to integrate the learning outcome into the player’s repertoire.

When playing as a team, it is required to give the role a consistent character and personality. That would require co-ordination between the team member and involve making sure the other members know the tactic and strategy the role is adopting. This is inline with Diane Laurillard’s conversation framework. However, in this case, the teacher role is taken by other member of the team.

Inter-role level is where players can see the result of the action as interpreted by the other role. The feedback (response or non-response from the other roles in character) forms the next cycle of the above three levels of learning.

Without knowing any details, just by reading the title of the online course, I would suggest Susan Nash to seriously consider using role play for delivering her course. Brinksmanship is about pushing risk taking to its very limit – knowing your opponent’s risk limit and willingness to retreat at the “brinks”. The other important aspect of brinksmanship is the ability to communicate.

If I were to design a course about political brinksmanship, I would start by the learners viewing the movie Thirteen Days (Infinifilm Edition) and then have the students role play. The scenario described by Nash is interesting, but would not necessarily lead to a better understand of brinksmanship. The scenario I would develop will involve both opponents casted in a modern political environment (hence achieve the learning objectives of understanding the geographical aspect of the political environment) and finish off with an analysis of the fall of Saddam Hussein. Was it a failure of Saddam’s brinksmanship to lead to the Iraq war?


Anonymous said...

thanks -- these are really wonderful points -- i've been enjoying your work a great deal and would very much like to try to incorporate the fablusi approach. i agree -- the idea of using video-game based simulation can be problematic because it's potentially a distractor ... the advantage of using a video / movie as a point of departure is that it allows everyone to depart from the same place & everyone has the same "vocabulary." I wonder, though, how would that work for people who are located in harsh conditions (in terms of access) -- how can these be overcome? I guess the key would be to send out a DVD of the film along with the software...

it's a GREAT idea to look at Iraq as an example of failed brinksmanship -- so much "sabre-rattling" these days... lots in Africa, too -- but it doesn't get the same sort of publicity .. Mugabe comes to mind. Also, the India-Pakistan situation(s).

Albert Ip said...

The Anonymous comment just filled in the missing part of the course for political brinksmanship. The role play may involve the India-Pakistan situation with a few other parties (making it even more interesting) such as China and USA. When we are dealing with Nuclear threats, the bigger context needs to take into account too.