Scenario games that teach us about society

In the era of hyperpolitics, the best ways to actually cut through everyone’s strongly-held beliefs is through interactive illustrations of phenomena that affect society. Here are some good examples of games that help citizens better understand our world.

Topics: gerrymandering, budget balancing, racial profiling and gentrification

 Gerrymandering

From a great blog on visualization (flowingdata.com) comes a game where you have to redistrict states according to rules that get ever more difficult. The fourth challenge – a grid of nine voting circles that  you must split into three districts – gives a clear indication that regardless of who is in the majority, it’s how you draw the lines that determines who wields the power.

This includes the power to draw new districts that further consolidate power with one side. America is alone among democratic nations in allowing politicians to decide how voters will be segregated – in their favor. Everyone else relies on independent panels, courts, or statistics.

A more involved version of this game is at redistrictinggame.org. And a simpler one, simply to illustrate how ridiculous the gerrymandering problem has gotten is this jigsaw puzzle game, via slate.

Balancing the budget

Think you can do a better job of balancing the federal budget? So does the New York Times. It’s as simple as checking the boxes next to cuts you would make, and seeing how many cuts it takes to get there.

My complaint: cutting military spending in half (from $824 billion to $412 billion) has 10X the effectiveness of cuts to all other programs listed, and about 2X the power of any cuts to entitlements that are listed. Why is this not even a consideration? It would still mean we spent considerably more than any rival country on the planet.

 Racial profiling

PBS published a game where you get to sort people into races. Interesting fact: Until the 1960s, this is exactly how census takers assigned races to people.

Gentrification

Gentrification is when a richer dominant group displaces poorer minority groups in a neighborhood. It’s the effect of many forces, and the driving economic pressure comes from rapidly rising property taxes on the homeowners already there, as I explain in my book. In the parable of the polygons game you can see how new neighbors moving in and out also affect the makeup of neighborhoods. People prefer to be around other people like themselves, and the system effect of this preference self-segregates society.

Because only unhappy squares or triangles will move, you’re limited in your solutions. All solutions create a divided map.

These are just four important forces changing society today that most people don’t fully grok. Each is made much clearer through games and puzzles. If we want to change how people think, we need to embrace this as a tactic, instead of relying on words and reason. Games get people into a different mindset where the lesson can penetrate through the political filters that prevent us all from seeing a different way to solve difficult problems.

You can read more about gentrification in my book:

 

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