Quandary, an educational game

Name: Quandary

Developer: Learning Games Network

Platform: Browser

High-level Instructional Goal: As an external consultant for a new colony, you are there to help resolve dispute among the citizens for the longevity of the colony. You gather different facts and opinions from different citizens in order to propose your decision to the colony council, who makes the ultimate decision.

Brief Description

As a consultant for the colony council, you are given the current dilemma that the citizens in the colony are facing, such as a threat to the water supply. The player hears from all the different citizen’s perspectives and must sort between facts and opinions. The player then explores a particular solution and the different perspectives on this solution. The player will carefully piece together all the arguments for and against this solution. After this research, the player must propose their solution based on their research to the council. The council makes the ultimate decision and the player is shown the outcome of that decision.

Learning Objectives

What do I need to know prior?

The player does not need to have any knowledge with regards to ethical decision making prior to playing the game. It is helpful for the player to be familiar with the overall definition of a ‘fact’ versus ‘opinion’, nonetheless if a player is not, it will just take them longer to move through the first stage of the level until they grow familiar with this.

What can I learn?

The games teaches ethical decision making, based on research and factual evidence. The game illustrates the concept of ‘utilitarianism’, which in ethics is defined as correct if creating the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people. This is a contrast to ‘egoism’, which is only making a decision based on your personal interest and not taking into account those around you (Definitions from ENCYCLOPÆDIA BRITANNICA). The player must go through multiple stages of understanding the problem from a variety of angles, and learn to sort facts from opinions. The player can see how each person in the colony feels about a solution, and finally puts together arguments for and against a particular solution. Once the player has been through all the necessary information, they make a decision to present to the council, which has been rationally thought through.

How can these skills transfer outside the game?

These skills can be especially useful for project management or even a team sport. In project management, where decisions have to be made, it is important to hear from all team members to understand each of their unique viewpoints as well as have a comprehensive list of all the advantages and disadvantages of a particular solution. In addition, it is also important to note how each person would feel in response to the decided solution before implementing the new solution. As the decision maker, it is important to make the decision for the greater good of the project and company, even if it means certain team members would have preferred an alternative solution. It is important to consider the overall outcome for the team or community, as opposed to pleasing the desires of each individual.

Here the player must sort arguments against the proposed solution.
Here the player must sort arguments for the proposed solution.

Viewing Quandary through the MDA Framework

The main action for the player is the sorting and categorising of information. The player goes through 6 stages before presenting their final solution to the council. In each phase the player must understand the information and then sort it based on the requirement of that stage. Throughout each stage, the player earns points for all their choices made along the way.

The overall breakdown:

Intro: The player is given a scenario of the colony in the format of a comic book strip to understand the situation in the colony.

1st stage: The player is presented with all the colonists and what they have to say about the current situation. The player must then listen to each colonist, such as an engineer, doctor, farmer or biologist and decide whether it is a ‘fact’, ‘other opinion’ or ‘solution’.

2nd stage: The player must select two solutions to explore.

3rd stage: The player hears the opinion of each colonist about a solution and clicks cards to see how facts might change their opinion.

4th stage: The player decides on a solution to propose.

5th stage: The fifth stage involves sorting through arguments for and against the solution based on the colonists, to provide to the council along with the player’s solution.

6th stage: Once the council has made a decision, the player must then forecast which colonists would agree and disagree with the solution.

The process of guiding the player through making small decisions along the way helps them comprehend the information, sort it systematically, and be able to make the final decision for the greater good of the colony. The player is able to follow through the directions of sorting information into a maximum of three categories, helping the player not get lost in all the information.

Throughout the different stages, the player has a score on the top left. The player is able to see the value of their choices based on whether they earn points, as they move to the final ultimate decision. If the player made the incorrect assumption about how a colonist would react to a potential solution, they would then realize this and be prompted to think about what they missed or why they interpreted it wrong. The player will feel a sense of motivation to make sure in the next stage they are more careful to not repeat a similar misunderstanding. The player becomes more vigilant and is reminded to think about the greater good of the colony, and not get persuaded by one particular fact or opinion.

It is important for the player to learn how best to sort information at each stage, but also keep in mind the mission of proposing a solution to the council. The player learns to be more attentive and stay as objective as possible in order to make a final decision for the colony.

The game offers the player the fantasy of a dystopian future with a new settlement called Braxos. The player is a captain who is signed on as part of the colonial extension program and is there to offer support to the colonial council. In addition, the game is built up through a strong narrative, where the player is first walked through the current drama in the colony such as there being a contaminant in the water supply, and seeing how the different colonists are affected. The narrative continues to develop as the player explores different solutions and opinions to these solutions. The ultimate aim of the game offers the player a challenge to make a final ethical decision for the colony based on all the information he combs through.

The fantasy and narrative help situate the player into the new context, and provide an immersive experience to better empathize with the dilemma as well as with the different inhabitants of the colony. In order for the player to make such an important decision for the greater good and longevity of the community, the player has to feel a part of the new world. As the narrative continues, the player feels closer to the colonists and is able to thoroughly understand each viewpoint. The challenge is what helps the player think rationally, to carefully weigh a decision and constantly be aware of consequences as he moves through the different stages before finally presenting the final solution to the council.

Here the aesthetics provide the player with a sense of realism with the lives at stake and how difficult it can be to consider all angles before coming up with a rational solution involving multiple parties.

Here the player is shown final impact of the solution that the council decided.

Which learning principles are employed?

Segmenting: In order for the player to learn how to make a final critical decision involving multiple stakeholders, the game is broken down into different stages for the player to move through at their own pace. Each stage builds upon what happened in the previous stages and adds more material for the player to take into consideration. In the first segment the player understands that there is a dilemma and must first learn what are facts, solutions and opinions. Once the player learns this, they begin to learn how different facts affects the different opinions. The player then moves on to consider all the arguments for and against a solution. After the player presents their solution, they are then asked to think about each colonist would react to the solution. Thus, the player is systematically taught how to approach a decision by going through the multiple stages.

Linking: The game encourages the player to think about the relationship between facts and opinions. In stage four of the game, the player must go through each colonist’s opinion and see how a fact might alter their opinion of a solution. This is effective at helping the player understand that opinions can be weakened by an opposing fact. The player is able to utilise this information in making their final decision for the greater good of the colony.

Temporal Contiguity: When the player goes through each of the colonists, they are able to hear the audio of the person speaking as well as see their persona on screen. This creates further depth behind the opinion of each colonist, such as hearing the opinion from the historian, seeing her dressed in scholarly robes and seeing the symbol of a book in her block. However, this could be further utilised where the user must listen to the opinion and try to figure if it is based on scientific evidence or on emotion.

Questioning: The game invites for reflection through the different stages. In one place where it is most prominent, is when the council has deliberated and presented their decision. If the decision was not what the player proposed, then the game tells the player “…Not what you expected? Was there any more you could have during the investigation?”. Here the player is given the chance to think back to why they made their decision and why it may not be as effective as what was finally decided for the colony. The player is able to reflect on the council’s decision and think about it’s implications, before being presented with how this actually affected the colony.

How do the EDGE framework components support each other?

The components have been woven together to create an immersive learning experience for players to learn and develop their ethical decision making skills. The player has the opportunity to learn through the narrative crafted in the fantasy world of a new colony settlement, and be able to empathise with the different colonists. In the fantasy world, the player can resonate with specific stakes and how different thoughts are presented from people. The player feels their decision will have an impact of these colonists and the new settlement. The player becomes more proficient at sorting facts and opinions, and being able to separate these from an actual solution. The player is invested and able to understand the systematic steps to making an informed decision for a large group of different parties, in addition to remaining objective. The player learns the skills of creating arguments for and against a solution or decision, which should be created prior to the final solution. When the player makes a wrong assumption, they are able to learn and reflect on why, before moving to the next stage. Finally, the player is able to see how the ultimate solution impacts the colony, which adds completion to the narrative and the fantasy world.

Conclusion

Overall, Quandary is a an engaging game for players to learn and develop skills on how to make ethical decisions involving the lives of different parties and the entire community. The player is able to utilize this multi-step structure outside the game when making decisions for a project, company or a team. The player is able to learn that humans will always have opinions which may not prove fruitful for a viable solution, and thus need to be kept aside. Although it can be impossible to satisfy each individual, it is more important to consider which outcome will have the greater good for the community. The player is able to walk away with the knowing that there are always multiple angles to every decision, which should be studied and weighed prior putting together a final proposal.

UX Designer