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Economic Development Simulation Game

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Hello everyone,,

This looks like it might be an unusual post for this reddit, but I think it falls within the scope; I'm hopeful I can get some informed and helpful commentary.

I am a high school economics teacher with a background in history. For some time I've been turning over in my mind ideas for an activity or game, extending over the whole semester, which combines aspects of a classroom marketplace with historical simulation.

Unlike a traditional classroom marketplace, this game would narratively feature a variety of economic institutions. Unlike, say, Tim Dye's Urban Game, the sim would be extended through the whole semester and give them practical experience. Students would take on character roles and encounter concepts through progressing through several phases or rounds representing simplified historical periods, building up to modern economic institutions. I imagine it something like this:

  • There is a map with arable land and waste (forest and pasture), and students pick out areas on which to build farms. There is a social aspect to these decisions; one is a member of the gentry, and he has veto power.

  • Farmers spend labor points on a set of possible agricultural activities to try to achieve a subsistence-level existence. Think the BBC's Tales from the Green Valley. As most are tenants, they must also find ways to pay rents to the landowner. It would be nice to find a way to underline the social cooperation necessary in the village during bad years. There may also be a miller who grinds corn into flour, taking some of that flour as his fee but also saving customers labor points.

  • A London merchant appears to buy wool. Many of the farmers may be persuaded to focus on sheep herds to sell wool, the gentry and wealthier farmers may try to enclose pastureland, and some may sell most of the agricultural property to become weavers (specialists). Players who lose by enclosure or other adverse conditions may have to become laborers.

  • Cheap raw imported cotton becomes an alternative to wool.

  • The agricultural revolution leads to a rise in crop yields.

  • Textile factories, first water-powered and then steam-powered, destroy the profitability of household production, attract workers, and lead to the building of a town. Most of the players will end up workers, with a few capitalists and landlords. (The game now would become a lot less agricultural; if necessary, there could be some kind of "break" to reposition players. Budgets would be monetary at this point rather than about producing or acquiring necessary food.)

  • Players gain the option to invest in industrial and speculative ventures.

  • The dispute over free trade versus protectionism makes an appearance.

  • Social issues would also make an appearance, due to the likely maldistribution of wealth among players. Perhaps Luddite or Marxist agitators visit.

  • Eventually, I would hope to bring in financial capitalism, cartels, central banks, and corporations from the end of the nineteenth century.

  • At the end of the game, we find "winners" by seeing who did best along several metrics, including but not limited to total wealth. They would also submit journals for their character.

Of course, the difficulties with designing such a game are many and practical. To be successful, the game would need to be both simple and flexible, allowing students plenty of creative control and stuff to do without breaking the simulation. I would want to keep the number of available commodities small (focusing on the textile trade, perhaps), and there would need to be some kind of reasonable penalty for failing to achieve a balanced budget or subsistence. My first thought was to track everything (wealth, property, exchanges, etc.) through paper ledgers that could be cross-referenced, but that would require either a lot of meticulous attention on my part as the teacher or could easily be abused. I've spent some time on this, but I don't feel closer to having it figured out, and I worry that it may be excessively complex in the very concept and therefore doomed.

Still, even if I had to break this into two or three sequential games, if it is workable, I see a lot of profit and enjoyment for the students in such an exercise. I welcome any thoughts or anything that might help get me through the weeds. If there is something similar out there I could use as inspiration, I would also be glad to hear of it.

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Hi, I have recently read a gamasutra post about something similar. I believe it was called "Eco" and it is a simulation of a world with limited reaources and a community. People post job offers "collect 5  wood for 5 money". At the end world ia with little resources, playera with the most money and the rest. The money value is what the community makes it worth - so people get a concept of what 'money' really is. Here is the link Eco game

What you have written sounds great but it also sounds like a lot of work which potentially has already been done in the "Eco" game.



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I wouldn't worry about things being 'done before', economic and similar simulations are great subjects for games, because computers do them so well, and I think humans intrinsically tend to find such complex simulations interesting, the results are often hard to predict and sometimes counter-intuitive.

On a related note I wish politicians would make better use of simulations for examining the impact of policies instead of essentially plucking them from the air with the view that 'god told them their way is the right way'. For instance simulations can clearly show the effects of taxing people too little or too much, welfare etc. But as it is we are often governed by those with the weakest brains, sigh lol.

As your design seems based on the students making the decisions, rather than AI, I think to gain the numbers necessary for meaningful results, you may like to have each student make decisions for a large number of different individuals (perhaps different roles). Of course then you have the possibility that a student might rig a group of individuals to perform better as a group than they would as individuals .. which is artificial, but perhaps giving some interesting twists.

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As far as I know, one of the most famous examples of games mimicking real economics is World of Warcraft's auction house:

It doesn't have to be overly complex. You can do it all on a console at first, then expand it with networking. I suppose the real challenge would be the idea of innovation. Perhaps you can have "patents"? Where players with the most patents are the most likely to become the landlord/capitalist within the next phase of the timeline (where the timeline will be some event that triggers the next big innovation, like how you were talking about textile factories).

Edited by conditi0n

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