By Tanner Higgin, Graphite
If there’s one thing games can teach very well, it’s systems thinking. Get good at a game like Gate, for example, means learning its physics engine. When the game is over, it’s natural to draw comparisons between how things move, fall, and interact in the game and the physical worlds. Likewise, building nations in Civilization exposes players to complex political, social, and cultural relationships that they can see reflected in world history. These examples are admittedly a bit old hat. Sure, games can teach gravity or supply and demand, but can they show us how to build a good argument?
The following five games do just that by modeling argument work. Best of all, they tackle the subject critically, showing the myriad uses of persuasion and how it’s always political.
Set on a colony somewhere in space, Quandary tasks the player with settling disputes and solving problems by building strong arguments for one side or the other. Players tackle tough problems, sort fact from opinion, gather support, and try to make the best decision for the community, even if there’s no clear right or wrong answer.
2. Citizen science
Good argumentation is not only important for the humanities. Citizen science demonstrates how effective persuasion skills help scientists better inform policy and bring about positive change in the world. Much like Quandary, players must gather, evaluate, and use evidence to sway public opinion towards the best position.
3. Argument Wars
The stakes are high in Argument wars. Players engage in debate-style fights over real Supreme Court cases. Like the other games on this list, the focus is on argumentative structure and strong support, but players must align their arguments with the US Constitution. After each case, players can dig into the case history, find out how the events actually unfolded.
4. The Republic era
The era of the Republic may be the most stripped-down game on this list, but that doesn’t mean it lacks punch. It only takes 10 minutes to play and has a super simple concept – players take on the role of an editor tasked with curating the front page of a newspaper. Still, it does a fantastic job of communicating the political nature of any given system. And by focusing on editing rather than writing, players see how persuasion takes different forms.
5. Papers, please
A sort of sequel to The era of the Republic, papers please puts players in the shoes of an immigration officer at the border of a fictional communist country. To decide who is allowed in, players must build compelling arguments. They assess people’s documents, interview them and try to find the necessary evidence to justify the refusal or admission. It’s a stressful and dark experience full of heartbreaking decisions that show how ethics and morality are often at odds.