Statecraft Simulation Game Puts Students in the President’s Chair

Oct 29, 2021

Grayson Rose, a senior in political science, spent the weekend playing a simulation game. While that might not sound strange, this one was for class credit. 

Rose and 19 other William Peace University students spent Oct. 23 and 23 in the collaboration lab playing “Statecraft,” a game that simulates the global stage. 

Students are first divided into six countries based on an attitude test, explained Dr. Beth Kusko, associate professor of political science. Then, they collaborate and compete to achieve goals for their countries or for the world. They use their resources and decide whether to cooperate with others – against global flooding or pirate terrorists – or whether to be combative. The simulation shows on a screen, and every hour or so, countries must make a decision. 

During the simulation, a world map is displayed on a large monitor, showing the status. The simulation makes it feel like you’re in a war room, Kusko said. 

“You’re watching this world map. In real-time, every country has to make decisions by the deadline. So, let’s say at 9 o’clock you type in your decision and the map will change to reflect what everyone did.” 

Countries can spend their resources, trade, and spy on each other. They must balance international and domestic constraints, manage factions, businesses, and their own political power. In between the decision times, they have to decide if they want to be diplomatic and set up a meeting “in person” with another country — or make enemies. 

In some versions of the game, you can bomb each other, but Kusko chose a “lite” version that focuses more on cooperation and could be completed over the weekend. 

The students are from an Honors Class, so the focus of the simulation was leadership, Kusko said. By putting students in the position of making such decisions, they would learn about international relations, civil engagement, democracy, cooperation. The game doesn’t exactly have a “winner.” 

“You can only ‘win’ if the world doesn’t get blown up or flooded by melting ice caps,” Kusko said. “The main goal is cooperation. While you want to be the lead power — you want to be the wealthiest, strongest, most educated — but you can’t do that without some collaboration.” 

At the end of the simulation, the students had to write a paper about it, outlining what they expected and what they learned. 

Rose said one his primary lessons was that government is “harder than it looks.” 

“Everyone wants to complain about governments, but there’s more to it than you think, many aspects of things,” he said. “There is no such thing as ‘I’m going to win this game.’ There is no winner. It’s surviving, co-existing so that everyone wins.” 

Immersive Learning
Kusko said playing the game fits right in with WPU’s Immersive Learning approach. 

“When you’re in the classroom explaining these concepts and theories, it’s one thing. Students can understand and analyze and compare and contrast. But when you actually do it, put it into practice, the learning that happens is deeper and more meaningful,” Kusko said. “I see when my students compete against one another, their brains are working at a higher and deeper level. It is a high-level function. They get to see … they get to do it and not just read about it.” 

The other thing students learn is social skills, said Dr. Caleb Husmann, assistant professor of political science, who also taught the weekend class.

“Students here are from various majors and some of them wouldn’t normally hang out together. Within two hours of starting, I was seeing groups form that would not cross paths on campus,” he said. “Working together like this bonds you in a way you can’t get in a classroom. This builds social capital, and gives people a chance to see and respect different thinking.” 

Kusko agreed the social aspect of the game is just as critical as the leadership skills learned. 

We started off in traditional rows of desks introducing ourselves to one another … a lot of students kind of knew one another from classes, a few knew each other really well, a few had never met anyone. By the middle of the first day, they’re all in groups really getting to know each other, having a ton of fun, and deciding on their country’s strategies within this fictional world of international politics,” she said. “By the second day, they’re really excited to be working with what was 24 hours ago barely an acquaintance and is now a friend. I love that. I love seeing the community being built and I think that that is so important to the student experience.” 

While Kusko has done other simulation games, this was the first time she tried Statecraft. She said the game was definitely a hit and will be repeated. A more advanced version of the game might even become part of a class, with the decisions happening each week instead of every 90 minutes. 

We had an absolute blast! It was so engaging and immersive,” she said. “It was awesome to see the students play the game, which really meant that they were putting into practice the decision-making and leadership strategies we had discussed in class.” 

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