Designing Original Position, a collaborative civic board game for teaching distributive justice

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School of Arts, Design and Architecture | Master's thesis
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Master's Programme in New Media
Over the past three decades, youth has been observed to be increasingly disengaged from politics and traditional democratic institutions. Research conducted on the pedagogical potential of games has shown that games can have a positive impact on motivation, support cognitive learning and development of soft skills, and are therefore optimal media for collaborative activities aimed at fostering the civic competencies of knowledge, skills and dispositions. Analog games appear to present advantages over digital games concerning affordability, availability, understanding of complex systems and development of social skills. While there has been growing interest in the design of civic board games, most are designed with the aim of preparing players for political advocacy, and some scholars have affirmed the need for more games fostering ethical deliberation, as a foundation for critical citizenship. The present study investigates the process of designing a civic board game suitable for classroom implementation and meant to cover the three core civic competencies of knowledge, skills and dispositions, while favouring a logic of ethical deliberation over advocacy. In particular, the research examines the challenges that arise when incorporating game mechanics for 1. fostering the understanding of socio-economic systems (knowledge), through system modeling and simulation, 2. fostering competencies of collaborative decision-making (skills), through collaborative game mechanics, 3. eliciting meaningful debate (dispositions), while 4. adapting to classroom settings. The study was project-based and methodologically applied game design to design-based research. A collaborative civic board game, Original Position, intended for application in the classroom as part of social studies class, was developed iteratively over four versions, each tested through internal and casual tests. The game aimed at eliciting reflection and debate on the subject of distributive justice, and draws on Rawls’s work A Theory of Justice (1971). The analysis of data gathered from playtest observations yielded two main findings. First, understanding a socio-economic system and being able to deliberate on its ethical merits correspond to two different stages of the learning process, and the design characteristics that support one and the other are somewhat incompatible. Secondly, results indicated that a goal-oriented game structure may hinder genuine and meaningful ethical deliberation, suggesting that ethics-focused games might be more suitably conceived as activities of facilitated debate.
Reunanen, Markku
Thesis advisor
Aurava, Riikka
Kankainen, Ville
civic education, civic games, educational board games, game design, ethics-focused games, social studies teaching
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