Animal Kingdom was an engaging experience that offered a unique perspective on the complexities of socio-political systems. I anticipated a conventional board game experience, perhaps with a twist of strategy and competition. However, what unfolded was an interesting simulation that provided deep insights into the dynamics of political maneuvering and social stratification.
We designed game mechanics to interweave with each other, creating an ecosystem that mirrored real-world socio-political landscapes during a time of an election campaign. Policy cards, global events, and diverse socio-economic districts added layers of strategy and unpredictability. Each element played a crucial role in shaping the game’s outcome, compelling players to think critically about their decisions and their broader implications. The policy cards, for instance, were not just tools for gaining influence but also represented the real-world impact of political decisions on different social classes. Examples include cards that allow immigrants to vote in elections or cards that improve the education infrastructure in Working Class districts.
The ecosystem within “Animal Kingdom” was modeled to reflect the delicate balance of power, influence, and vulnerability in society. It was fascinating to see how players (during playtests) navigated this ecosystem, making strategic decisions that could either uplift or exploit different social classes. One of the intended purposes of the game was to highlight the ethical considerations inherent in political decision-making. The game underscored how political decisions could have far-reaching consequences, affecting various segments of society in different ways.
By designing the game, I learned how to embed complex systems (like sociopolitical dynamics) in an engaging game experience and how to use tools like narrative and experience arcs/loops, and concept/systems maps to facilitate the design process. Watching others play “Animal Kingdom” was equally enlightening. It was intriguing to observe different strategies unfold and see how players responded to the dynamic challenges presented by the game. Some players were aggressive in their pursuit of power, while others adopted more collaborative and socially responsible strategies. It was very interesting to see how players interacted with the game in a way that was different, in certain aspects, from what we had anticipated as designers. If we had more time, we would have loved to do a mental model to represent the user perception of the system.
This experience has significantly altered my perception of systems games. I now appreciate them as powerful tools for simulating complex systems and for fostering a deeper understanding of the intricacies involved in managing such systems. The game provided a safe space to experiment with different strategies and to witness the outcomes of our various design choices.
Going forward, I see immense value in using systems games like “Animal Kingdom” in educational and professional settings. They can be effective in teaching concepts of systems thinking, strategic planning, and ethical decision-making. In a world increasingly defined by complex systems, such games can equip individuals with the skills and insights to navigate these systems effectively.