The Broken-Window Fallacy, in a game?

This month’s Experimental Gameplay Project theme is Economy, and it got me thinking about whether I could apply some of the techniques used in my thesis, to make players aware of Frédéric Bastiat’s Broken-Window Fallacy.

This would probably involve players participating in a simple economy, and then having the option to waste wealth, be it through broken windows, or digging and filling holes, or war. The player must be tempted by the activity, though, under the guise of helping the economy, and subsequently be educated.

Essentially, such a game would require the following:

  1. An initial illusion that spending on X is good for the economy
  2. An illustration that X is, in fact, wasteful
  3. The player to understand this, and its wider application in the real world

Real-time strategy games present rich worlds of choices to the player, and have them choosing how to distribute resources, be it towards production or research or military exploits. The Civilization series of games is particularly effective at this, as production is generally more long-term, and the player becomes personally invested in what is produced. When the time is taken to produce a soldier who is then quickly lost, the player feels that the effort was wasted, whereas it could have been spent on something more productive and permanent.

Most RTS games fail to address the principle as it pertains to domestic economics: while it’s obvious when a worker unit’s efforts are wasted on rebuilding and repairing, the player doesn’t see this as “good for the economy” solely because it gives workers more work to do, keeping them employed. The game thus does an incomplete job (as an educator of this principle), as workers working isn’t seen as an inherently “good” thing. Consequently, it misses point 1 from the list above.

Will Wright suggested that while some things are well-conveyed with a game, others are better-conveyed with a story. Bastiat himself teaches the principle with a parable, stating that while personal experience is the most perfect educator, the development of foresight is a gentler alternative. While a game would put players in the position of experiencing the effects of their decisions in a virtual way, personally, I believe that a story is sufficient to make a person understand this particular idea clearly. It’s hard to say whether a game would be any more effective in this pursuit than Bastiat’s original story, except that it would be a more approachable and interesting medium for a person than a short story in a thick economics textbook, and one more likely to facilitate the idea’s spread… assuming, of course, that such a game could be made.

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2 thoughts on “The Broken-Window Fallacy, in a game?

  1. Pingback: The Baker: Status Report « Block Comments

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