The Baker: Status Report

The broken-window game I conceived last month turned out to be a rather literal interpretation of Bastiat’s parable, in which the player controls a bakery in a small village economy, balancing raw materials, production, and the purchase of luxury goods to push back the time limit.

The game, The Baker, contains two lessons:

  1. that one must break windows in order to keep the glazier in-business, and
  2. that the economy survives, and more productively, without certain businesses.

I brought it along to IGDA Sydney’s “Bits & Pieces”, a bi-monthly show-and-tell event. A good number of people played the game that night, most of whom had fun. A few got very competitive about their scores, but for most players it seemed fairly successful as an educational tool. As they played, people had sudden moments of inspiration where they each of the two lessons in-turn. This generally happened when one game had ended and the player began another, considering new strategies to reach a higher score.

The feedback from the Experimental Gameplay Project was also quite good, though from fewer players:

I really felt like there was an economy at work and that each business depended on the others even if not directly. I particularly liked that smashing the window at first appeared to be a waste of money but it has to be done to keep the glazier in business. I really feel like I learned something about the fragility and counter-intuitiveness of economies.

This player learned the first lesson perfectly, but hadn’t yet managed to learn the second. The players who did learn the second lesson did so after multiple plays-through (more so than are necessary to learn the first), and so encouraging replay is crucial to the educational value of this game. I believe that the best way to motivate replay is to embrace the competitiveness that emerged at Bits & Pieces, by adding a high-score list. This was part of the original design, but I didn’t have time to implement it. It seems that it’s a necessity now.

I hope to exhibit The Baker at this year’s iFest. If I offer secret prizes for the highest scores of the day, it should keep people playing to defend their title, and hopefully lead to robust discussion about strategy and the consequences of actions. Ideally, the day will end with a moderately sized group of people newly converted to the idea that destruction is never good for the economy in the long-term.

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