Braxos: that's the name of a distant planet colonized by a community of often-quarreling humans in the new educational computer game Quandary. But that planet might as well be called Earth. After all, the dilemmas Braxos' inhabitants encounter aren't other-worldly. They're the sorts of communal quandaries that any society faces, such as how to fairly distribute resources or maintain cohesion amidst diversity. And just as on earth, there aren't clear-cut answers to the problems the Braxos community faces. Yet the work of the gamers who play Quandary is to pick solutions to the colony's problems, in the process learning how to weigh options and practice ethical decision-making in this educational game produced by The Learning Games Network.
When quandaries arise on Braxos, the game's players are presented with the diverse reactions of the colony's citizens. Take, for example, the first episode, in which a predator called a yashor is attacking sheep in the colony, and players are faced with different community members' ideas about what to do about it. Players must classify each character's response as either a fact, an opinion, or a solution--a great exercise for kids and adults alike. Next, gamers must weigh these facts--for instance, that yashors can easily escape traps and that its saliva has useful medicinal value--and opinions--for instance, the desire of the herder to kill the animals--to pick the solution they believe is best for the whole community. Unlike a traditional game where the wrong move leads to a game over, there's no clear right or wrong solution to the problems in Quandary. Every solution has its champions--and its detractors. As players weigh viewpoints and options, make decisions, and observe the fallout, they're getting a sophisticated taste of how complex decision-making can be, all the while honing their own decision-making and perspective-taking skills.
What are some decision-making lessons kids can learn from playing Quandary?
(1) Decisions aren't made in isolation.
Quandary isn't an adventure game where a lone hero solves riddles and puzzles to get to the next level. The foundational framework of the game is understanding how various decisions affect various characters with various opinions, expertise, and desires. Building a fenced in pen to protect the endangered sheep may seem like a great idea at first--until players hear from the herder that his sheep are healthier when they can graze freely and from the community's construction worker who says he doesn't have time to build fences as he is busily constructing shelter for the upcoming winter.
(2) People's opinions aren't random or irrational--they're based on their experiences.
Each of the game's characters brings his or her unique experience to the table. For example, in episode one, Dr. Canon wishes to avoid killing the yashors because of her knowledge of animal's useful medicinal properties. Guthrie the herder, whose sheep are disappearing, of course wants all yashors dead. Their differing opinions, the player comes to understand, come from their different experiences.
(3) When communities have disagreements, there's never a "silver bullet" fix.
What Quandary does best is illustrate the complex realities communal problems. There's no clear right or wrong answer to any of the quandaries in Quandary. For instance, in episode two, as the community faces a contaminated well, one character points out: "If the colony pays for water, it will cut into the salaries of our experts and craftsmen." The game's designers have done a great job of demonstrating the less-than-obvious interrelationships that exist in a community.
Play the free game online here. To see how teachers can use Quandary in the classroom, watch the video below.