European Parliamentary Dynamics

This game is an evolution of slugs and worms, with more of a focus on institutional mechanics than on issues or ideology per se. However, it is very adaptable indeed, as discussed below

Objective: To help students see the logics of organisation of the European Parliament in a stylised formation. In particular, it highlights why transnational political party groups emerge and the difficulties of managing stable coalitions.

Number of players: At least 20. The key point is to make sure that the source pile of playing cards is clearly more than the number of players, to maintain the chaotic element.

Equipment: Playing cards. You should use only number cards (2 to 10) and have at least 25% more cards than players. Players will need to be able to move around freely.

Game play:

The game play described here is the simplest version of this game.

Players are randomly dealt a playing card from the pack (prepared as in the ‘equipment’ section) and are given the information sheet (attached at bottom of page). Players then sit with all others of their card suit, i.e. there will be 4 groups.

Players are told that each suit represents a different country, which are part of a supranational organisation with a joint parliament. Each player represents a political party that has been elected to that parliament and has 1 vote.

Players have two objectives, which they should value equally importantly:

  •  They should aim to maximise their voting weight in the parliament, by joining with other parties to form a coalition. Their success in this will be measured by the number of votes that the coalition can bring together;
  • They should also aim to maximise their influence. This will be measured by influence points, both for themselves and for their coalition. Influence points are won or lost based on their ideological proximity to other members of the coalition. That proximity is determined by the number value of their playing card: more similar numbers equal more similar ideologies. The points are weighted thus:

Difference between face value of a pair of players’ cards

Influence points

0

+2

-/+ 1

+1

-/+ 2

0

-/+ 3

-1

-/+4

-2

-/+5

-3

-/+6

-4

-/+7

-5

-/+8

-6

-/+9

-7

  • To calculate influence points:
    •  For individual players, they should work out influence points between themselves and each other member of the coalition and total it;
    • For the coalition, it is the total of all the individual figures.

Players are given 20 minutes to play, including any moving around, negotiating and calculating of figures. At the end of the time, the instructor should ask for the figures for any coalition that exists: failure to provide such figures will mean that coalition fails. Any players outside of a coalition at this time will score 1 for weight and 0 for influence.

 

Feedback points:

The gameplay should produce a number of effects. Firstly, nationality will not be important in the long-run, since it offers no particular benefit to players: instead they will be joined with players with similar values, whatever country they might be from. A show of cards in the debrief will demonstrate this.

Secondly, the two objectives push in different directions. The weight criterion suggests larger is better, but the influence criterion imposes limits on the ideological breadth. If cards have a normal distribution of values, you would expect the emergence of coalitions between players of three adjacent values (e.g. 4-5-6), but in a random pack, this will vary, as players not in the middle of coalitions explore different options.

Thirdly, the tendency to be part of a coalition, rather than out of one, will be strong. Players who have understood the logic of the game quickly should be ones who aim to be coalition-formers, around themselves, rather than coalition-joiners. First-mover advantages are potentially big, if done well, but there are also opportunities for this to be overturned.

Finally, individual incentives produce group effects: this can lead to a discussion of emergent behaviour and institutionality, in both the specific case and more generally.

Ultimately, the exposure of the dynamics can then be related to the European Parliament itself, to compare and contrast. For instance, parties here are unitary actors and have equal individual weighting, unlike the EP.

Variations:

Loads and loads of options here.

Firstly, the playing cards open up much scope for change. Skewed distributions can be used to create particular effects (polarised, highly-overlapping, etc.). The unused cards( Aces, face cards) could be used, but with values that change (e.g. initially high, then low).

Secondly, the influence point calculation can be shifted to change incentives. This includes not only tightening or loosening, but also differential scales for different cards (e.g. to mimic radical ideologies that cannot be coalesced with).

Thirdly, the game above is only a starting point. They could be given a second card that determines their preferences on specific issues (e.g. 1-5 for, 6-10 against issue 1; evens for, odds against issue 2; hearts and clubs for, etc.), on which they then vote, and they can have the option to change coalition over time. Alternatively, they could compete to fill central posts in the parliament, which would require coalitions to work with each other.

Importantly, none of this needs to involve EU-specific materials and it is suggested that such a thing is avoided, to help players focus on the dynamics at play.

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Simon Usherwood,
23 Jun 2014, 08:45
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