A Late November Simulation

By William Matheson, Head of State, Country “J”


In the simulation, we were a country ("J") that got defeated by not completely understanding the mechanics of the game, an experience which didn't teach much Political Science compared to the remainder of the hours, but our country still managed to make it through, with the team members learning something from the experience; trying to pursue policies (survival), remain sovereign, and to define an ideology.


It would be remiss to begin a report without mentioning something of our initial policy and strategy. Our first hope was to align ourselves with as many other countries as possible, but we quickly found that diplomacy in the simulation was as difficult to execute as in real life. Who knew that countries consisting of paper, pens, and a few desks could be so patriotic; so ready to sit back and laugh in our faces? On the economic side, we were going to try and grow the economy with what we had, periodically checking (reconverting points from) the ER total to maintain other services, naturally those of the government.


This practice, both in proposal and subsequent execution, sounded an awful lot like the statement that "Economics should serve the nation", one of the economic principles of Nationalism as listed by our professor; so before long in our preliminary deliberations, much of the Cabinet believed that we were about to run a Nationalist country.


But what is Nationalism? The textbook provides a simple definition of "... a belief system that prioritizes or gives special significance to the nation as a focus of loyalty" (Broody, 1999, 31 - Schwartzmantel, 1998, 134). It's difficult to say if we were precisely embodying this on all fronts (anyplace aside from economics), as we were generally just concentrating on the numbers and trying to stay afloat. But perhaps Nationalism could still define what we were doing, because, as the book puts it, "Nationalism is an ambiguous ideology. ... can adapt to all ideologies". (Brodie, 1999, 30) They're basically saying that there isn't much clearly defined in Nationalism but the core of the feeling of community (Brodie, 1999, 339), so it stands to reason that if we can prove we had that, we can prove that we were effectively a Nationalist government.


We can assume that our simulated citizens rallied behind our banner ("J") to fight off the oppression of evil, nasty countries "E" and "F". (When we went to propose an alliance with "E", they just laughed in our faces.) A war or two will show the differences between two nations with amazing clarity, allowing the "people's national identity (to override) other forms of identity" (from the class notes), and also help define us as a nation based on what we aren't. And surely we "(defended) and (promoted) the national identity"! Defining a country's political ideology as Nationalist is quite rewarding, it seems, when it fits; mostly because it simply does not cover all the bases that other ideologies do, notably Liberalism and Socialism.


Another task placed in front of us was the retention of our sovereignty, or "supreme political authority". This was problematic at times, because what went on within our borders wasn't always up to our Cabinet; occasionally the authority rested with our enemies in that they took advantage of the gullibility and naiveté of a certain Head of State. But most of the rest of the time, at least when war was not being declared upon us, we sailed along without much difficulty. But could it really be that hard? There is no provision in the simulation for election, instatement, or stability of the government; ultimately the entire game was an exercise in mathematics if one takes a pessimistic view, so how could there be internal constraints on one's sovereignty? It is supposable that there is opportunity for the Cabinet to disagree and squabble over what is to be done, but this did not prove to be an issue for our country.


This leads us to the question of what regime we were operating under. "... a mode of governance over the organized activity of a social formation within and across its particular configuration of society, state, market, and global insertion" (Brodie, 1999, 63) certainly fits what we were trying to achieve, but frankly we had no idea how we were doing it. We could have been a democratic nation that switched to martial law when countries "E" and "F" declared war on us. Or perhaps we were a totalitarian government, which would fit even better except that it is not explicitly what we wanted to be. It's anyone's guess, really, and there's a good possibility that most of the other countries had a similar experience with this, as all there was to deal with was arbitrary numbers. And there was nothing to prevent a cabinet from happily ignoring SPERs and CHRs in favor of the more useful ERs and PRs and pretending they weren't a real government at all, though that system of point usage would somewhat reflect a kind of capitalist/authoritarian regime, if such a thing exists.


The most revealing experience was ultimately had in the mechanics of the simulation; in other words, what was actually going on in the classroom that day. Between country "E" playing dirty tricks on us (At one point, one of their cabinet ministers came over and stood by our Head of State's shoulder, asking what we were up to. Without thinking or asking where he was coming from, our Head of State basically gave up our entire long-term plan to the man, but at least he immediately recognized that he had made a mistake. Do things like this happen in real political situations? This is a good time to state that, although they were also against us, "F" generally played fair, being seated next to us and not blatantly attempting to eavesdrop); the countries we were allying with (except "C", whom we feel deeply sorry for) not understanding that one generally commits PRs when forming an alliance, causing us to really get destroyed in the following war. (We had initially hoped that we wouldn't be worth attacking... too bad the other countries didn't realize that! Our Head of State feels that his eccentricity had a part to play in having war declared upon us.)


That instance of not getting any PRs to back up the alliance seems a great example of a treaty not being worth the paper it was written on. Like Canada's early trade agreements that were generally not honored by all parties, - perhaps because there were no consequences for not abiding by the regulations, and no foreseeable benefits of honoring the agreement - our agreements largely meant absolutely nothing. But the problem was, admittedly, more mechanical than political, as the vast majority of nations (including ourselves) simply did not understand that the PRs should be committed at the signing of a defense alliance. If our professor ever holds a simulation again with another group, he should probably go out of his way to make sure that his new class understands this before the simulation begins, but it still should be maintained that this incident was indeed our own fault, nevertheless.


So what did work in the simulation? Well, first of all, there's a good probability that it was 'fun', although that was by no means the main objective. Our Head of State did have a good enough sense of humor to laugh at the comical circumstances our country was placed in, and generally enjoyed himself (it was a great opportunity for all to get to know one another as well), and even considered replicating the simulation again on his own. If the amusement factor is to be considered of academic value, however, it will have to be argued that people generally learn more when they're being entertained.


It can be argued that the learning involved in the exercise wasn't so much learning entirely new things (with the exception of the game mechanics, but they have little academic value unless the professor plans on holding another simulation with the same 'engine'), but rather augmenting and applying what had already been discussed in class. These concepts are not inherently difficult, but they do require lengthy explanation upon initial delivery, and are somewhat difficult to define 'off the cuff', so they would be next to impossible to pick up upon in the middle of the 'eighty points a minute' foray of the simulation. The augmentation is the key here, as is the writing of the actual report, which also proves to be a learning experience.


So what have we done as country "J"? We have surely survived the simulation (that second war was a nice touch), and managed to prosper and define an ideology for ourselves along the way. We remained sovereign and maintained our regime even though it was almost impossible by the rules to lose these things. That has to be something of an achievement.