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Published October 21, 2020

In this article, Australian Defence Chaplain John Dansie discusses an experiment using the classic wargame Diplomacy as a vehicle to officers in moral character. His choice of game is an interesting one. Diplomacy has a strong reputation as a game that ruins friendships because of the problems of trust and betrayal it presents. In recent years there has been a spate of games built around this theme (mostly building off the Mafia/Werewolf foundation) but I haven’t encountered any that have created the strength of emotion that Diplomacy can elicit. I think perhaps this has to do with the degree of long-term strategic cooperation required in the game. Alliances in Diplomacy involve a high degree of trust and coordination over many turns. It feels all the worse when this is betrayed.

As a vehicle for ethics training, I find it an interesting choice. Clearly the ethical problems it presents are limited in scope and mostly deal with honesty and trustworthiness, and how we respond to betrayal. Dansie also highlights the problem of resilience and dealing with defeat, which is also a significant issue in the game. One problem, however, seems to be the inevitability of betrayal. The win condition for Diplomacy makes it a zero-sum game, so ultimately any alliance will fall apart. It would be interesting to explore variants with more of a mixed-motive incentive (such as the Prisoners Dilemma), that allows for collaborative victory while also sewing distrust. This was a topic I explored in the design of The Road, which I should write more about at another time.



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