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275647 Posts in 27717 Topics by 4285 Members Latest Member: - Jason DAngelo Most online today: 158 - most online ever: 429 (November 03, 2007, 04:35:43 AM)
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Author Topic: Melbourne 1890: An Educational Simulation  (Read 1930 times)

Posts: 15

« on: March 08, 2009, 07:16:26 AM »


A.  Overview of the project.
B.  The Scenario


The game you see before you is an outline of an educational simulation of industrial conflict in late nineteenth-century Australia.  I have chosen "Melbourne 1890" as its working title.  I intend to flesh out the details with data from a specific historical situation.  This will be chosen from the local history of any community this simulation may eventually be taught in, and I would encourage other educators or gamers to study their own local history before implementing any "vanilla" dispute.  I will, however, leave this title and any posts to this thread non-specific, partly to protect the anonymity of the students I may work with.

I am creating this project as a classroom resource to satisfy one of the requirements for my teaching degree.  It may or may not ever see "action."  It is intended as a radical teaching tool, both in its structure and content.  It is, first and foremost, a history lesson.  While some may argue about Marx's relevance to modern economies, his analysis has generally been accepted as valid for classical industrial scenarios.  Therefore, much of the maths behind the game were derived from his labour theory of value.

I may be opening myself to accusations of indoctrination, but if properly implemented this simulation will grant students a degree of autonomy and creative freedom that is inconsistent with "indoctrination."  No strategy is prescribed for either industrial leaders or their workers, though this simulation ought to be integrated into a wider curriculum that gives at least some historical knowledge on the period.  Nor would I hope for "simple" truths from anyone.  The post-game debate is meant to foster mutual sympathy and understanding, perhaps leading students to discuss modes of reconciliation that did not occur to them during the game.  Furthermore, while the core dynamic is one of labour vs capital, I have tried to include some more post-modern critiques by noting the inclusion women and Indigenous Australians in the game.  If the numbers of students are sufficient, the simulated town may include a rather broad middle class.  If resources allow, I would much prefer to see a complex and multifaceted community represented than a simple economistic cliche.


This outline taken from:
Marsh, C. "Studies of Society and Environment: Exploring the Teaching Possibilities" 5th ed (Pearson Education Australia, Frenchs Forest NSW: 2008) 227.

Through roleplay, the students will negotiate strategies and explore meaning in an industrial community in Melbourne going through an economic crisis in the 1890s.

As Australian trade and communications flourished in the nineteenth century, a previously agrarian economy became a rapid industrialising one.  The workers were in some sense left behind by this progress, leading to emergence of a strong Labour movement that, in Melbourne, won the eight-hour day in the 1850s, led a series of strikes during the financial crisis of the 1890s, and elected Labour representatives to the first Federal parliament in 1901.  This simulation focusses on a small industrial community in the Melbourne area.  As the financial crisis works its effects on the price of living, wages, and employment, students will attempt to maintain their livelihood.

The town will be set up to include housing, a grocery store, a police station/jail/courthouse, houses for town officials and wealthy individuals, a factory, a union hall and a railroad.  Possible additions (depending on time and resources) could include a restaurant, a school, a doctor's office, and a church.

Minimum roles:
1-3 factory managers
10-15 workers
2-3 policemen
1 shopowner

Additional roles (in no particular order of preference):
Priest (or two: Catholic/Protestant sectarianism)
Union leader

Teacher-supplied roles:
An accountant (helps managers with maths and prevents cheating on their part)
Possibly want teachers to play police?

=Role Profiles=

Factory Managers
One will play the owner of the factory, any others will be foremen hired and paid by the owner.  The managers will be tasked with maintaining profits, procuring raw materials, selling their product on the market, overseeing production, and resolving disputes.

Workers may be male or female; employed, unemployed, or engaged in paid or unpaid domestic labour; Protestant or Catholic; European or Indigenous; etc.  Some of these considerations will be affected by the size of the group, and composition will obviously affect the emphasis of the game.  Each will have a detailed description of their upbringing, circumstances, and recent work history.  They will perform factory labour; receive wages; spend it on food and housing; among other essentials, and sleep.  If the setting is expanded, some may work as cooks/waiters in the restaurant; shop assistants in the grocery store; or other functions around the town.  If there is a school, some will be young enough to go to school (though some of those will already be working).

These students will draw and spend wages from the government; ensure order; and arrest legal violators.

This student will buy groceries from outside suppliers; stock their shop; set prices; and sell goods.

This student, as a generic representation of the state, will oversee and advise or order the activities of the police, the judge, and the teacher.

This student will organise and oversee the trials and sentencing of those students under arrest.

This student will offer medical treatment, though obviously at professional prices.

This student will be given a detailed description of their character's background and beliefs and will have to roleplay regular "sermons."  They will be encouraged to fill the benches!

This teacher will be given a list of "lessons" to teach in school.  They have to stick to pre-chosen topics and maximise attendence.  Remember, children who aren't at work may get harassed by the police unless they go to school, depending on Mayoral policy!

Union Leader
This student will be a worker, but with additional background elements and information concerning union activities.  I have included this as optional as it changes the nature of the game significantly.  Are students generating their own strategies, or are they learning about historical strategies?  Obviously, with or without the inclusion of a union leader, they will to some extent do a mix of both.  One thing to note is that the unions are employed, white, and craft-based.

=Role Interaction=
Interactions proceed in three rotating phases.

1.  Work
Employed workers enter the factory.  They will come equipped with green "energy" tokens.  In each of eight rounds, they will select either 1 (slack off), 2 (steady pace), or 3 (work hard) tokens.  They line up and one by one drop their counters into a large bucket (with a lid that conceals its contents).  In each of those rounds, each manager selects someone to oversee, by stopping them in line.  The "overseen" must reveal their choice of counters.  There is a second bucket in the factory with yellow "push" counters.  Anyone may draw from the "push" counters if they run out of green tokens, but their withdrawals are noted down, and they may only take one per round.  At the end each rounds, each worker makes an injury roll, a % chance which is increased if they took a "push" counter that round (perhaps from 2% to 10%?).  Any failed rolls result in an injury that effectively terminates their employment (either temporarilly if they receive proper treatment, or permanently).  The management then distributes the day's wages.

2.  Eat
As the workers leave the factory, the managers have a job to do.  The day's bucket is then totalled up to determine the day's production.  This process is performed by the managers with the aid of their Teacher "accountant".  Yellow "push" counters accumulate to possibly reduce production, by shoddy or ruined work.  I may also introduce in some part of the scenario a small number of red "sabotage" counters which workers may dump in the bucket for a drastic chance and severely reducing production.

Meanwhile, the workers go and spend their money at the general store for food tickets.  These are taken home where anyone may "cook" them by exchanging them for green energy tokens.  Each cook must also expend two energy tokens to do this (Cooking rules are meant to introduce a feminist angle, by showing domestic work).  These tokens are then divied up (the "meal").  If one were to drop the domestic setting, the shop would merely provide green energy tokens, rather than food, providing an eerie "soylent green" effect.

This phase should be long, giving the workers time to socialise and discuss issues as well as simply consume their pay.

3.  Sleep
Any worker with a house must return to it and is delivered 4 green tokens.  Any worker in a tenement is delivered 2 green tokens by their landlord.

=Procedures and Win Criteria=

There is no "victory" per se.  This game will run for a set period of time during which pressures will mount that will almost certainly cause an industrial dispute.  To begin with, wages will begin barely above the subsitence level.  Inflation will set in (the prices of raw materials and bulk groceries will go up for managers and shop keepers respectively).  When the banking crisis hits, the managers will find their capital become suddenly very thinly stretched.  The managers will be in a situation that encourages them to either slash wages, demand a speed-up (any worker found slacking, one token, gets fired immediately), or lay off workers.  The workers will be in a situation that encourages them to seek job security, a safe work environment (the manager will have the option of investing in safety equipment), a slower pace at work, and better wages.

When the time alloted to the simulation ends, there will be an extensive debrief including group discussions across (and now outside) roles, followed up by a written assignment.

Posts: 12

« Reply #1 on: March 08, 2009, 09:27:47 AM »

I may have missed something, but let me recap the exchange process:
1) Sleet (get either 2 or 4 energy tokens)
2) Work (Spend 1-3 energy tokens)
3) Get paid (getting how much money? Variable depending on production? Fixed?)
4) Go to the shop or the restaurant to spend money
5) Repeat

So if I understand correctly, a worker with a house always has more than enough energy to work hard and nothing else to do with their energy? Then once I get paid the only thing I have to spend money on is food which give me more energy tokens?

I suggest a couple of additions to this model:
1) Taxes from wages to pay for the judge, police, etc
2) More use from the doctor (give two pieces of red paper and the next time they interact with someone, they get the other piece. They must consult the doctor to remove the sickness otherwise they only get 1 energy token)
3) A possibility for crime so the police have something to do, maybe working longer hours than the union arranges?
4) A bank that lets players deposit, withdrawal, and borrow money (borrow to pay for the doctor, pay police fines, etc)
5) Some sort of happiness or morale level that must be balanced with work (requires energy tokens)
6) At the end of the "day" require everyone to turn in their energy tokens (so they can't save them up)
7) Let the factor manager dictate payment policy (fixed, variable depending on production)
Cool Have more than one factory for competition over the workers

Barring this, I don't see why anyone would do anything besides work as hard as possible all the time. There's nothing else to do.

Posts: 15

« Reply #2 on: March 08, 2009, 02:26:28 PM »

A few alterations and correctons to the exchange process:
1.  Sleep.  I think I will change this to 1 or 2, and change cooking to 4, because I realised otherwise housewives don't need to consume food...  I've also thought that I'll go around and any workers who are currently homeless have to make a
2.  Work.  It's 1-3 energy tokens PER ROUND (hour) at work (by this time Melbourne had the 8-hour day), meaning a worker who throughout the day works at a decent pace will expend 16 tokens.  Minimum 8, maximum 24.
3.  I haven't set wage scales yet as I would like to do some historical research, but a day's wages should just about pay for food and housing for a worker at the start of the game.  (Before commodity prices inflate).
4.  Yes.  Just remember to cook it.
5.  Bingo.

I hope you see that this will stretch energy a bit thinner.  Money, as well as food and rent, could be spent on toys, minor luxuries (chocolate frogs that you can ACTUALLY eat rather than get energy from, for instance), or perhaps even guns (there were several armed clashes between strikers and police in this time period, but I'm trying to figure out a mechanic that doesn't turn this into the wild west).

Regarding your suggestions.
1.  Taxes: good idea, but makes a minor difference to the overall mathematics.
2.  Doctor: don't understand your suggestion here?
3.  Police: there are several opportunities for crime.  One is sabotage, if I include it.  Others could be swearing, stealing (I'm sure some students will try it), vagrancy (i.e. homelessness and joblessness), or trumped-up charges that the state uses to imprison agitators.  I am intentionally leaving this vague.
4.  Bank: excellent idea.  Of course, a lot of the banks went going bust from 1890 to 1893.
5.  This is subjective, and I leave it to good role-playing.  "You're starving and homeless.  How do you feel?"
6.  Perhaps for homeless players.  I'm really more concerned about players TRADING green tokens than saving them up, as with an 8-hour day they won't have much to save.  I also want a large stack of green tokens to represent someone who's healthy and well-fed overall, as opposed to someone who barely musters up the energy to work each day.
7.  Yes, I thought this was implied, but I should have made it explicit.  Managers decide how much and whether to pay wages.  Disputes may kick off if management witholds wages (perhaps they will only be able to sell finished products to the railroad once per 'week'?) or if wages are lower than inspected, or if managers decide to dock wages for minor infractions (like working slowly).
8.  Ideally yes, but there's a problem of numbers here.  I don't want to have three factories if they can each only employ four workers.  I wonder what the critical mass is for the style of game I want to achieve?  Given enough players, I would like to have four or five factories, interlinked in their production.  i.e. one factory produces engines, another tires, and a third cars.

Once again, work expends a MUCH HIGHER number of tokens than you've counted, so survival and keeping up energy levels will actually be a constant battle.  Imagine workers much closer to the poverty line...

Posts: 803

Kitsune Trickster

« Reply #3 on: March 08, 2009, 04:12:02 PM »

As someone from Sydney, I find this to be a really interesting premise. Especially the 8-hour day aspect, and a few other potentials for a uniquely Australian experience set in the time period defined.

At the moment though, I'm seeing a lot of room for number crunching, the whole thing could be easily run turn by turn on a spreadsheet...but not a whole lot about the morale of the people involved or how they'd actually feel.

I'd consider the notion that players with excess "Green tokens" at the end of the day have a more enjoyable home life. Someone who is working really hard during the day gets home and is too exhausted to do much else. Their life becomes one of boring drudgery. Conversely, the worker who has plenty of energy at the end of the day goes to the pub, plays darts or engages in a lot more socialising and leads a happier existence.

As time gets tougher though, the money gets shorter and the work gets harder. People have to sacrifice their morale for the necessities of survival.

Once there is a critical mass of low morale scores, strikes start to happen, crime starts to increase, the game shifts.

Just an idea...


A.K.A. Michael Wenman
Vulpinoid Studios The Eighth Sea now available for as a pdf for $1.

Posts: 15

« Reply #4 on: March 09, 2009, 12:14:31 AM »

Well, the game is organised so that the effects you mention ought to occur organically.  When the energy input/output ratio drops too low, a few things will happen.

1.  Workers will tend towards slacking off at work.  This will lead to reduced production, and a more aggressive management.

2.  In dire circumstances, workers will be more inclined to take "push" tokens.  This increases injury, calling into question whether wages are "fair" given the risks that workers take, and the total lack of support they will receive afterwards.  I'm thinking of "The Jungle" where Jurgis breaks his leg.  The money gets quickly spent on food and medical care, and in short order his family loses their home.

As for the morale elements, I reckon that this will be intrinsic.  As more and more players start to have to budget their limited resources for fear of injury, starvation, homelessness, or the sack, they will naturally share these concerns with each other.  The unnamed bit of this simulation, and perhaps the most important part, is HOW PLAYERS REACT TO THEIR STRESS.  I don't want to say "Okay, now a strike happens."  I want to see whether students can collectively discuss their problems and whether they can come up with solutions.  As I posted before, this will be integrated into a wider curriculum on the labour movement, so they'll have some ideas.  To paraphrase Marx, I'll introduce an incremental quantitative shift (in wages, living costs) until it results in a qualitative shift (co-operation with management to confrontation).  The other option of course would be for all of the workers to slowly succumb to one form or another of being overworked and underpaid, but I give my students more credit than that.

I do like your suggestion that excess green tokens should be redeemable for "prizes", though I think I'll just do it with money because the green tokens are meant to be an abstract representation of health.  Perhaps money for use of a football during free times, or a board game, or some chocolates, or whatever.  They would CERTAINLY notice when these things move out of their affordability.

It would be lovely to put a pub in this situation, but I think I would encounter too many objections that I was encouraging students to drink.  Of course, one incarnation of this game included rules for alcoholism (you must spend all excess cash...) so maybe it could actually serve as drug education...

In regard to number-crunching, I don't think I'm demanding too much of any one player.  But I'll re-state the operations of the main contenders and you can tell me whether you reckon high schoolers (not sure what grade level) would be up for it.

Keep track of green tokens.
Don't "exhaust yourself" by running out of green tokens before the end of the day (i.e. budget for around 16 a day, under normal conditions).
Budget your wages for the necessities of life, spending whatever's leftover on whatever prizes I eventually make available.
Roll for injury each hour of the working day.

Pay the workers.  This will usually be a daily rate, so it's simple multiplication.
Looking at a list of expenditures and revenue, determine what numbers need to go up or down to increase or maintain profit.

Spend capital on a list of essentials (probably the hardest task, involving estimations of the town's consumption, but I can prepare "last month's order" for them).
Set prices to ensure profit.
If desired, budget to hire a shop assistant.

Et cetera.

Mistakes will be made, but that may be just what kicks off the dispute.  "Oh my," says the manager.  "I haven't received payment for last month's production and the workers are demanding their wages today."  There is a lot of number crunching, but it's distributed across the system as a whole.

Posts: 15

« Reply #5 on: March 09, 2009, 02:57:39 AM »

Just thought I'd let folks know that I've started a parallel discussion on "Story Games for Everybody."  It's a different community, so I expect different kinds of responses (though I overlap, so maybe there will be more homogeneity than I expect), but for anyone who's terribly interested in this concept it might be interesting to see how another group of gamers react to it.  I feel this is good practice for fostering community and dialogue.
Callan S.

Posts: 3588

« Reply #6 on: March 09, 2009, 04:31:43 PM »

Hi Bercilac,

I can't help but think of why it stayed that way for any length of time? I think your currently portraying it just as a set piece, as if that it would just be that way because it'd just be that way and did happen to be that way. But usually these things, particularly the bad stuff, could be different - but what it would take is people risking their life and happyness to change it. I'd be interested in looking at a system like the one your portraying in terms of how it staying for a length of time/staying stable, rested upon people not risking their lives or happyness for change. I think it all rests on the back of that non risk, so I think it's an important element that's really educational. Just my thoughts. Smiley

Philosopher Gamer

Posts: 38

« Reply #7 on: March 09, 2009, 05:34:43 PM »



Posts: 15

« Reply #8 on: March 11, 2009, 03:49:36 AM »


Posts: 15

« Reply #9 on: March 11, 2009, 03:56:53 AM »

Regarding the priest:
There will be at least one Sunday (a speech-giving assignment for one student, I guess!)

The priest might be in charge of collecting charity for the poor (especially unemployed, broke, and homeless, who are in a difficult situation, see above)
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