Sunday, August 27, 2006

Law-Makers Should Study Game Design


Israel has a bizarre series of high-school tests that I hear is not unique. They are called the "Bagruyot" - each test is called a "Bagrut" - and studying for them takes the place of actually learning in the last three years of high school.

But in addition to studying for them, you have to play the bagruyot game. Honest to goodness, I still don't know how it works, and I have four teenagers.

There are about fifty possible subjects, and you can take up to five points in each subject, except when you can't. The minimum number of points in each subject is three, except when it isn't. You are required to take 21 points worth of certain subjects, such as History, Math, Citizenship, Reading & Comprehension, etc. Only, it's not really possible to take only 21 points, and even if you could do it, the minimum number of respectable points to take is at least 40.

Furthermore, you receive a grade for each of these points (each point is a section of a test), and you really need a minimum average score of over 90% to be considered respectable. If you take five points in a subject, not only do you have more scores in that subject from which to calculate the average, but you also get a twenty point bonus on your average (or maybe your total, before taking the average). Except in three subjects, where the bonus is twenty-five points.

You can only take five point tests if you take them from within school, and each school offers five points only in certain subjects. In fact, some schools require you to take five points in certain subjects, or you can't pass. Somehow, your final grade in school is also calculated together with your bagruyot scores, but only if you take them in school.

If you don't get the scores you want, you can retake the tests until you do. And you can't study certain subjects in Israeli colleges until you get certain grades, unless you come from overseas.

I haven't yet begun to explain the complications of this system, mostly because I don't know them yet. For instance, schools get funding based on the number of students who pass the bagruyot, as well as their grades. And each year, the government proclaims that some subjects are automatically passed by all students.

Students have to plan out and map strategies to ensure that they can game the system to their advantage. That's what they spend three years doing, in addition to memorizing lots of facts and junk. Learning appears to be secondary to all this.

Game Design

Does this sound like a complicated and ridiculous scoring system for a game to you? Because it sure does to me.

But like all poorly designed scoring systems, the game is full of broken mechanics, worthless strategies and tactics, and an unfair advantage to certain players.

Surely if law-makers are going to make these laws, they are too important to be placed in the hands of incompetent law designers. If your law system works like a game, you should follow the rudimentary principles of game design before implementing it.

Laws need to be clarified, simplified, and fair for all players. Then they need to be playtested rigorously. While we're at it, they should be fun. And have a nice theme.

Just imagine how much better life would be if Reiner Knizia designed our legal system:

All criminal acts would be divided into four colors. Each time you commit a crime, you receive one or more cubes of that color. A certain number of cubes of one color, or a certain number of sets of all colored cubes would result in automatic punishment. You can lose cubes by spending hours doing community service.

All players would earn 1 coin for working a certain number of hours. If your job performance makes the company money, you gain 1 coin for every 100 that the company made extra. If you pay a certain amount of money to earn education level 1, you earn 2 coins for your hours. If you can't afford this education, you can get a loan for that amount, and have to repay the amount plus 20%, but no more than 1 coin for every 10 that you earn.

Education tests may not look much different from the above scenario, but it would be made cleaner, simpler, and more fun. There would be many paths to victory, and no one path would be better than any others. Furthermore, all players would start with the same advantages, so that it would be fair.

All of this doesn't sound too different from what we already have, but it would all be thoroughly playtested to ensure that it played easily, had few rules, and there were no false strategies or broken combos.

Calling all law schools: add courses in game design to your curricula.


Update: Project Perko makes a similar observation about supermarket games.
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