S(t)imulating World Politics


For the second semester in a row, I have been asked by the Department of Political Science to teach one of the sections of the Introduction to World Politics course. This is a course for majors as well as non-majors because it can be used for an Area 7 CLE at Virginia Tech. Of course, the majors have an interest in the course. However, it is often a task to get the non-majors interested in learning about globalization, international relations theories, the “security dilemma,” the power of economies, how to wage war, diplomacy, domestic politics and their impact of foreign policies, etc. This is where I have used an outside technology called Statecraft Simulations. While Statecraft is not free, it costs $35 for an entire semester of access. This is typically cheaper than most textbooks required for undergraduate classes.

Statecraft is an immersive simulation that allows students to experience the challenges, opportunities, and complexities of international relations in a very vivid, intense, and personal way. Through 11 years of in-class testing and refinement, it has been fine-tuned to take key theories, concepts, and cases that are crucial for understanding global politics (but are often difficult for students to grasp) and make them tangible—often painfully so. Building on the most addictive properties of gaming and social networking, Statecraft creates a universe in which students are masters of their own destinies but find it more difficult than they ever imagined to achieve goals such as world peace, equality, the rule of law, and cooperation among nations. Although the countries, domestic factions, and global issues in Statecraft are fictional, they have been carefully designed to provide maximum insight into parallel real-world dilemmas: as students grapple with the Orion slavery issue, the threat posed by the melting Ice Mountain, and the temptation to seize Sapphire Island’s vast resources they come to understand the security dilemma, the tragedy of the commons, two-level games, the challenges of cooperation under anarchy, and many other constructs not as theoretical concepts but as visceral truths that permeate their conversations with classmates, friends, and parents, and may even keep them up at night.

Simulations motivate students to learn, effectively convey complicated concepts, improve a sense of rapport amongst students, enhance the classroom environment vis-à-vis the professor, and they help students empathize with the difficult decisions others have to make (Dorn 1989). Furthermore, simulations enhance student learning because they get students to use higher order thinking skills in the decision making process that the traditional class setting may not always do (Rackaway and Goertzen 2008). Digital World Construction, Statecraft’s holding company, put these theories to a test. A randomized test was done on the effectiveness of simulations in political science class rooms, particularly on retention and engagement of students in course material. One subject was chosen and students were split into two groups, those that used the simulation and those that listened only to the class lecture. Students were then quizzed the next time they were in class and then 3 weeks later. While the results of the first quiz showed that there was not a significant difference between the two groups studied, the quiz administered on the third week gave startling results. There was a dramatic difference between the two groups. Students who had used the simulation had higher retention; recalling concepts, terms, and facts clearly and confidently. This was due to the personal engagement of the students in the simulation. Students remember feeling frustrated and having to problem solve and work through difficulties, which in the end, illuminated the exact concepts that were taught in the class room.

Statecraft is not designed around narrow answers and rigid structures that are constructed to produce certain answers, but rather it is designed as a way for students to immerse themselves and experience certain responsibilities that will inspire thinking and pursue goals such as world peace, equality, the rule of law, and cooperation among nations.


Dorn, Dean S. 1989. “Simulation Games: One More Tool on the Pedagogical Shelf.” Teaching Sociology 17: 1-18.

Rackaway, Chapman and Brent J. Goertzen. 2008. Debating the Future: A Social Security Political Leadership Simulation. Journal of Political Science Education. 4:330-340.