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  1. 3.7.2014

    CNP researchers develop a game that explores the scientific system

    What happens when you gather 150 people and challenge them to discover the Truth using a few simple game rules? During the CNP annual retreat, held at the end of June, CNP members found themselves playing a game designed especially for them. Among the words most commonly heard over those days were collaboration, impact and chaos. No matter how many different scenarios you imagine, there is always space for improvisation – says Eugenia Chiappe, a CNP Principal Investigator and one of the organisers of the game.


    The game was designed as a simplified version of the scientific world, consisting of 3 main groups – the scientists, the editors and the funders. Each group was further divided into subgroups consisting of 5-7 individuals. The three main roles were distinct, with distinct incentives, but they were aiming towards the same overall goal – to maximise the quality of the science that was generated. Says Tiago Marques, a graduate student at the CNP. The idea was to make a game with a limited number of rules and let the people decide how they wanted to play. We had some expectations of what might happen, but we ended up seeing many more possibilities emerge.

    On the first day, for example – says Eugenia Chiappewe were surprised by the quick emergence of the Open Consortium. All scientist subgroups, with the exception of one, united and pulled all their data cards together. This strategy resulted in simultaneously eliminating competition across individual scientists subgroups and constructing a comprehensive body of knowledge. Even though this strategy accomplished good results in terms of the final goal of the game in acquiring knowledge, it also created quite a bit of chaos. The balance between the three main groups was disrupted, leaving the editors and funders without any decision-making power against this scientist monopoly!

    Beyond the exercise of creativity and having fun as a community, the game was aimed to encourage reflection and discussion about the scientific system. Through playing this game, says Carlos Ribeiro, a CNP Principal Investigator, the players got to experience a bit the constraints of the system. The system was created for a certain purpose and it works. Our objective now is to think about how we can fix the things that don’t work so well and try to understand why they don’t work. We designed the game so that it created a common experience that provided a platform for discussion about these topics. It ended up working very well. People were engaged and the discussions were good. I heard people talking about it a lot, also outside the time of the game.

    Even though the final game scheme is straightforward, its design is in fact complex and was developed over many discussions and rounds of iteration. It is not simple to design a game played in real time by such a large group of people. Says João Marques, a graduate student at the CNP. Our team, which included Zachary Mainen, Carlos Ribeiro, Eugenia Chiappe, Tiago Marques and myself, spent many hours over several months discussing all the details of the game, including the effect of different variables on the behaviour of the players and the scenarios that may emerge.

    The results of the game will soon be analysed by the team. They intend to study the way different manipulations of game variables, such as number of play-cards provided to each group, influenced group dynamics and how they affected the ability of the community to discover the Truth.

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