Exercise in complexity and contingency: the example of the MES-Viadrina snap-shot simulation of EU legislation on asylum and migration

Talk given by Amelie Kutter within the frames of the panel ‘Planspiele in der Politikwissenschaft’ at DVPW Congress, September 2021

Simulations have become a popular educational tool in political science Higher Education. They are used to familiarise students with policy-making, international negotiation, election campaigning, lobbying or advocacy, related, among other things, to the European Union (EU). The overall assumption is that, while engaging in role play that simulates a real-life political setting, students immerse not only in cognitive learning on subjects and skills, but also develop an emotional access to learning and the subject taught (affective learning), govern their learning processes (regulative learning) and develop group identification.

But, apart from offering a rewarding learning experience, what can simulations actually convey about EU politics? In EU studies, simulations have become a popular tool through which to acquaint students with the working of EU institutions and policy-making. As a rule, simulation games focus on the transmission of ‘canonical’ factual knowledge of institutional procedures and collective actors involved in EU decision-making. They also train students in skills for effective negotiation. Part of an increasingly streamlined game design is the assumption that these learning outcomes can be best fostered in stand-alone games that radically reduce complexity to allow students to access the subject; that allot enough time to allow students to immerse in the subject; and that are geared towards one specific and explicit learning objective in order to enhance effective learning.

This paper suggests that a neglected, but promising, potential of EU simulations is their function as exercises in complexity and contingency. If designed appropriately, simulation games not only reveal the complexity and contingency of EU politics (cognitive learning), but also the complexity and contingency of thinking about EU politics (cognitive-reflexive learning). Drawing on the example of a snap-shot simulation of the first reading of the EU’s New Pact on Asylum and Migration that was carried out as part of the lecture class ‘Introduction to the politics of the European Union’ at the MA European Studies unit of European University Viadrina, I will show such learning objective can be fostered in simulation game design.