If you don't know by now that I like to play games, you haven't been reading this blog long enough. I love games. I am, by all accounts, a gamer. (Well, without the carpal tunnel, Mountain Dew, and HotPockets.) Games are fun; games stretch my brain; games take me away from the daily grind and also teach me new things all the time.
I was at one of the local game stores this week playing a table-top tactics game when my friend Jeff asked me if I'd ever heard of a game called Artemis. I told him I hadn't, and he informed me it was a "bridge simulator." I couldn't quite figure out what this meant--I couldn't figure out why my friend would be excited about a game that simulated forces on the structural members of a bridge. Of course, that's not what he meant at all, as he clarified for me shortly.
By "bridge," he meant "starship bridge." The game is a simulator for up to six people, each of whom take on the responsibilities of members of the archetypal exploration starship a la Star Trek: helmsman, weapons officer, science officer, communications officer, entering officer, and captain. "Cool." I thought. But then he explained further: each member of the team plays on their own computer, and only sees the information related to their specialty; the engineering officer has no idea what is happening in communications; the helmsman has no connection to what's happening with the science officer. Each member of the bridge crew can only communicate with the captain, not with each other. And, of course, the captain has to make decisions based on the input he gets from each of his officers.
One of the hardest lessons to teach my TD students is how to be leaders. We can read about it, we can talk about it in class; until you're doing it, though, you can't really understand. And finding opportunities to mentor a student in real time as they function as a leader can be tough.
I like to use strikes for this purpose. Our TDs have to come up with an explicit and detailed strike plan, including grouping staff into teams with individual team leaders. During the strike, I watch how the TD in charge of the call interacts with the teams and the overall process. A good leader focuses on the big picture--are we running on time, where are our labor bottlenecks, what are the things we didn't plan for, etc.; a good leader relies on their team leaders to achieve specific objectives within given parameters (usually of time and space, during a strike); a good leader will shift team objectives based on work flow, time, and other influences.
Most TD students have a hard time with this; all of their previous experience has been as a team member, or, if they are lucky, as a team leader, in previous work calls here or in their earlier careers. This involves a different set of skills, and different working practices. Typically, student TDs will find themselves getting bogged down in task work, or in micromanaging one or two team leaders, oblivious to the increasing chaos and disorder of the overall strike project around them. (This is usually when I take their tools away, hand them a clipboard, and say--stop doing and start looking!)
Strikes only happen a handful of times each semester. Typically, a grad student is only heading a strike call once or twice each semester; additionally, strike calls are relatively short--at most about four hours. Consequently, the time to learn how to be a leader is limited.
But what if they could practice being a leader--being a captain? What the team is trying to accomplish is--to a degree--less important than learning how to lead the team to accomplish a goal: how to focus on the big picture, how to bring together widely disparate views and projects together to create a whole, how to communicate with team leaders, how to empower them to make decisions and not micromanage them. If Artemis works how the literature says it does, this game (at a mere $40 for six seats!) could be a perfect simulator for experiencing, practicing, and examining leadership skills outside of the limited constraints of a strike.
Has anybody played this game? Anybody willing to take it for a spin and let us know how it goes?