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Where are all the negotiation games?

British TV channels marked the recent 70th anniversary of the Partition of India with a flurry of documentaries. Most of these programmes did an extremely good job of chronicling the terrible human consequences of Mountbatten’s rushed carve-up, and a pretty poor one of explaining why it happened. The missed opportunities and tangled negotiations that led up to the creation of Pakistan tended to receive scant attention. Not for the first time I found myself yearning for a thoughtful strategy game focussed on jaw-jaw rather than war-war.

If the talks that bookend wars, revolutions, strikes, nuclear arms races etc, feature at all in our historical playthings, it tends to be as crude enrichments – a multiple-choice pop-up here, a bit of unscripted territorial bartering there. They’re rarely if ever the main event and I think that’s a crying shame.

Without bespoke mechanisms and plenty of limelight the colourful personalities and varied tactics of the conference chamber have little chance of surviving gameification. In the negotiate-em-ups I pipedream negotiating styles are complex and highly cutomisable. There are chances to cultivate allies and divide adversaries… opportunities to flatter, press and horse-trade. Playing a trump card or extending an olive branch a day late or a day early may be disastrous. Dynamic external events can overtake and undermine.

The wargames that I’ve been playing for the past forty years are mesmerising things, but I’m not sure they’ve taught me any transferable skills. Perhaps if I’d spent a portion of my formative years engrossed in reality-based summit sims I’d now be a better haggler and compromise crafter. Perhaps I’d be better equipped to deal with the myriad disputes that life invariably throws up.

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Tim Stone

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