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You be the Negotiator

The game You be the Negotiator! is designed to be a single player online news game along the lines of games like Cutthroat Capitalism or Tenure. In this game, the player takes on the role of the negotiator in the Belgian government coalition talks. The game opens with an introductory screen that sets ups the context of the negotiations along with some background information on game play. In this case, the game is set on June 14th, 2010, a day after the federal elections in Belgium. The two main parties in the Belgian Chamber of Representatives are the New-Flemish Alliance, a Flemish nationalist party, and the Parti Socialiste, a Walloon socialist party. Because a government coalition requires an agreement between the two parties, led by Bart de Wever and Elio di Rupo respectively, you have been appointed by King Albert II to negotiate these agreements.

The game is simple. You have to answer a series of multiple choice questions that relate to both politics in general as well as Belgian-specific questions. The Belgian questions will have explanations so the player is prepared enough to answer them.
• An example of a generic political question would be: “How strongly do you agree with this statement: ‘The federal government should have more powers than regional governments.’ A lot, a little, or not at all?”
• An example of a Belgian specific question would be along the lines of “Belgium’s federal income tax rate is one of the highest in the world (at 40-50%). Money is transferred equally between Flanders and Wallonia due to the federal system, but because Flanders is more economically prosperous than Wallonia, almost €6 million a year is transferred from north to south. Should this system of federal tax distribution be maintained? Yes or No?”

As you can see, some questions have multiple answers, while some are simply yes or no questions. Each answer you give affects the satisfaction meter of Elio di Rupo or Bart de Wever, and their facial expressions change as the bar moves up and down. You have five minutes to fill both meters to 100%. The game ends when you run out of time or one of the satisfaction meters runs down to zero. In either case, the king will fire you and you will have the chance to try again. Based on the point allocation of the answers, it is possible to win the game. However, this will be nearly impossible to accomplish in the first round of play since it will require a specific combination of answers.


At the most basic level, I am trying to argue with my game that negotiating a government coalition is difficult, and that a negotiator is under a lot of pressure to try and find a solution that pleases everyone perfectly. This process is exacerbated in the Belgian case, since the two parties involved in the negotiations have very different ideas of what the Belgian state should look like. The pressure of pleasing both parties is expressed through the satisfaction meters and facial expressions of Bart de Wever and Elio di Rupo. For a competitive person, watching a bar fluctuate so much is incredibly frustrating.

The pressure is also increased by the ticking clock in the center of the board. The five minutes is significant in this game, since the 300 seconds represents the 300 days the negotiations have undergone so far. Knowing that there is a time limit generally means that people are looking for the quickest answers, not usually the best ones. It is pretty much the same in this game. You spend the time answering as many questions as possible to get the desired result without really trying to find the best result for Belgium as a whole. The problem is also bound up with the thesis of the game as a whole. The established goal is to please both parties completely, which ideally is the goal of any negotiation, but in the real world negotiations can require only 90% satisfaction on either side. However, since my main goal is to show how delicate the negotiation process is, I think this simplification of the process makes the frustration and pressure clear.

As I mentioned in the rules, it is possible to win the game. There is only one combination of answers that will allow this to happen, but the player is most likely to run out of time before they can reach this point. Running out of time is the most likely way the player will lose, which represents the artificial time limit we set on negotiations. I think there may be a chance the player will be frustrated with the negotiation process as a whole, but I also hope that they will learn that negotiations in general require a cool head and diplomatic attitude. And if they don’t get the general message about negotiations, at the very least I hope they will learn something about Belgium and be able to follow news about it more clearly.


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