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Virtual Worlds Can Be Dangerous: Using Ready-Made Computer Simulations for Teaching International Relations


  • I would like to thank the Department of Political Science of the University of Toronto, Antoinette Handley, Peter Loewen, Elizabeth Jagdeo, Kimberly Carter, Semir Yusuf, Craig Smith, and the students on our POL208 course for their help and support, and especially Wendy Wong for her enthusiastic support since the first steps of this research. I would also like to thank Marcelo Valença, Victor Asal, and the two anonymous reviewers for their comments on previous drafts of this paper.
  • [Corrections added November 14, 2014 after original online publication. Grammatical changes have been made to this article to improve clarity.]


Video games have become a hot topic in education. To their proponents, they enhance the interactive and active aspects of learning. In addition, mass-produced off-the-shelf video games promise a cheaper and more convenient approach to education, being quick and easy to set up, in contrast to the extensive time commitment that goes into designing a simulation from scratch. My paper uses an experience with Statecraft, a commercial off-the-shelf IR computer simulation tailored to the educational market, as a proxy to discuss the educational usefulness of commercial strategy video games in general. This experience recommends that we be cautious and reflective in the use of ready-made games for teaching. More to the point, it is still not clear which benefits, apart from convenience, commercial computer simulations bring to our classes that cannot also be provided by old-fashioned, low-tech customized simulations, whether designed by instructors or in collaboration with students.