Beneath the Mask
A review by Farhan Jamalvy. CrossCulture Programme Fellow 2017
"Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth," observed Oscar Wilde. In a way, simulation games do just that. They hypothesize a scenario and create "masked personas" for conflict transformation. The interns of ifa’s CrossCulture Programme (CCP) assumed altered identities in such a simulation game designed by CRISP (Crisis Simulation for Peace e.V.) - a Berlin-based NGO - on November 9, 2017.
Change of roles
Twenty-four fellows from 18 countries and four different continents assumed responsibilities for the future of a fictional Mediterranean island named Transolvia. The aim was to promote stability and democracy in the young country. The great diplomatic questions were: How can different interests be heard, moderated and pragmatically resolved in a democratic way? How can the interests of a multi-faceted civil society in particular be articulated? Which coalitions can achieve as many goals as possible?
The trick, however, was to find answers to those questions with reversed roles. That included names, personal ideologies, political affiliations, creeds and even gender that were randomly reassigned.
Once the new roles were accepted and reality re-adjusted, a young man would comfortably introduce himself as a middle-aged woman, or a young woman would pass off as an authentic man without having to change their attire or physical appearances.
Clash of interests
Players were then split into three groups comprising international donor agencies, Transolvian state actors and the national press—each pushing forward with their reforms.
The EU Funding Commission pledges 100 million Euros in aid for the development of Transolvia. To ensure transparency, the Commission establishes a Trust for Democracy and tasks local stakeholders with aligning their interests and reaching common ground for the distribution of allocated funds. But then, there is another force to reckon with BASTA — an anti-government social reform movement led by the dissident youth of the country.
Hence, the Prime Minister’s Cabinet and the Opposition Parties initiate a dialogue and negotiate a deal. On the other hand, the civil society struggles to draft a new framework to formalize and regulate NGOs operating in the country. In contrast, BASTA and other dissident voices continue holding protests and demonstrations in the streets.
The "Darun News Network" catches up on the latest developments, and broadcasts live news shows every top of the hour. EU advisors, top politicians, opposition leaders and BASTA rebels are regularly invited to the studio and interviewed for all sides of the story.
Between joy and grief
The stakeholders submit written proposals with the Trust for Democracy which evaluates the documents and inks its verdict. The Day of Judgment arrives and the Commission announces its decision at the much-awaited press conference with all stakeholders in attendance.
It is declared that almost half of the 100 million Euros will be spent on infrastructure, and the rest will be divided among the health, education and social sector. It turns out that the division of allocation does not fare well with local stakeholders, and leaves the civil society disappointed.
The bells chime. Participants take off their "invisible" masks and return to their original selves. A post-participatory session was organised to gather feedback and evaluate the results of the simulation game.
A color-coded method of sharing one’s thoughts and opinion came into play. Over 80% of the participants said they enjoyed the game and would do so gladly again.