Before I go any further, I should declare an interest because my sister was involved in the creation and promotion of this game. I hope I'll give an honest review but you should be aware that I'm writing it with virtual big sister looking over my shoulder!
I have already told a number of people about this game and put together a Prezi on it but without typing up a bit more about what I said, or recording some audio, the presentation probably wont help you much. A better introduction would be to watch Tom Oleary's presentation from the bectax conference:
Now that you have an idea of what the game's about, the question is: "Is it any good?". Is it any good as a game and is it any good as an educational resource? I would give a qualified yes to the first question and a more positive yes to the second.
As a game
Essentially, it is a simulation game where you have to juggle limited resources (mostly your time) in an effort to influence the outcome of the game. It suffers from the limitations of this style of game where random elements can make it seem unfair (does anyone else remember Kingdom on the BBC Micro?) or where choices given are too limiting and it is too easy to predict the "correct" answer. I would say this games falls more foul of the second problem where, on occasion, the choices are too obvious. For example, on the Easy level, you are given the choice of asking the Secretary of Industry: "Who invented the telephone?" or "What are you doing to help youth unemployment?" Guess which one gets you the better score! Although, to be fair, this was a choice given on the "Easy" level. It is not as straightforward on the harder levels and there are some nice touches where decisions you make earlier can come back and bite you. For example, you may decide that you should be in the House, taking part in a debate, rather than meeting a foreign dignitary. This may get you a good result immediately after the debate but when you find out that the person you declined to meet has been in discussion with your opposition, you may regret you decision not to meet.
My only other gripe about it as a game is that there is no way to save it. Particularly in Secondary schools, where your life is ruled by a bell, this is a major omission. It would be really frustrating for a pupil to get to Thursday only to have the bell ring and all their good work would be lost.
On the positive side, it looks brilliant. Lots of high quality photographs, cartoon style graphics, sound clips, and video material. I don't know that it's the type of game you'd want to play over and over again but I don't think it's intended to be. It kept my attention, there's enough incentive that it made me want to complete it successfully and it does the job it was designed to do: to engage and inform.
As an educational resource
The stated educational aims are:
MP For A Week aims to help 11-16 year olds develop their political literacy, though it’s suitable for older students as well. The game has been designed with teachers in mind, and we hope you will find it an engaging and useful resource that forms the useful basis for discussing the democratic process.I think it probably meets theses aims. It helps pupils understand not only what an MP does but also gives an insight into how Parliament works. It also provides a great resource for teachers. There is a Teacher Controls section that gives direct access to many (all?) of the in game activities/resources such as the videos, sound clips, etc. There are a fairly good set of teacher's notes with suggested activities and extension material and there are clear links to relevant curricular documents. (Although the Scottish section refers to 5-14 and should probably be updated to refer to Curriculum for Excellence instead.)(See Game Guide for Teachers)
It could be accused of being too simplistic and giving too positive a view of what an MP does but given the origin and aim of the game, this is hardly surprising and probably gives some balance to the "all MPs are liars and cheats" views that pupils are all too likely to encounter elsewhere.
A more subtle criticism could be that it pushes a particular line that may not reflect reality. For example, does the game reward you too highly for following scientific advice? This may reflect an ideal or an aspiration but political, historical and economic considerations may carry more weight in the real world of politics. Also, does it reward you for following the party line? It could be argued that there are times where it may be more important to defy the party whip and make a stand on a matter of principle.
I don't see these as major problems though, since it is a simulation game and inevitably has to simplify some aspects. Also, if it is used in a school setting, I suspect a good teacher would challenge pupils to question the underlying assumptions in the game.
As an educational resource, it may not be perfect; but what resource is? It gives pupils and teachers a great tool that could easily provide opportunities for discussion and activity while being entertaining and informative in its own right.
Let me know what you think.
Apparently my sister is taking a bit of stick from colleagues because of this review. My work as a wee brother is done!