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You Can Fix Health Care ... Or Break It

BY Nick Judd | Tuesday, May 25 2010

Michael Bean of Forio just finished explaining the usefulness of simulations for government to a not-too-crowded room at the Washington Convention here in Washington, where I am covering the Gov 2.0 Expo.

"The idea for a simulation is to provide people with new insights," Bean, who sells his services as a game designer to governments, said towards the end of his talk.

The example he showed us was HealthBound, a game where your manipulation of check boxes and drop-down menus directly influences the future of American health care.

As with all software, there were problems: Playing with it, I was able to raise the cost of health care — expected — but another group toying with the game during the presentation reported they were unable to do the same.

That raised the timeless garbage in, garbage out dilemma, which we all know too well. But Bean had an counter argument for that.

Maybe, playing with the game, the users realize that the settings of their game universe are unrealistic: The statistics on which the game bases its predictions of death rates might be inaccurate, for example.

Part of the point is that games might force the players to rethink the parameters of their real-life policy problem — which in turn might give them a better idea about a solution.

There's another reason for an element of unreality in games, too, of course: things that are too real might also be too boring.

As a case in point, he offered Penn & Teller's Desert Bus, a game in which you play a bus driver driving your bus across the desert from Phoenix, or perchance Tucson, to Las Vegas. It can't go faster than 55 miles per hour. The game takes eight ours to play to its conclusion.

Perhaps, to quote a movie about another famous government game, the only way to win Desert Bus is not to play.