Consulting Parsifal: Stimulating critical cooperation with a serious game

Based upon Parsifal the Grand Opera, a game designed by assistant professor Dr. Rens Kortmann together with Arlon Luijten, for the annual Opera Days Rotterdam festival, Consulting Parsifal was a new feature in this year’s TBM introduction programme.

On September 8, 2016 Consulting Parsifal, a serious game, was conducted by staff and students of the Faculty of Technology, Policy and Management (TBM) for 100 first-year bachelor’s students. The purpose of the experiential learning event was to prompt incoming students to reflect on the role of critical cooperation at the outset of their academic careers.

In this version, students, organised into opposing teams, adopted the role of consultants in the Parsifal Group. Named after the main protagonist of Richard Wagner’s opera Parsifal, the consultants have been hired by Amfortas, an organisation representing small retail businesses in city centres. Amfortas, in the spirit of its operatic namesake the tragic king, has hired Parsifal Group to find a solution to the high rate of bankruptcy and departure of small businesses from city centres stemming from the rise of online commerce.

A preliminary problem analysis indicated that the key to success was held at Klingsor.com, a profitable online retail company named after the opera’s antagonist. In their quest to find the formula, teams were faced with distracting volumes of information, secret agendas and hidden conflict. Game coaches employed by Klingsor.com outwardly expressed full cooperation with the effort to locate the formula, yet had a vested interest in ensuring that it remained secret. Their tactics aimed to pit teams against one another.

In the midst of the melee, an undertone of resistance to the rules of play started to emerge. Side games where ‘money’ is earned were only ‘winnable’ if students cooperated. Staff members took on the role of Kundry, another original character, forced by Klingsor.com to encourage teams in their aggressive ways. Yet only when teams applied critical thinking was the message revealed. Following an encounter with the wandering Kundry, one bachelor student exclaimed, “I am very sure we should change our game!”

During the debrief session, students reflected upon how they actively had to choose to think critically about the true nature of the problem and cooperate to achieve their consulting assignment goal: a satisfied client able to take steps to revitalise the city centre.

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