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Online Negotiation Games by Zap Dramatic
review
four star
posted by: Laurie Taylor
publisher: Zap Dramatic
developer: Zap Dramatic
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date posted: 08:05 PM Mon Oct 30th, 2006
last revision: 08:05 PM Mon Oct 30th, 2006


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Click to read.In searching for games that feature realistic business negotiations, I found Zap Dramatic. According to their website, Zap Dramatic "produces addictive negotiation games for entertainment and life skills development" as well as for advertising and educational purposes. They do so through their variety of Flash negotiation games, many of which are available online for free. Each of the games offers a different perspective on negotiation—negotiating for a raise, negotiating for retail services, negotiating difficult conversations to achieve the desired goal, and negotiating for information. Each of the games is impressive, and they're even more impressive when taken as a whole.

Zap Dramatic's games vary in their approaches, depth, and in their ability to teach concrete information and critical thinking skills. Despite the complexity of the task at hand, many of the scenarios succeed. Even more importantly, Zap Dramatic's games are aesthetically pleasing, interesting, easy to play, and fun.

In order to best explain why and how Zap Dramatic's games are impressive, an example proves useful. For instance, "The Raise" (Episode 1 of "Negotiator" series) succeeds because it both is and isn't normal in the same manner as everyday life. The scenario is realistic in the sense that many people will ask their employer for a raise without really knowing what the boss thinks of them or the boss' reasoning. In "The Raise," the boss in the scenario is also realistically unpredictable in the way that actual people are. "The Raise" begins with the player as an employee asking for a raise. The player needs the raise to cover his/her pet's medical expenses. The game then proceeds through a conversation with the player angling for information and advantage in the pay negotiation process.

The conversation in "The Raise" isn't a simple, straightforward exercise. Instead, the conversation is realistic in that it isn't completely predictable. In any real world human interaction, people's personalities and the particulars of a given situation shape the variables that come into play for a negotiation. "The Raise" does not present a watered down example of a pay negotiation nor does it present overly simplistic options. Rather than offering a basic modeling of "perfect" or "negative" use cases, "The Raise" instead offers a normal example of life and allows players to test different options. The scenario doesn't allow the player infinite options, just as the restraints of a real situation would also close off many possibilities.

Unlike many games where the situations are simple or the answers obvious, "The Raise" is difficult and somewhat illogical in the way that pay negotiations tend to be. "The Raise"-like Zap Dramatic's other games-requires players to think, listen, and evaluate information to then determine what might work and why, and what might not. The answers aren't clear and simple, and total success (becoming a CEO or tripling your salary) isn't possible.

Like "The Raise" Zap Dramatic's other games, which they term case studies and dramas, act as snapshots of particular situations. Each snapshot is well defined and well written enough to present realistically complex situations with realistically narrow yet confusing options. Zap Dramatic's games all thus point to some of the potential that serious games have to offer. Serious games need to marry concrete information with complex simulations. Some serious games do this by walking players through a known, yet difficult to control, process. Some of the other existing games that could be termed serious (often edugames or edutainment, and even mainstream games that supposedly allow players to model morality), however, are weak because they require players to find a solution and then offer one and only one realistically correct answer. Doing so is like a multiple choice test for the area of a square where the possible answers are equivalent to "44," "chicken," "toothbrush," or "was running." Simplistic scenarios like those teach neither concrete information nor reasoning skills. Mainstream and serious games, unlike multiple choice tests, promise to use gaming for many different applications, including teaching concrete information and reasoning skills as well as then testing those skills. Games in general also provide a method for feedback that aids in simulating different possibilities and the effects of choosing alternatives within those possible scenarios.

Serious games like Zap Dramatic's case studies and dramas offer examples of what the educational system desires. An article in Edutopia recently explained that educational models are built on the concept of information scarcity-the belief that students must learn to memorize using drills because otherwise they won't have access to the information. While memorization proves necessary to many thought processes and skills, the degree to which educational systems emphasize memorization does need to shift toward greater abstraction. This would be a change from data accumulation to conceptual skills for researching, categorizing, connecting, and evaluating information. Games aid by offering simulations that are not built on information scarcity, but instead on methods to access, sort, and use information.

In addition to educational uses, Zap Dramatic's games offer a sense of the variables involved in human business negotiations, information which isn't readily available for many people. Zap Dramatic has a number of games and even an online negotiation course available for a fee. They also have a number of games available for free, including "The Print Shop," which is the Course Demo for the Online Negotiation Course. "The Print Shop" features a business negotiation between a buyer and the player as an art dealer. The game has a variety of positive and negative outcomes that result after the player negotiates the situation. The game reinforces communication skills and asking the other person what they want in order to best negotiate a positive outcome for each person. Communication skills are also reinforced in many of the other games.

One of the more interesting free games is the "Case Study on Professionalism and Ethics" which walks players through a business scenario that could be ethically complicated. The correct answers are fairly well defined in this game, but that doesn't take away from the game because the game is meant to reinforce basic information and to provide a scenario in which players learn and then walk through using that information.

Some of the interactive dramas offer varying levels of complication and realism. Each still offers a useful simulation of conversational negotiation. Parts 1 and 2 of "Move or Die" are available online and they require the player to negotiate with multiple and changing variables and people. Similarly, Episodes 1 and 10 of the "Ambition" series are also available online and offer complicated simulations of conversational inquiry and negotiation. Many of the games offer help during the games or after the game is completed with characters who explain different theories at play during the particular conversations. The help showcases the solid research that is embedded and functioning in the games. Zap Dramatic's games offer benefits through their variety—different characters and different scenarios require different strategies and the games allow players to model these varieties, learning from each scenario and from the larger differences in the scenarios.

Like the free samples, all of the games are quite interesting and worth the minimal access cost ($5 for one month unlimited and other similar pricing models). Many of the games, because they specifically deal with business concerns, could certainly be used for a class training exercise, a business training exercise, for professional development, or for personal development that relates to both business and personal life.

Further, Zap Dramatic's games highlight the needs mentioned in many business training studies, as in books like "Women Don't Ask." "Women Don't Ask" includes research showing that people in positions of less power (often women) aren't taught to negotiate and aren't comfortable doing so, but that teaching women how to negotiate can make them more comfortable and can result in better pay equity. In the United States and around the world, women still make less than men for the same work, and teaching women to negotiate or to even try to negotiate is one of the smaller stumbling blocks that could be overcome to help improve the balance. Negotiation games like Zap Dramatic's games offer readily available simulations that could be used to help teach people to negotiate and to be comfortable negotiating.

Overall, Zap Dramatic's games are both fun to play and pragmatically useful-the ideal of the serious games movement. Zap Dramatic's games don't have realistic 3D graphics, dynamic sound, or dozens of hours of playtime. Zap Dramatic's games offer solid game play, great writing, as well as a fun and rewarding experience. Players will enjoy the games and benefit from the games, and gaming as a whole can benefit from the diversity showcased in games like these.

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