The game contains two card decks and several sets of colored chips. The first deck contains research cards of different types (arts, humanities, sciences, and wildcards). The second deck contains cards representing grant opportunities and special world events. Each player picks one set of colored chips that are used to keep track of reputation. These reputation chips are a currency in the game and are used for bidding on and protecting grants. They also serve as a measure of the player’s progress toward victory (players start with seven chips and the first player to reach twenty chips is the winner). Five grant opportunities or special events are revealed at the beginning of the game and each player starts with three research cards.
During the course of a round, several grant opportunities are opened for bidding. Reputation chips are used as a measure of a player’s academic prowess, career accomplishments, and availability. It is assumed that with the successful completion of grant projects, reputation grows and gives one’s decisions more weight when calling into question others’ work. The reputation chips also symbolize the importance of trust in research, and the ways it can be misused and manipulated. To simulate the process of competitive grant proposals, players use their reputation chips to bid on the grant opportunities most appealing to them based on their available resources. Once a grant is won, the reputation chips used to secure the grant are tied to the grant until the grant’s requirements have been fulfilled. Bidding on the grants at play represents how much time and effort each player is putting into their grant applications, and also how their own academic reputation and history may influence the awarding of the grant.
Fulfilling a grant involves matching the grant’s research requirements by playing research cards of the correct type. Some research cards represent unethical decisions like falsifying or fabricating data or accepting ghost authorship on a publication. Players may secretly play unethical cards to grants to accelerate their progress, but this also opens them to the risk of being audited for unethical conduct of research by other players. Additionally, players may propose trades of resources with each other, creating collaborative associations. During a trade, players also swap reputation chips thereby associating their reputation with another’s decisions and activities. This situation must be approached with caution, especially if the player suspects another researcher of unethical behavior.
When a grant has been fulfilled, it goes into review for one round before being scored and paying reputation chips to the player. This provides the other players an opportunity to audit the grant in review by staking their own reputation chips against those on the grant. Auditing a grant, like any act of whistleblowing, is risky. A player’s own reputation suffers if they call into question an entirely ethical research project. If, however, a grant is audited and contains unethical research cards, the grant is removed from review, all unethical cards played on the grant are discarded, and the audited player and any players that have reputation chips associated with that grant lose reputation.
Players may make calculated risks involving unethical behavior, or simply ‘‘play to win.’’ Even in this scenario, the high risks and consequences involved with unethical behavior are an integral part of the game’s design. The game allows students to explore the potential ramifications of unethical decisions in the context of a simulation. The decisions in the game take place within a fictional, abstracted narrative—however, these gameplay decisions require critical thinking skills on the part of the player which are not a fiction, and which are directly related to real world ethical scenarios. The goal is to habituate the weighing of risk and reward, given the emergent complexity of the simulated environment.