Computer simulation games have been providing training grounds for military personnel and corporate executives for decades now, with more sophisticated versions coming every year.
You may think that such simulation technology is decades away for arts and cultural managers, and horribly out of economic reach. But there’s a silly little game that can provide hours of educational fun for the cultural manager’s mind: Roller Coaster Tycoon. Price? $9.97.
Part of the popular and growing ‘Tycoon’ series, Roller Coaster Tycoon puts you in charge of a theme park. You build the rides, you place the refreshment stands, you set the research and development budget, you hire the ground crew, entertainers, and maintenance team. And when you open your virtual park, the people come pouring in.
So how are you learning to manage cultural facilities? Click on any patron on screen and you’ll see exactly what they’re thinking about your park, what they’ve spent, how much they still have in their pocket, and how the experience is fitting their specific needs (they may be thirsty, or hungry, or nauseated, or bored). Click on any ride or refreshment stand and get a profit or loss statement, read what customers think about that feature, change the prices, modify the policies (does the coaster have to be full before the cars run, or can it run more frequently). Click on the budget screen, and see how you’re doing financially, month by month, for the whole park. Take out loans, launch a marketing campaign, adjust your R&D budget accordingly. (And be sure to build an information stand that sells umbrellas…trust me on that one.)
Okay, it’s not like slogging through a managerial economics textbook, but there are some essential elements of learning here. Chief among them, the sense that all your choices are connected to a larger picture. Don’t hire enough janitors, and visitors start to notice the dirtiness of the park. Place refreshment stands too close to the really fast rides, and patrons start to get sick (so you hire more janitors). Don’t charge enough, and a ride’s popularity can kill your bottom line.
Learning through games certainly has limits. According to one expert quoted in a New York Times Magazine article on military simulations:
‘You can’t play Full Spectrum Warrior and become a squad leader,’ he said. ‘It doesn’t work that way. But you can experience a few things. You can make a few mistakes. You can learn from those mistakes.’
But at least those mistakes don’t cost lives, or arts organizations, or bad patron experiences (well, not real patrons anyway).
A true performing or visual arts organization simulator is likely far, far away (although Cultural Initiatives Silicon Valley has a wonderful arts foundation simulator that’s also worth a look). In the meantime, games like Roller Coaster Tycoon and SimCity are pretty darn good for the pricetag.
see it at Amazon.com…
(any purchase benefits the Bolz Center for Arts Administration library fund…not much, admittedly, but a bit)