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Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Executive Education

How dealing with a zombie pandemic taught my students to think fast and think ethically

“The world is about to collapse. Save as many lives as possible. Good luck!” This is the introduction to my Business Ethics class for students at César Ritz Colleges Switzerland. There’s no need to compete for my students’ attention, especially when I announce: “You have to deal with a zombie pandemic simulation in this game by Harvard Business Publishing. Make sure that philosophers Kant, Artistotle, Bentham, and Mills are on your team, you will need them to succeed.” Here are three lessons my students learned through the experience:

  1. Learn how to make quick decisions
    Games are great. Games with intense emotional impact are even better. As Professor Amy Edmonson of Harvard Business School explains: “A simulation requires action and decisions. Students are right in the mix, having an experience as opposed to reading about an experience.”

    Here’s a brief outline of Patient 0: Imagine you are facing a massive zombie pandemic in your country. As a country leader, you must make decisions to save the world. Each player has to decide on five events, balancing the consequences of those decisions against unpredictable factors – a bit like rolling a dice.

    “With no previous experience to draw from, limited information and external pressures from a ticking clock and world events, students must choose how to respond,” Harvard Business Publishing explains in its outline of the simulation. “And, as in real life, the outcome of their decisions will be influenced by an element of unpredictability.

  2. Develop ethical intelligence
    Patient 0 is an immersive game that enables learners to look at ethical questions from a different perspective. Let’s face it, the study of ethics is often perceived as dusty, purely academic, and a bit boring too. By including the learning experience created by Patient 0 in my Business Ethics course it makes the subject seem more accessible, challenging, and relevant. The objective of the course is to promote ethical intelligence, to enable learners to assess a situation from an ethical perspective, and to investigate different possible solutions, which is exactly what this game entails.

    Patient 0 enables students to experience intense emotions while dealing with unfortunate contemporary challenges, leading them to really question what is right and wrong, which is the fundamental question around which my Ethics course is based.

    During the game, students have to face the uneasy truth that ‘you have to take decisions that you personally disagree with, in order to save your country’. Sixty per cent of participants said they had reached this conclusion.

  3. Improve learning through emotions
    As research shows, epistemic emotions (for example, surprise, curiosity, and confusion) enable students to learn better, and the more I use gamification in my class, the more I witness changes in my students’ attitudes. They are more curious and motivated, and open to debate – plus they have bigger smiles! As one student, Georges, said after playing Patient 0: “This was the best ethics class ever!”

Gamification is a major trend in higher education, and I believe that including highly emotional content in courses is an interesting path to follow. Patient 0 brings the right mix of tension, competition, and feel-good emotion to fully engage with the players. As Harvard Business Publishing puts it, Patient 0 opens the door for educators and students to have rich discussion around adaptive leadership, leading in a crisis, working in teams, as well as ethical decision making.

Games can also be used outside of the classroom, by managers for example, either as a team building activity to enhance collective intelligence and problem solving , or also to enable employees to experiment the complexity of leadership, while stepping outside of a pure business context. Such games enable projections while limiting the constraints of polarizing topics.

Games and epistemic emotions open a world of opportunities – let the fun begin!


Written by Delphine Blin-Genin.

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Delphine Blin-Genin
Delphine Blin-Genin, lecturer at César Ritz Colleges Switzerland, a hospitality and business management school in Switzerland. Delphine Blin-Genin is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. Follow her on LinkedIn.