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New Japanese card game allows players to learn social issues and politics as 'mayors'

People play the card game Genkai Toshi, which allows players to have fun while learning about challenges facing society and politics, in this photo taken in Nagoya's Nakamura Ward on Oct. 14, 2020. (Mainichi/Koji Hyodo)

NAGOYA -- A card game that turns players into "mayors" to try to tackle real-life social issues and politics has hit the market. The goal: to pursue the happiness of the game world's make-believe citizens.

    Genkai Toshi, meaning "city on the brink," was created by the general incorporated association Do It Yourself (DIY) headed by Yoshiro Azuma, to allow players to learn about politics and challenges faced by society, such as the spread of an infectious disease and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Players, as mayors, must draw on their funds and their policies to make the people they serve happy.

    "It is our wish that the game acts as an opportunity for people disinterested in social problems to become aware of what's going on around them," DIY representative director Azuma told the Mainichi Shimbun.

    The organization's mission is "to DIY" tackling community problems, and engages in a broad array of activities, including proposing projects or holding disaster prevention lessons for community groups, nonprofit organizations and other bodies.

    What jump-started the game's development was the lowering of the voting age to 18 in 2016. Though the law was passed to lower the voting age, young people still only have a few chances to think about politics in their everyday lives. "It's unfair to ask (young people) to go vote in elections when they have had very little experience being engaged in social issues," Azuma thought. That was what spurred him and his team to develop the game.

    The game, which can be played by one to four players, comprises 79 types of social issues cards and 100 types of policy cards. Players use various policy and funding cards to solve social issues, gaining citizens' happiness cards (income, health, purpose) in the process.

    For example, let's say a player tries to deal with the social issue of "an outflow of young people" with a "residential land development" card and a "community road maintenance and repairs" card. With residential land development comes a decrease in greenery, so while there may be an increase in population, happiness levels drop. In this way, players face the complex factors that are intertwined in community issues. The game's title came from today's political challenges, which entail keeping cities that are on the brink up and running.

    Starting in the summer of 2018, DIY had university students repeatedly play the game in its prototype stage, a process through which the developers refined the rules and cards. DIY looked to mayors' and governors' campaign platforms and local governments' comprehensive plans as a resource in creating the policy cards. In fiscal 2019, DIY asked that the prototype be used in training sessions for civil servants, as well as in classes at Gifu University, where Azuma serves as an adjunct instructor, and incorporated feedback he received from players.

    "It was fun even just reading the commentary on the cards, and it increased my interest in social issues," said Iori Yasuda, 18, who is a student in the Faculty of Regional Studies at Gifu University and cooperated with the game's development. "I haven't voted in an election yet, but when the time comes, I'd like to actually compare candidates' policies."

    The game was given an outstanding performance award at the 15th annual Manifesto Awards hosted jointly by the Mainichi Shimbun and others in October. The card game has been available since October at 3,000 yen (approx. $29) plus tax on the DIY website at: (in Japanese) and will be available on other online shopping sites in the future.

    (Japanese original by Shinichiro Kawase, Nagoya News Center)

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