Sweet and sour settlement a game of learned helplessness

Sweet and Sour

I wrestled with what I was seeing and hearing and began to conceive of a way to bring all the data I was gathering together so that I could use this to inform both myself and others. Sweet and Sour Settlement – A game of Learned Helplessness was the result.

Figure Error! No text of specified style in document..1 Sweet and sour settlement

Here I documented the all issues that had been raised by participants and then wrote a scenario to capture each issue. Once I had created this new version of Snakes and Ladders I showed it to Samia. Samia got quite excited as she felt all the issues and most of the positives discussed at HAAP had been captured in the game. With this encouragement I took the game to my colleagues at work and they also became very energised and said that this game would be an exceptional teaching tool in their mentor program.

The game is played like snakes and ladders but a six is required to get on to square one as a metaphor for the wait for a humanitarian entrant visa. When you land on a scenario square you must read it out loud to the other participant from the accompanying booklet. Once you are on the board and throw a six you can offer your turn to any one player still waiting. This is a metaphor for sponsorship.

I chose Snakes and Ladders as a model which seemed to represent the vicissitudes of participant’s lives on and soon after arrival. A more complex game was needed to capture the ups and downs of everyday life once they had settled. High Rise presents the issues that face many refugees from Africa long after their initial settlement period.

High Rise


Every time I spoke to any settler housing was a major issue. I decided to capture this issue in another game called “High Rise “.

I spent a full three months developing all the aspects of “High Rise.”

Specific attention was paid to developing characters whose life stories were based on real life events but did not represent any specific individual. The complexities of everyday life in a mythical inner suburban high-rise housing estate are documented on a comprehensive set of cards. All events documented are based in reality.

The specific purpose of the game is based on the desire of settlers to inform the services that work with them and particularly the policy makers about their lives in the hope of inspiring change.

As in Sweet and sour settlement a six gets you on to the board and when you land on a square with a symbol on it you read and follow the instruction on the next card from the relevant stack on the board.

The cards cover:

  • How people conducted their daily lives on the estate including some of the food they prepare and eat, their religion and their day to day activities
  • The problems of living on the estate
  • Their dreams for change.

I talked with the participants about what influenced their lives the most and decided that the biggest issue was how long people had to wait to get off the estate. As this was the biggest concern I decided that time on the housing waiting list would become the currency for “High Rise.” Day to day expenses was also a big issue; these were documented on the board.

The work on High Rise captured the enthusiasm of those involved. They wanted to tell government and particularly policy makers what life was like for them in the hope that a full and open representation of their lives would help the policy makers understand the good and the bad of high rise living and encourage the development of policy which would foster growth and safety rather than fear and isolation for all of them as citizens in their chosen new country. Here was a reflexive space at work.


The games were now made. Hopefully this approach to the “labyrinth of settlement policy” would provide a way forward which allowed room for policy makers to experience the outworking of their policy and sit with the juxtaposition of issues, contradictions and solutions. I hoped that this may offer a fuller experience of the consequences of policy and lead to an understanding of underlying issues. From the service users perspective the games encapsulated the positives and negatives of the lives of those Horn of Africa people with whom I had contact. Could this lead to policy makers using this representation of a reflexive space to sit with the contradictions faced by their constituents and is there a possibility that this could lead to more all encompassing solutions which are more palatable to all?

Reactions to the Games

People who have played the games have reported that it has focused their minds and hearts on the issues facing humanitarian settlers from Africa. They talked about liking the balance between information about the cultural aspects of peoples’ lives and the focus on settler’s difficulties. What players found confronting was that the dreams people had were so poignant.

I am overwhelmed that someone’s dreams can be for so little and so much, every person has the right to catch a tram without being stared at or jeered at because of their appearance, I thought we were a tolerant nation. Perhaps we are not.

Players commented on the frequent humiliation settlers faced. They were touched by the histories of the characters they played and they became concerned about issues that they had only paid peripheral attention to when they had heard about them on the news.

I had never made the connection between racism and gangs before

Do the police honestly not attend some callouts?

If the police are scared what must it be like for the victims?


I never realised racism played such a big part in peoples’ lives. I cannot imagine being faced with wondering whether I did not get a job because of the colour of my skin.

The overall feedback from both games has encouraged me to think about where I can use them as training tools. I have now begun to use the games to as an influencing tool in university courses and will take them to specific government departments such as the office of housing and the police.

One thought on “Games

  1. Hi, Jill. I am working as a psychologist at social service, providing help to refugees in Ukraine. Being the only psychologist who works with asylum seekers and refugees in Kyiv, I need a helpful hand and guidance to organize my work properly. I came across Your name while looking for similar organizations abroad. And if You have some free time and are willing to advise me, I will appreciate it immensely.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s