Hearts of Iron II, one of Paradox Interactive's seminal high strategy titles set in World War II, has been used by the University of California, Los Angeles, in its Political Science course.
The game, introduced to the academic world by student facilitator Einar Engvig, has been used in order to equip students with a better grasp of the Theory of Tripolarity and the general geopolitics of the world in the build up to WWII.
During the course the students were introduced to the game, before being split into teams of two and tasked with taking on an assigned nation, with those teams then attempting to play to their own objectives, either through aggression or diplomacy.
"In terms of game specifics, the countries assigned to students were Poland, Yugoslavia, Turkey, Italy, Japan, Argentina and Brazil," wrote Engvig in his course diary. "Poland went on the offensive and annexed Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia as well as Czechoslovakia; this has made most students very scared of them.
"Italy has struggled in Ethiopia and has not expanded much beyond this. Yugoslavia first took Albania and then was able to take half of Bulgaria in a peace treaty after an arduous war. Although it takes at least a year for this treaty to expire, Yugoslavia simply allied itself with Turkey, and the two countries split up Bulgaria and are planning the same for Greece.
"Turkey declared war on Persia and has struggled to annex the fledgling state. Japan has kept to itself in its war with China. I have told Japan that they have the ability to turn the tables in South America. Brazil and Argentina, interestingly enough, allied with each other immediately and have annexed at least three countries one after the other.
"However, I secretly spoke with the team of Argentina and they are in a panic, as they understand that their more powerful partner Brazil can easily turn the tables on them in the future. Needless to say, Argentina is feeling abandonment/entrapment fears, an alliance dynamic we have gone over during lecture/discussion."
Student feedback has appeared to be positive at this stage, with several non-gaming students claiming they will continue playing after their course is complete, while others believe the interactivity of the game has helped them to understand and recall important details more effectively.
"In particular, the class for Hearts of Iron was a perfect example of how interactive learning could be achieved," wrote one student. "By making the reading relevant to the simulation, those students who engaged in learning it, learned not only where individual countries were, but also the balance of power and politics in a tripolar system, as well as the rudiments of game theory and real politik."
Paradox Interactive has since published the next iteration in the series, Hearts of Iron III, as well as an expansion in the form of Semper Fi.