Serious gaming the challenges of humanitarian preparedness
Pablo Suarez (associate director of programmes at the Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre) was kind enough to drop us a note highlighting some of the work that they have been doing over the past few years using serious games to highlight and address the humanitarian consequences of climate change and extreme weather events. Some of this work has been done in conjunction with the PETLab at the Parsons—The New School for Design, who have also put together a website (here) devoted to this particular case of “developing public interest games for better crisis-decision-making.”
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Weather or Not is a simple game where participants are given the probability of a major storm, and then must decide whether or not to pre-position relief supplies. If they DO and there IS a flood (or if they DON’T, and there is NO flood) all is good. However if they DO and there is NO flood (or if they DON’T and there IS a flood) they are punished for over-reacting or failing to prepare. The game can been seen in use in the video below, with a graduate class at Columbia University:
The best game strategy here seems rather blindingly obvious (prepare if the chance of a flood is above 50%), so presumably this would best be used to either familiarize people with probability estimates or to spark a larger discussion of the emergency preparedness.
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Before the Storm is a card-based game where groups of participants are given a series of weather forecasts (at 10 days, 48 hours, and 12 hours) and are asked to select the appropriate preparedness measures from the deck. They can also develop their own ideas, and summarize them on their own card. This seems to me to be a much richer use of a game mechanism, with participants not only encouraged to weigh the pros and cons of various options but also challenged to think of new approaches of their own. In the video below the game can be seen being used in Senegal. In this case, once the game had been played and new various options had been generated, the group visited a flood-prone village to get community feedback on their ideas.
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Spreading the Word is a version of the party/children’s game telephone, used to highlight problems of communication between scientists, relief workers, and local communities. You can see it at work here (at 04:00 to 17:45 in the video) in a workshop in Bangladesh. While the outcome isn’t surprising to anyone who has played the game before, it does seem a very entertaining way of highlighting the point in a lecture or workshop setting.
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Choices in a Changing Climate looks at the twin challenges of flood and drought (longer version here). Again, the game is as important for the way that the game mechanics stimulate and facilitate discussion as it is for the lessons built into the game rules themselves.
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Dengue, Catch the Fever! is designed to teach primary school children (and, secondarily, their parents and other stakeholders) about the risk factors for Dengue Fever, and the way these relate to issues of climate change. You’ll find an overview of the game here, and the game instructions here. Very clever, and it looks fun to play!
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The Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Change Centre also has links to other serious games used by national Red Cross/Red Crescent Societies:
- Goose Escalera, a Spanish-language snakes-and-ladders type game for children (board, instructions) used to highlight environmental and climate change issues in Colombia.
- Earth Savers, an Arabic-language boardgame on climate change for children, this time prepared by the IFRC for use in North Africa.
- A Syrian computer game on the same theme.
Overall, there is a lot here to spark ideas as to how similar approaches can be used to address other humanitarian and developmental issues. Moreover, as the work of IFRC and PETlab shows, you don’t need to make these complicated or electronic to get the basic point across. From a gaming perspective,it is also easy to think of a number of existing card and boardgame techniques that might be applied to the issue of disaster preparedness. It would be interesting, for example, to design a cooperative card-driven game somewhat akin to Pandemic that whereby event cards generated disaster risks, forcing players to adaptively switch emphasis and limited resources from longer-term mitigation strategies to shorter-term emergency preparedness and response.
(Coincidentally I spent part of the holidays designing and play-testing a disaster response game. On the plus side, it was a hit with my local gaming group. On the other hand it may not be of much practical use, since it involves a future zombie apocalypse. Even without prodding from the IFRC, however, we did work climate change into the basic game setting!)