Four engaging board games to think and change globally

Fix climate change. Fight social inequality and injustice. End global poverty.
Whoa… would be awesome to resolve it all at once, right? However, when we think rationally, we know that it requires a lot of time and effort to achieve those important, world-changing goals. Personally, sometimes I feel quite helpless when I look at global problems and consider a long and difficult road we still have to go until reaching full sustainability at our planet. How can I, as a single person, make an actual impact on environmental and social issues, without cooperation with governments, international organizations or world leaders? It seems impossible… so should I just give up?

No! Change starts with me – and games. It may seem silly, but I am serious: Games actually have the power to advance sustainable development! How? Games can enable a better understanding of economy, climate change, cultural differences and other issues the world is currently facing. The type of games used for this purpose is called serious games. But what exactly are serious games? Let me explain briefly.

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Gifts of Culture, a board game role-playing simulation

Serious games, often called game-based learning, social simulations or policy exercises offer their users not only entertainment but also possibility to learn actively by engaging them in real-life conflicts or dilemmas that they have to resolve. There are many different types of such games and their main advantage is that they are both exciting and meaningful in a sense that they may actually affect players’ attitude and result in positive changes. To make this concept more clear to you, just have a look at some serious games that may be applied to teach about sustainable management of resources.

Gifts of Culture provides a valuable lesson of collaboration between culturally diverse groups, highlighting the importance of preparedness and the ability to cope with emergency situations. As members of a community living in a flood-prone valley, players have to face many dilemmas referring to individual cultural backgrounds. Endangered by a looming threat of flood, they are forced to develop effective strategies to anticipate, prepare for and recover from a potential disaster. Whether they depend on their own resources or display flexibility and ability to collaborate is up to them, but their choice would surely define their future!

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Gifts of Culture in action

While Gifts of Culture presents players with the challenges connected to disaster risk management, Laudato Si’ was designed to help kids understand human effect on nature and environment. In this simple board game, children are sent to a pristine dense forest full of old majestic trees and rich undergrowth. Sounds like utopia? Maybe, but this potentially beautiful dream soon turns into a battlefield with players competing for valuable timber. While each tree chopped down brings profit to a player, it hinders forest’s regeneration. In the course of the game, kids may observe how once green and blossoming, the forest is thinning out. As a result, they, hopefully, become aware of the joint responsibility for commonly shared home – the Earth; its resources and other inhabitants of the planet.

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Laudato Si’, Polish version

Another serious board game that holds many elements and challenges related to water-energy-food nexus is Nexus Game. The role-playing simulation revolves around two countries that have access to the same river and must take decisive steps towards solving problems with water supply and demand, energy generation, food production and preservation of wetland ecosystems. The players, who step in the shoes of several ministries, are exposed to rainy and dry seasons and collect money whose amount depends on the actions taken during each season. With the generated budget, the policy makers can invest in new technologies to improve the life of the population. Besides educating about sustainable water management, the game allows players to train their soft skills such as communication, collaboration, problem-solving and teamwork. In fact, role-play simulations offer the best environment to practice these skills!

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Nexus Game board

If you are looking for a serious board game about renewable energy, Energy Transition Game might be just perfect! Like the Nexus Game, it is a role-playing simulation, which provides experiencing the challenges in the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources. Players take over different roles within a complex energy system landscape. The roles are linked with different decisions and responsibilities, leaving space for players to create their own strategies. In an open game world all players can freely interact with each other – the may make agreements, put new policies in place, and come up with creative, out-of-the-box solutions. In this way, the Energy Transition Game not only simulates the real-life complexity of the energy transition, but also creates an environment where innovations are born. Are you ready to take on the challenges of the energy system transition? Great fun guaranteed!

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Energy Transition Game cards and board

Serious games may be sometimes used as standalone learning tools, but more often they are followed by an extensive debriefing session. During such a practice, players analyze their moves, share their opinions and emotions and reflect on the whole experience, which leads to conclusions about how to apply the lessons learned to real life situations.

So, if you are still wondering how to contribute to global change towards sustainability, now you know – start playing! You may browse more serious games on the Games4Sustainability website – a platform which allows its users to explore and apply a wide range of free sustainability-related serious games. It is equipped with a constantly updated Gamepedia and a Blog providing further inspiration to use games to promote and teach sustainable development in its different forms. See for yourself!

by Sarah Nobis

Photo credits: / Used with permission.

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