Category Archives: Gaming

Seeds of a Good Anthropocene

My colleagues and I are running an international scientific synthesis experiment that aims to collect example of projects, productions, or initiatives that people believe are examples of “seeds of a good anthropocene.”

For more information on our project see our website: 

There are many projects that have documented human inequality and damage that people are doing to the Earth.  We are collecting examples that people think are best at moving the world in a better direction.

What are looking for are existing initiatives that people think are excellent embodiments of the values, processes,  or ways of living that could help produce a better world.  A world which is children have a fair chance at a good life, is prosperous, and is enhancing rather than simplifying the biosphere and world that is full of life, fun, and hope.

Please share your ideas with us on our website.  We have a questionnaire that requires an intermediate amount of knowledge on the project and takes 5-15 min to complete.

Why Seeds?

Software for studying the commons

Marco Janssen at the School of Human Evolution and Social Change at ASU have set up a website ( to enable the sharing of software (open source) and  protocols for the lab and field experiments they do to study how people govern common resources.

The group hopes to be able to host more games on common resources on this portal. Making software available as open source software enable them to collaborate with those which are interested also to use it for education and research to improve it over time. At the moment the software is not yet plug and play but various groups with more technical expertise start using it which enable them to solve the glitches.

The protocols for the field experiments (see Cardenas et al. in the “papers” are an easy and reliable place to start.  Marco’s  group is implementing the field experiments also as a web-based games so that it can be used more conviently for larger groups, like in the classroom.

Modelling Water Management in Bhutan

Modelling in BhutanRalf Yorque memorial competition is a best-paper competition in the journal Ecology and Society. The award aims to stimulate creative transdisciplinary research. The winning paper for 2006 was:

Companion modeling, conflict resolution, and institution building: sharing irrigation water in the Lingmuteychu Watershed, Bhutan

by Tayan Raj Gurung, Francois Bousquet, and Guy Trébuil.

Who work at the Ministry of Agriculture, Bhutan; CIRAD, France; and the CU-Cirad Project, Chulalongkorn University, Thailand.

The paper used multi-agent systems to facilitate water management negotiations in Bhutan. They nicely connect user resource management games with computer modelling to improve water management.

BBC Climate change game

The BBC has created an online flash game – climate challenge – in which the player is president of the “European Nations”. The player has to try to reduce green house gas emissions while maintaining the economy, energy, agriculture and water availability – while being re-elected. The game is meant to illustrate what options are trade-offs are available to politicians, as well as the need to have policies at different aspects of society. However, some of the game mechanics and feedbacks are unclear (particularly how the economic part of the game works). Nevertheless the game is fun to try.

bbc climate change game

The game makers explain their rationale for making the game. They write:

The producers’ primary goal was to make a fun, challenging game. At times it was necessary to strike a compromise between strict scientific accuracy and playability. For this reason, Climate Challenge should not be taken as a serious climate change prediction.Apart from the primary goal of creating a fun game, Climate Challenge’s producers aimed to:

  • give an understanding of some of the causes of climate change, particularly those related to carbon dioxide emissions.
  • give players an awareness of some of the policy options available to governments.
  • give a sense of the challenges facing international climate change negotiators.

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Teaching Using A World Simulation Game

On the anthropology blog Savage Minds, Kansas State University anthropologist Michael Wesch wrote a series of posts in 2006 on an large introduction to cultural anthropology class he teaches using a semester long world simulation game.

The class sounds really great, and based on his students comments in the comments of his post, really transformative for the students. The active learning, constructivist approach sounds similar to the philosophy to what the McGill School of the Environment is based upon and what I try to do in my courses. I’ve done a number of 1 1/2 hour long environmental management simulations in my Adaptive Management course, but never anything as complex as this project. Doing a similar type of world simulation could be a really interesting activity for one of the School of the Environment’s trans-disciplinary introduction courses.

One of the main advantages of the semester long game is that students are asked to synthesize the course material to produce the rules of the game. What could be interesting to examine is how the game turns out differently with different rules. This could be done by running the game a number of different times – or breaking the class into multiple games – so that people could compare and think about the outcomes of different decisions. But of course, this type of approach isn’t always practical.

Below I have combined extensive extracys from Mike Wesch’s series of posts in a way that describes the simulation and the thinking behind it. His posts have even more details, including his reflections and concerns over various choices he makes, as well as a number of interesting comments from other people and former students.

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Interactive agroecological story

A nice interactive game on solving dilemmas between different stakeholders can be found at  The game is a simple-minded and optimistic story which is used as an excercise for people to learn the basics about scenario simulation, dynamical adaptive systems, sustainability attributes, multicriteria analysis, among others.  In the first act, slash and burn maize farmers  are compelled by the government to leave a biodiversity reserve zone and to intensify maize production in a smaller area using urea. The user plays the role of the farmer, explores scenarios and decides if he can sustain his family economy under the government´s proposal.

In act 2, rural families that depend on ecotourism in a clear lake downhill feel their income threatened by water murkiness caused by nitrogen coming into the lake from the maize farmer´s fields. As part of negotiation with uphill farmers, the user (now in the role of the lake-side dweller) needs to know how much N they can accept to run into the lake before it becomes murky. A number of simulations helps the user find out the limits (which of course depend on initial conditions in the bi-stable regime). Time series coupled with  parameter-sensitive cup and marble models that run as real time animations allow the user to better understand the cusp catastrophe involved

In act 3 farmers try to comply with such restriction imposed by the interests of the lake side people. The farmer, together with the lakesier and the government, first consider if its possible to do so under a maize moncrop system and later under a maize-leguminous shrub system. A simple agroforestry model is behind the curtains and the user currently has access only to a small set of its parameters.

Each act provides: the story with illustrations, a scenario simulator  based on minimalist dynamical models,  a number of excercises that must be solved before going further and a graphical tutorial.

Regime Change Game: A Force More Powerful

screenshot from -A force more powerful

Ethan Zuckerman writes about Ivan Marovic an important figure in the Otpor (Serbo-Croatian for resistance) Serbian democracy movement is working on a video game to help people learn to organize non-violent democracy movements.

Zuckerman writes:

The movement demonstrated their power in opposing Milosevic in the 2000 elections – by the time the election took place, it was quite obvious that Milosevic would lose to opposition leader Zoran Dindic. The real question was whether or not Milosevic would step down. (And, of course, he didn’t.) So the movement took the next step, and organized to actually remove Milosevic from power.

And hundreds of thousands of activists eventually organized a nonviolent takeover of Parliament, forcing Milosevic out of power and eventually into trial at The Hague.

In some ways, this was just the beginning for Otpor – Kumara, a movement in Georgia that took down Shevrednadze, used the same symbolism and the same tactics as Otpor. And the Orange Revolution in Ukraine used many of the same tactics, and the movements were in close contact.

Ivan is less interested in writing another book about non-violent organizing or making another video – instead, he’s helping build a game, called A Force More Powerful. It’s a simulation game developed with Breakaway Games. It looks a little like Sim City or Civilization, but is focused on teaching organizers the tactics of non-violent resistance.
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Climate Change Games

graphic from Keep Cool

In Playing Games with the Climate WorldChanging discusses several games sponsored by the European Climate Forum, including Keep Cool – a climate change policy board game co-developed by Gerhard Petschel Held from Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK).

The game Keep Cool was a hit in Germany, where it sold out of stores.

The game lets:

each player takes a role within global climate politics. You have to put through economic interests, e.g. of the USA and its partners or of the Developing Countries. Yet you must not forget the strong lobby groups in your country like the oil industry or environmental groups as they also decide whether you win or loose. Within each round of the game you have to decide between measures for climate protection good for all and egoistic decisions just for your owns sake. The risk: catastrophes like droughts, floods or pandemics. The chance: welfare and a stable global climate. Whoever reaches his or her targets first wins, yet if you are not cooperative enough all players might loose due to a collapse of the world climate.

Tragically, and unexpectedly, Gerhard died in the summer of 2005. Those of us who knew him lost of great friend, while the scientific community lost a great mind.

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