Role playing: Could this be the next way of thinking?
Recently I led the development of a serious role-playing game called Catchment 2030, inspired by the complex erosion problems in the Waiapu catchment. The game was designed by a multi-disciplinary team, who brought a wide variety of knowledge, to help local and central government, iwi and community members explore new ways of thinking and solving these problems.
It was one of the first serious role-playing games we had developed to think about complex problems in New Zealand. But what are serious games? And how can they be a tool to help us think about environmental problems? Serious games aim to educate and engage users, and allow them to test out solutions to ‘wicked’ problems without real-world consequences. They can be a computer, board, card or role-playing game.
When I was introduced to the concept of serious games as a tool, at first I was sceptical, but after exploring serious games more thoroughly I was converted to their power.
For catchment-related issues, games may sound like a panacea for the likes of catchment managers, for example, but they do have drawbacks. These can include ‘play’ not being taken seriously by professionals, not providing an immediate solution, and the large amount of resources needed to design and develop games. However once created, they can be adapted to different contexts.
I found that the tricky part of the Catchment 2030 game is to embed the complexity of the problems while also helping players to understand the game’s context, their role, potential solutions, and the rules.
But taking the time to do this pays dividends, as shown by some of the feedback we received: “The meaning of this was that we actually do need to spend more time on the big thing, the picture, if we can, the big picture …”
After extensive testing and refining we have played Catchment 2030 with over 200 people and found that serious games can provide a safe environment to try new approaches, empower community members, engender empathy, and create a new and better understanding of complex problems.