Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Simulating the Green Revolution

Engineers without Borders (Canada) has put together a very thoughtful educational roleplaying game about the positive and negative effects of the “green revolution,” based on an earlier online version first developed by Ricardo Salvador at Iowa State University. Designed to be played by up to 30 participants over an hour, farming households must choose between varieties of wheat, levels of fertilizer application, and investments in oxen, irrigation, land and other infrastructure—while facing the challenge of the weather, possible pest infestations, population growth, and commodity price fluctuations. High yield “green revolution” cultivars produce the highest potential harvests, but are more dependent on fertilizer inputs, are more affected by weather variation, and require seed stock purchase each year. Conversely, the native (land race) variety has lower average yields, but is more predictable under a broader range of environmental conditions and does not require the same level of annual cash expenditures for fertilizer and seed stock. participants are randomly assigned to different households with differing family sizes and land resources.

Coincidentally, I’ve used a very similar role-play game in class for almost two decades. In this case, I’m attempting to highlight the impact of shifts from subsistence agriculture to cash crop production, highlighting the role of colonial policy and global markets, as well as how effects may vary across different types of landowners. It works extremely well,  illustrating points that have been made in class lectures as well as providing an enjoyable break from regular classes. Since my POLI 227 class is very large indeed (600+ students), the format I use is that of a game show, with a half dozen students playing their roles on the lecture stage for all to see, complete with graduate student assistants, game show music, and yours truly in the role of the frenetically-ebullient microphone-wielding game show host.

EWB simulation, like my own, is a manual rather than electronic, computer-based game. One advantage of this is that any instructor can easily tweak the game for particular audiences, or to highlight additional issues. It would be relatively easy to modify the EWB game to include rapacious large landowners, foreign agribusiness, integrated rural development programs, local politics, pest resistance, climate change, and so forth with just a few rule tweaks and a few additional printed materials.

Indeed, with all the attention to electronic serious games, the “Green Revolution simulation game”  highlights how much you can do with a word processor, easily printed game materials, and participatory teaching methods.

There is also work ongoing to develop a new computer-based expansion of the game, which would facilitate came choices and calculations and also allow a much larger number of participants to play. You’ll find more information on that initiative at the Geogame blog.

h/t Games for Change Google group

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