Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Daily Archives: 18/08/2012

Zombie Safe House Competition

No one would doubt that the zombie apocalypse is likely to be rather conflictual, and design challenges are almost a game, so on that admittedly tenuous note PAXsims once again indulges its fondness for zombie preparedness exercises with a pointer to the annual Zombie Safe House Competition, sponsored by Architects Southwest. As a recent article in The Economist notes:

THE streets are full of lurching, brain-hungry zombies and humanity faces extinction. Should you run for your life or stand your ground? Luckily, bespectacled men and woman who stare at blueprints have already started thinking about it. Architects are designing zombie-proof housing for Zombie Safe House, a design competition, now in its third year. It was originally devised by a trio of designers at Architects Southwest, an architectural firm in Louisiana, as an informal platform for colleagues to showcase their creative talents in a “pragmatically unconstrained format”, says co-founder Shea Trahan. It now attracts hundreds of students, practicing architects, industrial designers and artists from around the globe looking for an inventive way to boost their portfolios.

More broadly, the competition highlights how these kinds of scenario-based exercises can be used as a way to encourage innovation and creative thinking:

By using the apocalypse as a thought experiment competitors can identify the issues that impact all architectural design, and plan for real-world disasters, such as surviving when power, water, or sewerage is cut off. “The designers have to stretch their imaginations to see what kinds of design might be required for extreme circumstances”, says Michael McClure, a professor of architecture at the University of Louisiana and a judge on last year’s panel. “This takes the ideas of ‘off the grid’ and ‘sustainability’ to great lengths”, helping to push the boundaries and envision how we might live if our modern conveniences were stripped from us. “Sustainability is currently a huge issue due to concerns about climate change and rising energy costs,” says Mr Jordan. If humans can be shown to be self-sufficient in a design such as Look Out House then “certainly we can reduce energy consumption in the here and now,” he says.

You’ll find the website for the competition here, with the winning 2011 entries featured. Information on the 2012 edition will be released shortly—for more information, visit the competition Facebook page. (Image above: The 2011 winner, by Austin Fleming).

SFCG: Computer Game Teaches Conflict Resolution Skills to Rwandan Children

Search for Common Ground, an international NGO that “works to transform the way the world deals with conflict – away from adversarial approaches and towards collaborative problem solving,” has teamed up with Serious Games, the United States Institute of Peace, and the Rwandan Ministry of Education to develop a computer game that helps primary school students learn about the causes conflict and ways to deal with it:

The game, Bana Dukine (Kids, Let’s Play!) is set near a water hole and the characters in the game are the animals that use the water hole. The central character is Little Lion, whose father left him in charge of distributing water to the other animals. As the days go by, the temperature rises, and the amount of water in the hole decreases. This sets up the conflict between the animals over diminished resources. At this point in the game, conflict dialogues appear on the screen between characters, and it becomes the responsibility of little lion (i.e. the student) to choose the best response.

Bana Dukine is played on laptops donated by One Lap Top per Child (OLPC), a program championed by the Rwandan government that aims to distribute more than 200,000 laptops to Rwandan children. Launched in 2008, the program has reached at least one school in each of Rwanda’s four-hundred and sixteen (416) sectors. Additionally, OLPC has trained over 2,000 teachers to implement the game. OLPC is coordinating with district governments to connect schools to the national electricity grid to power the computers. In schools that are located too far from the grid, OLPC workings with the Government to install solar energy.

Target Group

Bana Dukine is being used by students in the fourth and fifth grades. This age group was targeted because they are old enough to understand the message of the game and they have the reading and computer skills to use the program. The game is designed to complement the lessons in the school curriculum. During the testing and design phase of the game, we spoke with a wide sample of Rwandan children to find out what types of situations and conflicts they typically experience in their lives. The conflict dialogues within the game are based on the feedback we received. For example, in one scenario two of the animals fight over a soccer ball. In another, an animal feels left out because her friend did not include her to play together with the other animals.

Preliminary Evaluation

In June, SFCG conducted a preliminary evaluation of the game in 20 primary schools, conducting focus groups and interviews, and reaching over 400 students and 40 teachers in each province of the country. The evaluation sought to assess whether the game was appropriate for the students, if they learned new conflict resolution skills, and whether they could relate the lessons of the game to their real lives. Evaluations found that the game resonates with the children and that they, and their teachers, think it is a fun way to learn conflict resolution skills. Focus group discussions showed that the children had gained a high level of understanding of conflict resolution skills and, that the game provided a productive and safe space to learn and practice these skills.

You will find a more detailed account of how the game works here,  on the blog of Pauline Nyirahirwa (from where we’ve taken the screenshot above).

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