Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Building a climate change megagame (Part 1)

The following series of articles was written for PAXsims by Ola Leifler, Magnus Persson, and Ola Uhrqvist. You will find Parts 2 and 3 here and here.

Part 1:  Building a game about regional transformation towards a sustainable society

We have made major breakthrough in understanding cultural change and human behaviour”!

“VOTE for the Market Prophets if you believe in emission free transport, eco-building, repair shops and advanced food technologies such as synthetic meat”!

How do you convince people, a lot of people, to engage in meaningful conversations, or wild speculations such as those above, about societal transformations towards a sustainable future? How can you bring different perspectives to life through roleplaying in a way that not only roleplaying nerds can handle? How can you bring over 50 people from all over the world to sit in front of computers for 8 hours, starting from 3am or ending in the middle of the night? As it turns out, a Megagame on societal transformation, the Climate Change Megagame (CCM), was just what the doctor ordered. That it came to fruition as a digital event in the middle of a pandemic came as a surprise to those of us involved, but we speculate that it may have been a result from sending invitations for participation, and with people demonstrating and interest in participating, we settled on a date, panicked upon realizing that we had to create an all-digital version of the whole thing, and somehow forgot our panic and got to work. This is our story, as they say.

In early 2019, two of us (Ola Leifler & Ola Uhrqvist), who had met a number of times before but not really worked together, came to realize that we are both engaged in ensuring that learning becomes a platform for working towards a sustainable development, and we are both interested in creative approaches to learning as well including the use of boardgames and role-playing. One of us had heard about Megagames from a boardgame review site (Shut Up & Sit Down) but we had never played one ourselves. However, the concept sounded interesting enough and we also happened to have some seed money from a pedagogical project involving how to make use of climate simulation data in education, so we enlisted our third core member Magnus Persson as lead game designer and started our journey.

At the start, we wanted to illustrate how a societal transformation towards a long-term sustainable society would induce tensions between regional actors and interests such as conservation groups, business interests, the general public and politicians in a Swedish region of 500 000 inhabitants. Also, we wanted to make it clear that even as climate change effects will not be felt exactly the same by our region as others, and effects will be cumulative and delayed, there will be disruptions to food production and serious extreme weather events in the coming decades.  The exact nature of tensions and future visions were not very clear initially though, even as we read through reports from different research projects as well as national transformation initiatives. It became clear that visions for a transformed society could look rather different. There was also a whole lot of research on synergies and trade-offs between the different sustainable development goals which seemed to indicate that there are many layers of interactions between the different goals, both on regional but also national and international levels. An initial source of tension that we found to be interesting to explore through a Megagame concerned whether to make changes to our current way of life as we anticipate that it is not long-term sustainable, or focus on achieving short-term goals for ourselves such as going on vacation, building a house, buying groceries or finding a decent pair of shoes. 

So, was our challenge just to create a simulation of a region in a complex global industrial society? That would have been far too easy. We soon realised that this was just the point of departure on top of which we also had so simulate different futures depending on the paths the participants would embark upon and the transformation to get there. Oh, yes, we almost forgot, the game had to be comprehensible enough to be grasped in less than 20 minutes. 

Ola Leifler is a senior lecturer in software engineering at Linköping University who, over the last ten years and upon learning more about the state of the world and the effects of how we educate, has formed a strong interest in learning for a sustainable development. With a special interest in boardgames, role-playing games and simulations, he now explores how they can be harnessed to promote more constructive thinking about global challenges.

Magnus Persson is a translator and academic proofreader with an interest in board game development who has been serious about games for as long as he can remember and only in recent years came into contact with the megagame genre and the concept of serious games. 

Ola Uhrqvist is a teacher and researcher in the field of Environmental and Sustainability Education with a special interest in using serious games as a tool to enhance engagement in and understanding of complex issues, such as environmental and social change. 

2 responses to “Building a climate change megagame (Part 1)

  1. David Last 20/04/2021 at 11:16 am

    Rex, Thanks for this report.

    I had three students participate in the climate change mega game, and it was a good experience for them. Each wrote a short report, and I will be looking for an opportunity to send students again this fall term for the same course.

    The articles on building the climate change mega-game are very welcome. I’d like to discuss a similar article on our simulation experiments.

    In the winter term, RMC was engaged in two international simulations involving military academies and civilian students at RMC, CMR-SJ, and Norwich University.

    The first – MidEast Crisis Simulation – was a bi-institutional simulation involving RMC and Ariel University with role play of crisis simulation. Canadian cadets and Israeli students were paired in teams to represent national staff engaged in crisis management.

    The second – Arctic Triad – was a more complex three-part affair which will culminate in October this year. Part 1 was a workshop involving NAADSN, Part 2 was a simulation of Arctic Council plus national staffs, and part 3 will be an engagement paper to be presented to faculty and staff of other military academies at IAMA. Experiential learning related to real issues is a feature of the Arctic Triad, and observers from five countries participated.

    Your student Brytan Mendes, who co-authored the article on the first pair of Arctic Simulations, helped out and will be involved in reporting on this.


  2. Tracy Johnson 18/04/2021 at 8:15 pm

    This post about a Climate Change Megagame led me to thinking, what about a Climate Change Engine for the megame? (Or Climate Change Mechanic if you’re a gamer.) And then it occurred to me, it has been done before!

    I hearken back to Eon Products Inc. “Quirks” from 1980.

    First the subject matters was NOT about climate change, it was about Evolution and it used those three part cards to put the head, body, and tail of a hypothetical animal to fit in their evolutionary niche as the climate changed. Yes that stuff is old hat and along the lines of High School academia, but hear me out.

    The game had a “Climate Track” and you moved the current climate forward from Ocean, to Forest, to Plains, to Desert, to Jungle and back around to Ocean again. The purpose of the game was to evolve your species so it survives the BEST as the CLIMATE CHANGES.

    All I’m saying is you can use a SIMILAR METHOD to as an engine to move forward adaptations of human civilization along such a track. The track doesn’t have to be exactly the same, it can emulate, hot dry, hot wet, wet temperate, wet cold, dry cold, then dry temperate and back again.

    The next issue is modelling your civilization (or culture) to adapt to the changing climate engine above. Do you promote investment in mechanization, agriculture, transportation, raw materials, militarization, or other made up categories? How does each team fare against a new climate as it changes depending on what they invested in? How does one player fare against another when climate changes depending how much they invested in the above? Do players compete against each other (as nation states) or is it a cooperative game were everyone wins or loses? (I prefer the former as more fun.) Obviously the head, body, and tail species cards don’t apply, but a similar results categorization of combinations of investment versus each climate can be employed.

    So to paraphrase myself above for this new game: The purpose would be evolve your civilization (faction or nation state as you will) so it survives the BEST as the CLIMATE CHANGES.

    And to give something for the Megagame aspect to chew on, YES, this could and should be adapted for team Megagame play.

    P.S. Dear Rex please pass this suggestion back to the originators.

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