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Board Games on Land Use and Sustainability

by David

Land Rush game
Land Rush game

For two and a half months, I (Andi) have now been part of the POLISES group and my time here is drawing to a close. Through my admission to the team, my daily work, and my participation at the retreat this year, I was able to gather some really valuable experience that will influence me for a long time and that I wouldn’t want to miss.

I spent the first part of my time in the Department of Ecological Modelling working on “serious games.” These are (mostly digital) learning simulations that convey serious subjects. The player is confronted with complex situations he or she has to handle; this is supposed to generate new competences and insights. Indeed, the games have serious learning targets, but they rely on fun to increase their attractiveness, to liven up the action and to raise the player’s motivation.

Such games are used, for example, in adult education for knowledge transfer, in health care to support therapies, or in politics and society to draw the players’ attention to current political or social issues. In recent years, “serious games” have become more and more attractive, not only for individuals but also for enterprises, NGOs, or political stakeholders.

The games are oriented towards the “constructivist learning theory”: learning is a process that should be formed and constructed by the learning person him- or herself. While playing a “serious game,” the player will be actively exposed to such situations that support construction and reflection about his or her central steering and managing role.

POLISES has the ambition to take up the challenges of teaching and knowledge transfer. We would like to sensitise adults and children about social-ecological environment issues such as the complex problems and lives of nomads, farmers, and smallholders.

The games I have focused on deal with sustainability, land use, developing countries, and pastoralists. Due to their complexity, different actors, and social-economic-ecological dynamics, the games NomadSed, Land Rush, the Landscape Game and maybe the River Basin Game look promising. These four games are multiple-player board games whose only supporting material usually consists of a few fact sheets. In contrast to other games, they succeed in putting the learning focus on social or individual conflicts that the players experience and follow. This offers more potential than just clicking through a computer simulation all by yourself. However, there are also some excellent online games, like Aqua Republica or African Farmer.

In this file [in German], I have compiled detailed information on fifteen games.

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