13 Aug 2012

Designing Games and Simulations for Sustainability


categories: Measurement, Strategic Alignment, Strategic Execution

When I saw ISAGA (The International Simulation and Gaming Association) were running a Summer School at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, GA. focussed on “Designing Simulation Games for Sustainability” I knew I had to be there! Sustainability is the buzzword-du-jour with my clients and I wanted to know more!

Below are some excerpts from my daily blog to my colleagues on Yammer.

Day 1

Interesting start to the course. 2 very contentious points were raised which created a lot of discussion and debate.

1. How can you convince people/customers to adopt a sustainable culture when they won’t see the results for decades?

2. To make businesses resilient means compromising efficiency. (Just in Time manufacturing is highly efficient but not resilient – I can see our Lean expert’s mind exploding!)

We played the Fish Banks simulation and killed off the world’s food supply (whoops!).

Day 2

Started at 8.45 and finished at 10pm. Anyone who was worried this was just a sneaky holiday can rest easy!

There seems to be a fish theme going on. We started the day playing Fish Pond and, yet again, our class managed to wipe out the food source by overfishing!

Then we had an introduction to game design principles before being split in to teams to start building our own simulations. My team consists of a business strategist, a psychologist, an ecologist, a mathematician, an engineer and a student teacher. We brainstormed some initial ideas and all I can tell you is some bunnies are in serious danger!!

Then we returned to do more study on game design methodologies and play the New Commons game (more fish). The creator, Dr. Richard Powers, is hoping to turn the game in to a worldwide social responsibility online game and we’ll be brainstorming that tomorrow.

Day 3

Another long but fruitful day. It’s now 00:45 so excuse any odd typing or language!

Today we learned more about facilitation methods and the emotions of game play. We also looked at a much shorter game design method and created 5 new games in 30 minutes (no, that’s not a typo).

We then explored our group designs from yesterday further and experienced the challenges of working in multiple languages. Who knew there were so many different ways to say the same thing? We have stalled a bit in the conceptual design phase due to an overload of wonderful ideas that we simply cannot process. So we quit at 6:30 and went to watch the Atlanta Braves play the Miami Marlins. My first baseball game; the park gave me a certificate and everything!

After watching the Braves win 7-1, I dragged myself back to the dorms at Georgia Tech to do more work and write this… (Good night!)

Day 4

Day started with lectures about the psychology and emotions of learning and games, including hostility, pain, risk and using games appropriately in business.

Then we got back in to our project groups and my group created a pick and mix “frame game” for discovering and analysing the “rabbits” of any social group. A rabbit is something that can be destructive, difficult to get rid of, and breeds like, well, rabbits! Interpret that as you will….

Then we had to present our progress to the wider group. 4 very different projects were presented, all rough but with great potential.

After dinner we had an open evening where participants brought their own games and we looked at a range of things like children’s card games, models of ecosystems and online strategy games.

As a speak the class are playing a game with dice so I gotta roll…..

Day 5

We started the day with a presentation from Dr Paola Rizzi who showed us a surprising connection between the recovery after disaster in cities and the involvement of the stakeholders/community. I found some great links to business. Then she facilitated an online game called Cabbages and Goats to make us aware of the delicate balance of resources. Paola is one of the hosts of next year’s ISAGA conference in Urban Planning and natural disasters – I’m planning my trip already!

Later we worked on our group projects; the bunnies are breeding! My colleague Martijn and his team used the Dick Duke 21-step method of game design (they are currently on step 9). I am quite pleased we went with the 4-step model!

Day 6

Really interesting lecture from Dr. Yazuke Toyoda about disaster mitigation and the use of gaming and simulation to create stakeholder involvement. He ran an earthquake readiness game in his community in Japan. This was of particular interest to me as my background is in Aviation Safety and Emergency Procedures, but I could also see the principles applying to my clients in getting their people to take ownership and make the business more resilient.

Most of the day was spent on our own game. Then dinner at Thai restaurant and farewell speeches. Tomorrow we present our ideas and the official closing of the summer school. I’ll be coming to back work for a rest.

Day 7

4 mini-groups created prototype games and fed back on their experience of creating games/simulations.

Group 1 developed a simple tower building game to illustrate resilience. This was a lesson to everyone because, as one professor pointed out, what they were actually demonstrating was resistance which was a different concept altogether.

Group 2 (mine) demonstrated a frame game for highlighting social dynamics in groups and identifying the problems which inhibit achieving a group goal. We also crammed in a couple of rounds of a scenario game and explained a very rough concept for debriefing/sharing personal experiences using a mini game.

Group 3 created an abstract “thinking outside the box” game which focused more on collaboration than competition..

Group 4 shamed us all by delivering a complex, multi-faceted board game which simulated population migration and its effects, including how resilient a community is to unexpected disasters. It was highly complex but showed great potential.

Conclusion. The experience was a great way for me to develop personally but also got some competitor and industry insight. I can confirm, we are still the best! However, I will concede to be sustainable and resilient, we need to be out in the real world more often!


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