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Taking games seriously: Games for Sustainability


Say you are a mayor in a small, messy city somewhere on this planet. You want your city to be efficient, you want a healthy environment for your voters, you want good financial prospects for the industry funding your campaign. And you believe you can have it all by implementing sustainability in your policies. Where do you even start? Where do you find sustainable ideas? How do you collaborate with like-minded mayors? And how do you communicate with groups who don’t necessarily like each other?

Well, you could read 500-page documents written by scientists and careful UN-negotiators. You could place an order for expert studies. You could organize expensive talks that only a handful of people will attend, while looking at their smartphone.

Or, you could play a game!

Image credit: Tim Noack | timtrevlig | Getty

Serious gaming is a fun way to simulate complex situations, educate, communicate and take decisions while maximizing consensus. Companies use games to train their managers how to handle difficult situations. Organizations use games to tackle conflict: asking participants to take up in the game the role of their opponent in real life. Dutch company T-Xchange designed the “Airport game” as a platform for stakeholders to collectively build a plan for the redevelopment of an old airport area in Twente.

Play the city is another company, who design serious games to make urban development fun and efficient. Their projects span from city planning, to sustainable tourism and migration. Games played by policy makers can help them safely explore policies, face unexpected dynamics that may emerge from an intervention, and exchange ideas and information with their colleagues. Games played by the public can provide feedback before a decision is made. They can support changes in citizen attitudes and promote understanding between different groups.

Back to your small messy city, you may have heard that mayors across the world have come together to form one of the most important transnational initiatives for sustainable development at local level: the Covenant of Mayors initiative. They have an established network and valuable information about funding sustainable solutions for cities. More importantly, they have experience dealing with central policies which do not always benefit local communities. And in their effort to communicate what they know, and reach out to more mayors like you, they also promote serious gaming.

Francisco Leal, a geographer, urban planner and game designer based in Brazil, developed Master of the Covenant – a game that helps you take serious steps towards making your city sustainable. By playing, you learn the jargon and the functions of the network. You get ideas for your city, you discuss them with expert fellow gamers from different fields, and try them out safely before making decisions.

As the situation becomes more serious in the field of climate change and adaptation, serious gaming is a gateway to bring creativity, collaboration and positive action back in the game. At many levels and scales, from citizens to policy makers and from sustainable urban development to transnational collaboration. If you want to start from somewhere, get in the game!

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