Sustainable Decision Making and Simulation Games (Part 2) A Confession…

Mwah ha ha ha! ... I'm in charge suckers!
Mwah ha ha ha! …
I’m in charge suckers!
Apparently confession is good for your soul. So here’s one of mine.

In an earlier post I wrote, ‘Will playing Prison Architect make you a better sustainable decision maker?’

On the surface that seems fine; Prison Architect is a computer simulation game. My proposition was to use simulation games to develop the skills and decision making behaviours that are required for the Wellbeing of Future Generations (WFG) Act in Wales.  A reasonable idea, and a few people seemed to like it. However, rather than stopping there, and thinking carefully about ‘what next’, I dived straight in. I charged on and suggested that Prison Architect was exactly the simulation game that we all needed to play.

Wrong. In almost everything else I’m involved in, I try to propose a ‘test and experiment with multiple safe to fail pilots’ approach. This was hardly ‘practicing what I preach’. Diving into a single solution, without first seeking out alternatives is not what I should have been suggesting. Confession over.

What alternatives are there? As it turns out there is plenty of action in the world of simulation games. They often get bundled under the heading of Serious Games, and there is even a Serious Games Institute at Coventry University (serious stuff).

The Serious Game entry in Wikipedia has a useful summary of the history of simulation games and describes the ‘added pedagogical value of fun and competition’. Basically the process of teaching and learning works better if it is fun (and a bit competitive). The other thing to know is that the use of simulation games has really taken off since the early 2000’s with low-cost computing for the masses.

The article also has an A to Z of what (in the view of Wikipedia editors) are the most noteworthy Serious Games. There are about 40 in the list ranging from:

  • A. Amnesty the Game – a game that supports Amnesty International efforts worldwide to abolish the death penalty.
  • X. X-Plane – a civil aviation flight simulator.

Yes, there are a few about eradicating serious diseases.
Yes, there are a few about eradicating serious diseases.
You might be struggling with the concept of ‘fun’ here, but in between we have:

B. Beer Distribution Game – a game developed by some MIT Professors to show the importance of supply change management (maybe the fun happens when the beer actually arrives?)


H. Houthoff Buruma The Game – a serious game for staff recruitment in a Dutch Law firm. I guess you have to be Dutch to see the potential for fun in that one…?

Enough of the Hilarity – this is a serious post about a serious topic. Having skimmed through the A-Z List I’ve picked out 4 existing games that seem to have most relevance to sustainable decision making and the WFG Act.

  1. Democracy – A political strategy game that simulates how the process of government works, where you get to play as the Prime Minister or President. Own up who’s got a secret copy of this? As El Supremo you have the power to alter the laws and policies for: tax, economy, welfare, foreign policy, transport, law and order and public services. It won the ‘Simulation Game of the Year’ in 2005 and has received some decent reviews. Apparently it is doing well in America, and is used widely in schools, but not so good in the UK, where it “met with indifference”. I wonder if things are any different with this demographic after the EU referendum?
  2. FloodSim – this does what the name suggests. Over a 3 year period your objective is to protect the people of the UK from floods that damage the economy and the lives of people. Released in 2008 (following the 2007 floods), I can’t find very much in the way of reviews or activity since 2009.
  3. Friday Night at the ER – this is actually a board game. The idea behind it is to teach people about how different parts of a system depend upon each other. Its been around since 1992, long enough for people to have worked out how it can be used for learning. There’s a long list of things that playing ‘Friday Night at the ER’ claims to help develop. It doesn’t explicitly say, ‘Sustainable Decision Making Behaviours in Support of the WFG Act’, but I think I can spot a few complementary benefits. As a thought… it might be useful to try some board games before fully immersing people in computer games?
  4. IBM CityOne – the promotional video on the official website suggest a 2005 vintage for this game. With the focus mainly on water, energy, banks and retail, and nothing much to do with people/social issues, this might not work for WFG in its current format.

Go to the Experts. Unfortunately I don’t feel much better after my confessional and reading about Serious Games. Many of them don’t seem to be that much fun, which is apparently necessary for ‘pedagogical value’. Also, I’m not sure how much opportunity there is to push boundaries and fully learn from failure and experimentation? Maybe Prison Architect, which wasn’t built with ‘sustainable development’ in mind, still offers some potential?

I know I mentioned the Serious Game Institute at Coventry University earlier.  I’m just wondering, if this idea is worth pursing, the SGI is probably worth taking a closer look at.

So. What’s the PONT?

  1. Serious Games are a serious business. They’ve been around for ages and big corporations have taken an interest.
  2. They have been applied to almost everything from Beer Distribution through to how to cope in a World Without Oil.
  3. There is expertise in the field. It is worth talking to some of these people rather than ‘reinventing the wheel’.
I've played a few beer based games in my time. This doesn't immediately look like fun.
I’ve played a few beer based games in my time.
This doesn’t immediately look like fun.

About WhatsthePONT

I'm from Old South Wales and I'm interested almost everything. Narrowing it down a bit: cooperatives, social enterprises, decent public services, complexity science, The Cynefin Framework, behavioural science and a sustainable future. In 2018/19 I completed a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship, looking at big cooperative enterprises and social businesses in NE Spain and the USA. You can find out more here:

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