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Serious Gaming To Balance Global Water Demands @ Eco Challenge 2015

The 3rd edition of the Eco Challenge, an online "Serious Game" competition targeted at pre-college youth, aims to create a context for learning about integrated water resources management (IWRM) through an ecosystem approach.

IWRM is a process that promotes the coordinated development and management of water, land and related resources, in order to maximize the resultant economic and social welfare in an equitable manner without compromising the sustainability of vital ecosystems.

The game – Aqua Republica, developed by UNEP-DHI Center, is designed to help players cultivate self-directed learning skills and develop domain-specific knowledge as well as the ability to transfer conceptual knowledge to new situations. Players get to exercise independence in setting goals and making decisions as well as how to achieve the game’s objective within a given framework.

The UNEP-DHI Center is a United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) dedicated to improving the management, development and use of freshwater resources from the local to the global level. The Center is hosted at DHI, an independent, international consulting and research-based not-for-profit foundation of more than 1000 employees, with offices in 26 countries, and with more than 30 years of experience in water resources management.

Since its inception in 1996, the Center has become a core resource for UNEP’s work on freshwater issues and in delivering UNEP’s Programs of Work. The Center’s ability to draw on DHI’s expertise in water and project implementation, as well as those of a broad network of partners, is one of its greatest strengths.

UNEP-DHI Eco Challenge 2015 provides an exciting learning opportunity for students aged 11-17 through the online Serious Game competition.

The competition is structured in two-tiers - national and international. Teams from 12 countries, Australia - China - Hong Kong - India - Indonesia - Korea - Malaysia - Philippines - Singapore - Taiwan - Thailand - Vietnam, are ranked nationally and top teams invited to play in the international round.

Competition dates are flexible, between October 2014 and March 2015, and students can play online from anywhere in the world.  All participants receive a certificate acknowledging their involvement and the top three teams awarded with cash prizes, trophies and medals.

Eco Challenge 2014 experienced an amazing success when a total of 420 teams from over 50 schools across 10 countries in the Asia-Pacific region participated in the challenge. 

About Aqua Republica – The Strategic Water Resource Serious Game

Aqua Republica is an online "Serious Game" that aims to raise awareness and educate stakeholders about the importance and challenges of managing limited natural resources in the face of multiple and often competing demands, in their drive towards sustainable development.

The game environment allows players to interact and make decisions on the management of a catchment, with real time simulation of hydrological processes, developments and water resources management options.

While the world of Aqua Republica is fictitious, the challenges of managing a limited supply of water resources in a situation of growing demand between multiple users and uses are based on real life scenarios. 

A turn-based strategy game, players are given 12 turns (translated to 20 years) in each game. There is no time limit to making the next turn, thus allowing discussions and deliberations before moving on to the next turn.

At the beginning of each turn, the player will be presented with a “News” screen, providing updates on the latest events in the game environment.  These events can either be random or triggered by an action taken in the earlier turn. The player can then evaluate the new state before playing the next turn.

Together, these “triggered” and “random” events provide a realistic simplification of the real world so that the player can play and learn through experience, the conflicts and trade-offs that exist in a river basin, and how to best manage it to achieve optimal outcome.

To score in the game, players have to understand and apply the concepts of land fertility (which affects the placement of farms), gradients of land forms (which affects location of factories), population growth to water supply, power consumption vis-à-vis industrial development.

The goal of the game is to achieve the highest possible score at the end of the 12 turns.

Alone or together with groups of players, you plan and develop a river basin with multiple stakeholders. Your area initially contains a river, a small urban area that includes some businesses and light industry, a few farms and a small power station. Your aim is to create prosperous living conditions for the population in a healthy and sustainably managed environment.

As time moves on, drivers such as population growth, climate change and actions of other players, force you to adapt to survive and thrive. For example, you may need to decide to clear a forest area to open up land to expand industry. However, developments are costly, take time to implement, impact the environment and other users, as well as your score.

Science Behind The Game

Aqua Republica game mechanics revolve around real science. Numerical computational models (by MIKE BASIN from DHI) are used in real-time to generate a realistic game environment especially in terms of water resources and hydrology. This allows players to also gain an insight into working with nature while developing their communities.

The virtual environment consists of two layers – a water allocation and hydrology model based layer and a game layer which uses the results of the model and links it to social, economic and environmental factors.

Integrated water resources management (IWRM) is a broad topic and there is not yet a version of Aqua Republica that can accommodate all the scopes. So to overcome this problem, Aqua Republica is split into core and unique versions.

The core version of Aqua Republica is a framework of game features and game modules which can be assembled into various unique versions. A partner will typically be interested in developing a unique version for their own use with a specific focus.