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Serious Games Hit The Forth Sector With Social Simulations

Image credit: Center for Systems Solutions at EIT Climate-KIC
Green & Great – a game targeted at business managers who face the challenges of transformation towards sustainable development and socially responsible business.

Active in 24 countries with 28 offices across Europe, including the major cities of Brussels, London, Paris and Berlin, the EIT Climate-KIC  is a European knowledge and innovation community working to accelerate the transition to a zero-carbon economy. Supported by the European Commission through its Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT), they identify and support innovation that helps society mitigate and adapt to climate change.

The Center for Systems Solutions at EIT Climate-KIC is an international organization established in 2005 with an aim to develop and apply innovative methods and system tools, such as social simulations and computer modeling, to enhance knowledge brokering, science-policy integration and social dialogue.

They belong to the emerging fourth sector that integrates social and environmental aims with business approaches. The Center’s interdisciplinary team of experts consists of more than 40 people and implements international and local projects in the realm of broadly understood sustainability.

One of the biggest challenges with teaching sustainability is highlighting how certain decisions may impact the bigger picture; helping people visualize and understand the holistic benefits of adopting more sustainable methods is key to having these methods catch on in society.

In a recent interview, Piotr Magnuszewski, Program Leader at the Center for Systems Solutions, explains how social simulations can empower sustainability educators, and contribute to sustainable transformation.

Social Simulations Help Navigate Complexity
“In the most widespread use, social simulation applies to computer-based models that analyze human social behavior in various environments and generate a range of possible outcomes of social interactions that are abstracted from real-world situations,” says Piotr. “The social simulations developed at the Center for Systems Solutions partially originate from such methods; however, we do not rely on computer algorithms to study social behavior. In fact, our unique design has much more in common with dynamic role-playing or Serious Games.”

“To put it more precisely, I would say that a social simulation is a type of Serious Game with elements of systems analysis, creative group scenario building, and role-playing,” proceeds Piotr. “To be effective, it has to offer a social experience that can be easily translated into our daily life, triggering reactions and solutions that may be applied to challenges faced outside the simulations’ reality.”

Social Simulation - The World’s’ Future, A Sustainable Development Goals Game

In September 2015, world leaders agreed to 17 Global Goals for Sustainable Development which could mean an end to extreme poverty, inequalities and climate change by 2030. 

The World’s’ Future Game revolves around the topic of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In addressing this, the uniqueness of the social simulation lies in connecting abstract ideas to tangible actions and consequences, allowing participants to experience the interconnectedness among the SDGs in a compressed time and space. This compression of time and space combined with instant feedback enables players to have an insightful outlook into a possible future. In the safe environment of a simulation, testing strategies and making mistakes is easier and may result in truly innovative ideas.

The World’s Future - Gameplay Example

Image credit: Center for Systems Solutions at EIT Climate-KIC
The World’s Future is a social simulation in which players adopt high-level leadership roles within a world much like ours. As the simulation progresses, they experience the pressure of making tradeoffs and the thrill of finding synergies involved in pursuing sustainable development.

“With the growing threat of negative impacts of climate change, most people nowadays acknowledge the problem. Yet, the mechanisms of climate change often remain unknown to the general public. So, in order to represent the negative impacts of human activity on climate in this simulation, we employ a very simple mechanism for generating carbon dioxide (CO2) and accumulating greenhouse gases (GHG),” says Piotr. “They are symbolically represented by cubic grey tokens that appear whenever a player decides either to change the land use (e.g. by building a factory on a natural area, or as a byproduct of their manufacturing activity). At the end of each round, the grey tokens are collected from the board by the moderator and distributed evenly between two tracks—one represents the atmosphere, the other represents the ocean. Then, as in real life, when the concentration of GHG in the atmosphere and/or CO2 in the ocean exceeds certain levels, extreme events, such as hurricanes or floods, sweep off players’ assets, reducing their income, well-being or level of safety. At this phase of the simulation, most participants realize that it’s high time they adopted a decarbonization strategy, and invest in the zero-emission production facilities. Content with their “positive transformation”, they are truly shocked when, at the end of the next round, they are again struck by a disaster. Why? They usually ask. The answer is simple: Global Warming that causes extreme weather conditions may be irreversible in our life span. In other words, the effects of the sustainable transformation that we are launching now may not be observed instantly. We could be looking at hundreds of years of warmer temperatures, even if we make dramatic cuts in GHG emissions right now.”

Social Simulation – Energy Transition Game

Image credit: Center for Systems Solutions at EIT Climate-KIC

The Energy Transition Game is a game-based simulation where players decide about the future of the energy sector. The mechanisms embedded into the Energy Transition Game mimic the changes the decision makers face in the process of energy transformation from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources.

Each player takes a different role within a complex energy system landscape. Each role has different responsibilities and decisions to make: become an energy producer, energy provider, technology start-up, a representative of one of the government departments or a member of a non-governmental organization and create new solutions for the energy system!

In the game, players experience and understand the complexity of the system-wide change to the renewable energy sources, explore transition strategies to new energy sources, learn how to navigate through the challenges of energy transition, develop skills for effective communication and collaboration, and learn how to foster and integrate both technological and social energy innovations.

The game requires a tablet or PC two tables, 12-36 players and takes 5-6 hours of gameplay.

Piotr Magnuszewski acknowledges that social simulations surface only a “simulated” solution, one of many possible scenarios, yet without such a “trip into the future”, we might not be ready to launch necessary transformations on multiple levels, be it individual, organizational or national.