Games for a new climate

Pablo Suarez has been chatting to Viv since meeting her in Berlin this month. He’s co-author of this excellent report: Games for a New Climate: Experiencing the Complexity of Future Risks. It’s a thorough, thought-provoking exploration of how we can use games to help us understand and respond to complex challenges.

There’s a tendency to conflate games with fun, and fun with a lack of seriousness. Yet in my work, it’s been people dealing with the most challenging and serious issues who seem most open to using games for learning. These are the  people who literally have to pull the bodies out of earthquakes, or struggle to provide aid and education in the middle of armed conflict. Pablo’s report looks at using games at this level of seriousness, citing Einstein:

“Games are the most elevated form of investigation”

I thought this paragraph distilled a lot of the justification for taking a playful approach to the complex:

 Overall, inadequate mental models lead to poor performance in addressing complex systems. According to Sterman (1992) among the “biggest impediments to learning are the mental models through which [people] construct [their] understanding of reality.” Sterman (1989a, 1989b) suggests that poor performance in dynamically complex environments arise from people’s misperception of feedback and, in particular, from individuals’ insensitivity to the feedback that their actions create in the environment. Given the mismatch between our complex social and physical systems and our mental models, and the importance of improving the ability of decision-makers to manage the increasing complexity of humanitarian and development systems in a changing climate, serious games can play a critical role in both formal and non-formal education and training to improve risk management and policy-making decision capacity.

And I thought this analogy drove the point home further:

No pilot would dare to fly a commercial airliner without significant training in a flight simulator. Yet, most decision makers are expected to manage organizations, make critical decisions, and implement long-term policy relying on “theory,” “experience,” “intuition,” “gut feeling,” or less.

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