A quick look to game design for disaster response

Games can be a powerful learning tool when used properly. Pablo Suarez and Janor Mendler, in partnership with a large group of researchers and developers from the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre, has come up with an innovative idea to address global hazards that threaten vulnerable communities. The participatory game design will enhance learning about forecast-based risk management and therefore facilitate interaction, reflection and comprehension of complex situations amongst participants.

Games consist of well-defined rules, processes and emotional responses. The structure of a consistent game must have a clear methodology that integrates data sets and analytical research, allowing players to get a feel of how variables work together. This initiative however pulls together game rules and processes to trigger a desired emotional response in players that can make it a complete, memorable and fun learning experience.

So how does one design a game to support learning about forecast-based risk management?  Follow the six step guide to start building your own games!

  1. Define the communication challenge

There are some guiding questions you should ask yourself before starting any participatory game design:

  • What conversation do you want the game play to draw out?
  • What types of decision-making strategies should emerge during the game play?
  • What is the exact ‘A-HA moment’ players should experience?

Guiding questions will lead the base structure of the game, so it is important to ensure that the answers are clear and well-formulated.

  1. Define key elements that will be used to construct the rules, process and emotional triggers of the game. What needs to be represented in the game?

Clarify who the decision-makers will be and the role they will play: e.g. farmers, Red Cross Red Crescent staff, volunteers, investors, donors, metrological service, authorities, local government officials, etc.

Expose the possible actions: e.g. sow, trade, invest, collaborate, move, store, sell, etc.

Structure the thresholds, feedbacks and trade-offs players should face during game play: e.g. get richer by deforestation activities, paying with scare resources for valuable information, taking a risk in the context of uncertainty, etc.

  1. Define the emotional triggers of the game narrative. What feelings should the game process incite: anxiety, tension, triumph?

Develop a narrative that highlights the game’s key elements (already defined in point 2): how will this information lead to different decisions and what are their consequences?

The game dynamics will emerge from this process. In the narrative, decisions may be individual or collective, as well as, planned or random. Tensions will arise regardless during game play as both expected and unexpected consequences present themselves. To finalize the narrative, participants may present their scenarios theatrically, injecting drama, suspense and surprise for the rest of the group.

  1. Redefine game’s dynamics

Strip away all superfluous elements of the story to boil the narrative down to its essential elements related to decisions, actions and consequences.

  1. Develop rules

Go back to already existing games to structure the rules (action, behaviour and control) bearing in mind what the most appropriate type of dynamic for the game is. Also consider the learning experience – is it collaborative and memorable? At this point, you may ask for feedback and different points of view, to make sure your structure and rules are easy to explain and understand.

There are some books and materials that could help you understand expert methods for capturing complex dynamic systems in games.

Click here to check out Suarez and Mendler book.

  1. Play!

Tweak emotional triggers and rules and feel free to experiment new dynamics. Discuss with the players the different actions and how you can improve the prototype

If you liked this article, you may also find interesting Virtual reality games to address climate risk


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