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notes from the field

These field notes are personal views and do not necessarily reflect the views of Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre

Leslie Dodson


Blog Post 2
July 9, 2014

The Climate Centre’s Serious Games

The Climate Centre has produced more than 40 participatory games that help a range of humanitarian stakeholders – be they policymakers, aid workers, scientists or community members – better understand and grapple with climate uncertainty and climate-related challenges. These serious games are designed to create environments where stakeholders physically and intellectually experience just how complicated it is to make smart decisions and work together. They have the “serious purpose of speeding up learning, dialogue and action on climate risks; each involves decisions with consequences, enabling players to “inhabit” the reality of climate-risk management and test plausible futures in a captivating and fun way” (Climate Centre). The games, all of which involve a facilitator, stimulate players to become better informed about adaptation and development issues and to come up with creative solutions. The Climate Centre games also feature what’s called ‘scaffolded’ learning, or progressive problem-solving, that takes players through increasing more complex scenarios so that they learn and practice more sophisticated responses (Mendler de Suarez, et al., 2012; Winn, 2009). Hopefully, stakeholders will be inspired to apply what they learn in gameplay to making better choices and smarter decisions at home, at work and in their communities.

While the Climate Centre’s games are unique, they contain some of the same experiential learning elements found in digital ‘edutainment’ games with a social agenda such as Games for Change ( They also align with theatre for development practices (CU’s Theatre Professor Beth Osnes is an expert in Theatre for Social Change) and other participatory learning activities such as creative facilitation and applied improvisation (Creative Facilitation, Indigo development & change, The Applied Improvisation Network).

Flexible, Challenging and Inhabitable
The Climate Centre’s adaptation games are being played in formal settings such as conferences as well as semi-formal and informal gatherings with field officers, disaster managers, NGO workers and farmers. Some games focus on building team spirit and developing better communication channels – essential skills in climate adaptation initiatives.  Others challenge players to incorporate or respond to increasingly complex circumstances involving climate change and risk reduction. The games are flexible enough that facilitators can alter the content to suit the situation. So, for example, one game might focus on food security, another might educate players on interpreting and acting on climate information, and another might focus on disaster communication and response. No matter what the theme, each serious game is designed so that players ‘inhabit’ the challenges.

The Farming Juggle
Bettina Koelle from Indigo development & change has designed a number of games for the Climate Centre (Indigo), including warm-up exercises to energize and focus the players. That’s the point of the Farming Juggle game that involves tossing up to six small balls around the group. Each ball represents a different climate or development stressor. One ball could represent floods or drought. Spiky balls might represent conflict. Another ball might indicate a disease outbreak. Players quickly realize how many complicated issues they have to deal with at the same time, and they appreciate how tough it is to juggle all of them simultaneously.

The Adaptation Labyrinth
Games progress from ice-breakers to activities that focus on coordinating and communicating.  Those are crucial factors in disaster response situations that require both physical coordination of supplies and personnel as well as coordinated communication of field conditions and response plans.  The Adaptation Labyrinth game develops these skills using a children’s string-puller toy to guide a disk around a drawing of a labyrinth. Players quickly realize how difficult it is to jointly come up with a plan and then coordinate everyone’s movement to maneuver around the labyrinth.

The Tipping Point
The Tipping Point game is an intense team exercise showing just how easy it is to disrupt the delicately balanced ecosystem. Using a wonky table (a piece of plywood precariously balanced on a stand), country teams either remove a block, which represents harvesting natural resources such as extracting oil or coal mining, or place a block on the tippy table, which represents a contribution to or investment in stabilizing the system such as investing in solar energy or drip irrigation. The platform becomes increasingly unstable as activity intensifies until one wrong move sends they whole thing toppling to the floor. This game makes it easy to recognize how actions accumulate to either fortify the ecosystem or cause its collapse.

Progressive Pedagogy & Experiential Learning
Education scholars say that immersing players in “purpose-driven playful environments” encourages better decision-making and the development of new behaviors in daily life (Lieberman, 2006; Mitgutsch & Alvarado, 2012). The Climate Centre’s seriously fun games are a creative way to develop skills to make better long-range decisions and plans, become informed about humanitarian issues, make wise choices and integrate science into decisions (Anderson et al., 2001; Becker, 2013; Bloom, 1959; Lieberman, 2006; Suarez, P., et al., 2014). Plus, the serious games are seriously fun. Click through to the Climate Centre’s game site at where you’ll find instruction cards, facilitation guidelines and training videos.

Anderson, L. W., Krathwohl, D. R., & Bloom, B. S. (2001). A taxonomy for learning, teaching, and assessing: a revision of Bloom's taxonomy of educational objectives (Complete ed.). New York: Longman.

Becker, K. 2013. Magic Bullet Game Analysis.

Bloom, B. (ed.). (1956). Taxonomy of Educational Objectives: Handbook I: Cognitive Domain. New York: Longman.

Creative Facilitation.

The Applied Improvisation Network.

Games for Change.

Indigo Development and Change.

Lieberman, D.A. (2006). What can we learn from playing interactive games?In Playing video games: Motives, responses, and consequences. P. Vorderer & J. Bryant (eds.), Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, New Jersey.

Mendler de Suarez, J., Suarez, P., Bachofen, C. (eds). (2012). Games for a New Climate: Experiencing the Complexity of Future Risks. Task Force Report, Nov. 2012. The Frederick S. Pardee Center for the Study of the Longer-Range Future. Boston University.

Mitgutsch, K., Alvarado, N. (2012). Purposeful by Design?  A Serious Game Design Assessment Framework.   In Proceeding FDG ’12.  Proceedings of the International Conference on the Foundations of Digital Games. Pp 121-128.

Red Cross / Red Crescent Climate Centre.

Suarez, P., Mendler de Suarez, J., Koelle, B., Boykoff, M. Serious Fun. (2014). Scaling up Community-based Adaptation Through Experiential Learning. In Community-Based Adaptation to Climate Change. Scaling It Up. Schipper, E.L., Ayers, J., Reid, H., Huq, S., Rahman, A. (eds).
Routledge, New York, NY.

Winn, B.M. (2009). The Design, Play, and Experience Framework. In Handbook of Research on Effective Electronic Gaming in Education. Ferdig, R.E. (ed). Kent State University.