Saturday, September 14, 2013

Maggi's take on the Game

As you know, the IGERT group spent Tuesday morning playing a game, titled "Lords of the Valley". Although this may sound like some fantasy-laden video game, it is in fact related to our training as IGERT students. Lords of the Valley is also known as "Floodplain Management Game". If you know that our IGERT is titled "Resilience and Adaptive Governance in Stressed Watersheds", then you can see the connection.

This game is based on work conducted in the Tisza River Valley, in Hungary. The Tisza River Valley is an area with agricultural development in a flood-prone area. There is a local town government that sets land prices and tax rates, a water control board, which is in charge of maintaining either dikes or irrigation structures, as well as a bank and non-governmental organizations. In real life, there are likely many more stakeholders, but for the purposes of the game, this is plenty. These stakeholders are thrown into a situation where yearly rainfall is unpredictable, and they must act out a series of years, making decisions about what to grow on the land, how much land should cost, whether they should work with an NGO, or if they should take out a loan to fund any of these activities. Essentially, this game represents a complex system in which all actors are linked together in sometimes unclear ways, exactly how real life is.

My partner and I trying to decide the best course of action.
 There are a number of reasons for playing this game. One is to use it as an educational tool. Real people that live in any complex system (most humans live in a complex system without ever realizing it) can play the game to learn how to discover linkages that are present in their own lives. This can lead to better decisions for the whole community. The game is also a tool to be used to learning how to effectively communicate, since all players lack complete information--we know a lot about our own situations, but very little about the specifics of any other situations.

Another way this game may be used is to educate real stakeholders about other stakeholders' views. For example, you could take this game to the Tisza River Valley and ask stakeholders to play. The trick would be that you would switch their roles: the farmer would take on the role of banker, the local government would take on the role of non-government organization, etc. The hope is that the different stakeholders may start to develop and understanding of and empathy towards other stakeholders with which they may have been at odds. You can also develop games specific to other areas and/or problems to be used in a similar manner.

The first "community meeting".
 Using the game as an aquarium is also possible. This has been done once, in which students were asked to play the roles in the game, while the real-life stakeholders sat silent in the room to watch the interactions and outcomes. This is particularly useful when there is a lot of animosity among the stakeholders. Watching others play the game may also encourage the development of empathy towards other stakeholders and help to facilitate discussions that were not possible prior to the game.

Studying the board.
Finally, the game may also be used to study social processes in complex systems. Understanding how people behave in complex systems is an interesting, if difficult, problem to study. Using a role playing game such as "Lords of the Valley" may be useful, but how much this may apply to real-life situations, when it's students acting out roles, is a little unclear to me. For instance, if I was really a farmer, instead of trying to fulfill the role of a farmer in the game, the outcomes may have been different. But these are difficult questions to answer, and a role playing game is one way to start answering them.

(Post written by Maggi Sliwinski)

(Photos by Victoria)

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