Developing the Planetary Health Game

Feeding the global population while protecting the natural world is one of the greatest challenges facing us today. One in three people worldwide are affected by some form of malnutrition – hunger, obesity or micronutrient deficiency. Agriculture is key for food security, but is both a driver and a victim of environmental degradation.

The Global Academy of Agriculture and Food Security at Edinburgh University brings people together to work on this complex global challenge. Postgraduate taught programmes at the Academy need innovative teaching methods to help students navigate the extremely complex trade-offs involved in feeding the world. Games are increasingly used as immersive teaching tools, where players can experiment and learn together. And so we developed the “Planetary Health Game”, where players battle to keep people, the planet and their own businesses healthy.

To develop the game, we began with a day workshop where we worked out the most important message of the game, and then got straight into prototyping our ideas. I then took these away and built them into our first playable prototype.

At our first play-testing session we played the game with several players aged 8 to I’d-rather-not-say, from board game novices to veterans. We did very well at first. Buoyed up by our (misplaced) confidence, we adjusted the rules to make things a little harder. The second time – catastrophe! Another small tweak and the last couple of plays were neither too easy nor too hard.

There also seemed to be too much information in the game, so we hid some of it away. Trying to guess together what the impacts of the policies would be was what the game needed to get people talking – which is its real job. The final version of the game is now being printed ready for the beginning of the MSc programme.

Interested in developing your own game? I can help in lots of ways, from kick-off workshops to beginning-to-end game design – just get in touch!