Reversing serious gaming: letting the players design the games

If your industry was a game, what would it look like? We asked over 100 people from the South African fruit industry this question and gave them two hours and heaps of game components to answer it. By getting industry experts to express themselves through game design, we were able to open up lots of underlying assumptions about the sector that usually go unvoiced. Idea inspired by conversations with Bruce Lankford.

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“Can you keep your crops watered?” at Edinburgh Science Festival

31st March – 4th April 2018. Edinburgh Science Festival, Edinburgh, UK.

In the River Basin Game, players discover what it’s like to live upstream or downstream along a river, as they compete (or cooperate!) with other players to irrigate their farms.

When I arrived in Edinburgh in October 2018 I heard about the Edinburgh International Science Festival and thought the game would make a great drop-in event for kids. It was accepted and so I set about building a portable, child-friendly version of the original game by Bruce Lankford, using an enormous vinyl banner for the base with wooden parts attached with velcro.

Playing the River Basin Game at Edinburgh International Science Festival 2018

 

 

When I saw in the programme that I’d be competing with 3D-printed flying robots at the same venue, I did wonder if the kids would be interested in rolling marbles around a table. However, my doubts were wrong and the game was thronged for five days solid, with plenty of repeat customers!

I wish I’d had the time to write down or think about some of the games that went on during the Festival, because every group of players were different and many fascinating things happened. One upstream farmer dammed all the water into his farm, and responded to criticism that he was flooded and everyone else was thirsty with:

“No – I’m going to sell them the water. But it’ll be expensive, because I’ve got all of it!”.

I was amazed, because I hadn’t mentioned a word about money, and that’s quite advanced thinking from a 10-year-old farmer who had only been in farming for about 10 minutes. I fear he might be my boss by the time he grows up!

We also had little farmers who organised the whole basin to get enough water for everyone, and evicted farmers who didn’t play by the rules. I even had to break up the beginnings of a physical fight over water allocations – not ideal for a weekend museum event I’ll admit, but it shows how well the players connected with the game!