Setting the scene
Many of us are quick to criticise decision makers about the choices they make related to river basin development. This stems from the fact that only a select few are able to participate in high level decision making processes. Enter the Basin Challenge Game which was designed to provide a platform that allows anyone to experience what river basin development truly means.
The game, which can be played with one player or in two-player mode with teams, gives participants a three billion dollar budget to develop a river basin over a period of 50 years. There are many choices available to players including: the building of hydropower dams, the development of agriculture and livestock such as vegetables or beef and the protection of national parks. As players progress through their turns, they instantly visualise the long and short term benefits and costs of their decisions across the spheres of water, energy, food, population growth, tourism and environmental development.
Some special features include mimicking scenarios that would appear in real life, from random climatic events (i.e. floods and droughts) to corruption, bailout loans that increase taxes, and even a pause option for discussions- which is available in two-player mode, only if both teams agree to it! For well-seasoned gamers this resembles SimCity for the environmental and development world.
Learning can still be fun
Models have been widely used to inform decision making surrounding sustainable development for decades. The Basin Challenge takes a slightly different approach than that of an average model. Although the data behind the game is drawn from extensive scientific research, the game is not meant to be as precise as a model. The game takes place in a hypothetical basin that helps to depoliticise decision-making.
The game has proven to be an exciting learning platform for stakeholders and decision makers both young and old. It has been used at numerous workshops including the IUCN and IWA Nexus Dialogues, international conferences such as the Stockholm World Water Week, and as a teaching tool for undergraduates and graduates at King’s College London. In these various sessions participants have been able to explore the plethora of discussions surrounding the interconnected nature of food security, rural poverty, human and environmental health, and sustainably managed natural resources.
At a recent workshop in Istanbul, for example, the game set the scene for an interactive workshop by bringing workshop participants together on the first day to compete against each other and open the dialogue about the benefits and trade-offs of growing cotton and building hydropower dams in the Central Asian context. Our version of SimCity is more than a learning tool- it can also be fun and has often proven to be a great ice breaker.