There is a lot of research that shows that simple interactive games can help us better understand systems, anticipate emerging complex phenomena, and help us to build. The games for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) enable us to study complex challenges and think ‘outside the box’. This enables us to come up with possible solutions and to build resilience through self-action. The Sustainable Development Goals, through the United Nation’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, are complex and interlinked and require systems and critical thinking to fully understand and act upon them. Around the world, simulation gaming as tools for problem solving is slowly gaining momentum. In scientific discourse, training workshops and seminars are slowly integrating scenario planning into simulation games for better and inclusive decision making among various stakeholders.
Most of these games provide an interdisciplinary understanding to complex global challenges that can only be addressed with well informed and integrated decisions. These decisions come as a result of changes in perception and culture.1 Through gaming experiences, participants gain insights into the different impacts of sustainability problems and how they impact our societies in real life. The experience of the simulation exposes participants to various emotions and feelings. These often result in changes in behaviour and perceptions. During the process, participants become sensitised and empowered to take stewardship in achieving sustainability. Risks taken in the game enable participants to navigate and co-create possible alternatives when the usual strategies are not working.2 This is fundamental because real complex problems often require us to explore and co-create possible solutions.
Where it started and how far the games have come
In 2016, a group of young passionate Namibians started with a series of games called ‘Games for the SDGs’. They piloted the first game called World Climate Simulation, which was developed by Climate Interactive in conjunction with MIT.3 The team of young people hosted the game ahead of the UNFCCC Conference of Parties that took in Marrakesh, Morocco in 2016. It successfully managed to put young Namibians in the shoes of world leaders at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of the Parties (COP22). Young people were exposed to climate science and tested their ambitions against a climate model used worldwide. It enabled them to see the effects of their decisions on the world and to understand the urgency that comes with addressing the climate crises. This is fundamental, as it promotes activism and ensures young people take the responsibility to be stewards of the earth. This version of Games for the SDGs has been played in 64 countries with over 28 000 participants so far. A recent survey showed that 76% of all participants felt that they were more likely to engage with and change their behaviour around climate change. The success of the game thus led to the development of a series of games called under the same name.
These games were hosted by Progress Namibia in conjunction with the Hanns Seidel Foundation, the National Youth Coalition on Climate Change, the National Youth Council, as well as AISEC Namibia. Most of the games have already been developed by various organisations and individuals. They are often contextualised to the local context and so they speak to the different SDGs and their targets in their local contexts. The games strongly target and speak to young people. Young people are the most vulnerable to global challenges at the hands of uncontrolled and unsustainable actions of the anthropocene. Young people are the future of sustainable and resilient societies and thus, it is imperative to equally engage them and bring them into the discussion about the complexity of sustainability challenges and how they may affect their future. Young people have the ability to mould unprecedented innovative ideas into amicable solutions. These can help to address many of the complex sustainability problems we face. For this to happen, there need to be platforms that engage in a discussion geared towards achieving long-term sustainability.
During the period of February 2017 and November 2018, about 25 games have been successfully run. These are games ranging from 8 to 50 participants per game. The games focus on a different set of goals each time, although the SDGs are all interwoven. The series of games were implemented by hosting one game per month. At the beginning of each game, participants receive an introduction to the SDGs, as a way of familiarising them with the goals. In most cases, the SDGs do not trickle down to all levels. The young people particularly, see them as something too complex to understand and are only meant for high level decision making in our governments. This lack of awareness undermines young people’s ability help contribute to the realisation of a ‘sustainable and just society’. The presentation shows them that we all have a role to play as the SDGs and our sustainable future apply to every single individual, society and nation.
Creating a safe space for discussion
The facilitation of each game is usually for small groups (anything between 10 and 40 people, depending on the specific game). This type of facilitation promotes a safe and intimate space which allows time for deep dialogue – the most essential part of the game. Discussion takes place after the game and steers deep reflection and enables the facilitator to unpack complexities confronted by participants. In order to ensure that the feedback and voices of every participant are heard, the dialogue requires the group to sit in a circle, creating a safe space to speak freely. When participants feel free and safe they are more likely to open up to conservations and unpack the powerful lessons provided by the games.
To date, facilitators and participants say the impact of the games is high even when the number of participants is small. There have been several returning participants as well as participants who have had emotional and deeply connected experiences (what we in the facilitation world call ‘edge work’ where a participant goes to an uncomfortable space, the ‘edge’ in order to experience a change in mental model/world view). For this to work, the series needs to be intimate and reach participants at a very personal level.
After two years of successful gaming, several key lessons were well documented to improve the whole process. There has been a growing demand from local universities and local schools to host the games for their students. During 2018, there were a number of diverse young people from various backgrounds who have enthusiastically showed interest in the games and as a result, some of the games were run at their respective schools.
On the 17th of October 2018, three of the games where run in parallel with about 150 young people from all spheres of the country as part of the Youth for Global Goals Conference. The aim of the conference was to introduce young people to the SDGs and co-create and navigate ways in which youth can contribute to achieving the ambitious goals. In November 2018, the Department of Architecture and Spatial Planning from the University of Namibia put in a request to host the games. On the 19th of November, two of the games were used to steer discussions around a feasibility study of urban agriculture in Farm Mix and the provision of adequate water and sanitation facilities in the informal settlements of Namibia at the same university.
There’s a need to develop new games to avoid repetition of the games, especially given that several participants are returning each month. So far only three new games have been developed by the team. The team is working towards exploring and developing new games that could possibly look at scenarios in which 100 percent of all SDGs have been achieved. The team is also investigating the possibility of developing digital games to enhance outreach to many young people from the grassroots.
While the introduction to the SDGs, and the game itself, are important, the debrief is essential to facilitate a shift in mental model/world view and self-reflection. The debrief requires a lot of preparation, and during the game, it needs to be set up in a safe space with specific facilitation techniques (ideally the facilitator should have some experience with Mindell’s ‘Deep Democracy’ Theory).
The future of the games for the SDGs-Moving Forward
The games have shown to be very successful due to the increasing demand. The Hanns Seidel Foundation and the British High Commission in Namibia have both allocated funds to continue the collaboration into 2019. About 12 games will be hosted this year, and time was invested in research and development of two interactive civic education games on effective governance and democracy. The civic games will be used to engage citizens’ prior to the Namibian National elections planned for November 2019. There is a need for this engagement as citizens are not entirely aware of the importance of their vote in a democratic country, where decisions by the government affect their everyday living. To further deepen the impact of the games, the organisational structure of the games process for 2019 has been changed to make provision for youth ownership of the process. The Namibian Youth Coalition on Climate Change has been selected to take ownership of coordinating and hosting the games, in conjunction with the initial key partners. A training of trainers was conducted in the beginning of 2019 with about ten young people who will be running the series of games for the entire year. You can learn more about how the games are designed by visiting our website at http://www.progress-namibia.com/page/games-for-the-sdgs/.
2. Meya, J. N.; Eisenack, K. 2017: Effectiveness of gaming for communicating and teaching climate change. The Systems Discussion Paper No. 2017-3. Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Berlin, Germany. Pp. 1-31. edoc.hu-berlin.de/series/thesysdiscpapers