A new era with new concerns demands a new game to reflect the changing mindset of the times.
It is said that board games are a microcosm of the collective mindset.
Monopoly in its myriad variations would seem to be one of the most representative of that mindset. After all, it is played everywhere, is available in 43 languages and has sold 275 million copies worldwide.
It originated as a simplified version of capitalism; starting off with free trade, its objective is essentially to gain a monopoly (on real estate), thus ending that free trade.
The only metric it takes into account is money. And in today’s world, when there is so much more at stake than that, it would seem that such a game is old school, banking – pun intended – on an unsustainable model.
Global warming, dwindling resources, and a string of economic crises and environmental catastrophes have made it clear that we need a new way of measuring value.
Today, the big players – logging tycoons, palm oil kings, mining magnates – are investing in landscapes.
So a more relevant game to modern society would surely expand the criteria for winning beyond how much money you make, to break away from the mentality of early 20th-century corporations.
The idea occurred to Bogor, Indonesia-based scientist Professor Dr Herry Purnomo back in 2006 for such a game. It would not only be representative of changing mindsets, but also serve as a teaching aid, an analytical tool, even a predictive one in some ways – and still be fun so that it would have mass appeal. These thoughts eventually took shape as the Landscape Game.
A system modeller with a background in forestry, artificial intelligence and agricultural meteorology, Herry applies his diverse skill-set to the subject that interests him most: the frontier between man and forest. He’s spent decades trying to understand the dynamics of how communities, businesses and institutions interact to exploit common resources.
When you have multiple stakeholders in a landscape, conflict is almost inevitable.
“You need to integrate the perspectives of all stakeholders who have a legitimate interest,” he says.
For example, if you log in a water catchment forest, and threaten the town’s water security, should players be penalised? Or if mixed plantations reduce the risk of forest fires and increase biodiversity, should players get more points?
He was mulling over how best to communicate this to his students at Bogor Agricultural University when he bumped into the late Nobel laureate Elinor Ostrom, a political scientist he had met several times previously.
That day, she was visiting the Centre for International Forestry Research (Cifor) in Bogor, where Herry is also based as a researcher.
They got into a conversation about game theory, and how it can be used to contextualise the competing interests that play out within our economies and institutions.
Watch a game of Monopoly and you will see how board games can offer valuable insight into the negotiation skills of individuals and the strategies used to achieve their goals.
In many respects, it’s the same in landscape management. “Many times, people don’t realise we are just gaming each other. A government will develop a policy, and people will find a way around it.”
Gaming as a tool
Ostrom was known for challenging long-held presumptions. In 2007, she addressed the idea that scholars should be expected to come up with universal solutions to problems related to the overuse or destruction of resources.
Instead, she suggested that we need more than simple predictive models of social–ecological systems.
Cookie-cutter solutions often just don’t work.
Her suggestion was that instead of making sweeping assumptions about complex governance problems and trying to churn out blueprint solutions, it might be better to focus on developing tools to better understand the problems, and subsequently tailor our solutions.
She suggested utilising game theory to Herry, and that’s when he came up with the idea for the Landscape Game.
Instead of making money off property, players make money off the landscape.
The players’ objective is to figure out how to maximise profits, and unlike Monopoly, they can influence the rules – by lobbying the government.
The government makes up an important additional player in the game: it gets free reign on policy.
And there’s an explicit form of realism; governments can be corrupt, and players can play dirty – everyone is tasked with getting what they want, and are allowed to get it by whatever means possible.
In other words, by freeing up communication in the game and making the rules flexible, it’s a realistic scenario that reflects how things work in real life.
If a government’s policies are ineffective – poorly conceived incentives for green development or unrealistic taxes, for example, it may end up draining the budget or creating conditions for bribery.
As a role-playing game, its advantage is that players get to experience landscape management from a different perspective.
Herry’s Cifor colleague Bayuni Shantiko, who is working on a digital version of the game, observes: “It’s funny, watching different people play. The conservationists would just keep investing in carbon credits until they went bankrupt, (and) eventually they realised their strategy wasn’t working.”
After his encounter with Ostrom, Herry set about creating the Landscape Game.
He developed it under a European Union-funded project through Cifor, and brought prototypes of it to universities in Indonesia, the Philippines, and even Malaysia.
The board game has since been played all over the world, from New Zealand, Australia and Brazil to countries in Europe and Africa.
There has been much demand for it – Cifor has run out of the 700 sets originally produced, although partners can still download soft copies and print their own.
But they are currently working on a digital version, which will be downloadable as an app, and it should be available in September.
“I’ve got a hundred people on my waiting list,” says Herry.
Those people mainly consist of university professors who use the game to teach students about resource management, and also government officers who see its potential as a training tool.
A couple of years ago, Harvard Business Review pointed out in an article entitled Runaway Capitalism that society seems to have developed an unhelpful fixation on competition as the spark required for innovation, which in turn leads to a higher return on equity.
It noted that there are other ways to measure value, and competition is not the only route to innovation; collaboration works just as well.
Herry’s Landscape Game is just one among many emerging voices that call for such changes in mindset.
It only seems fitting that Herry is looking to a smartphone-compatible app to deliver a message for the 21st century. As a metric, money has proven insufficient to measure the health of our economy and our community; surely the time is right to include the environment, community and sustainability in our calculations.
>Updates on the digital version of Cifor’s Landscape Game will be available on Oct 20 through this link cifor.org/LPF/landscapegame/.