5 Games and Apps to Change the World

Ioulia-FentonBy Ioulia Fenton*

Whether it is family Trivia Pursuit at Christmas, Words with Friends on the android phone, or Second Life on a P.C., everyone likes to play games. They are challenging, fun, and constitute a healthy source of friendly competition. However, as Jane McGonigal, an American game designer, argued in her TED talk, they can also make a better world.

Today, Development Roast* highlights five games and applications that are more than mere entertainment, but serve to educate and deeply involve its players in global food, agriculture, and sustainability issues:

1. Being a game-changer. To govern is to choose between competing priorities and interests and making policy decisions in an increasingly globalized world is difficult. Players of Game Change Rio, that aims to educate its users to such complexities and raise awareness of future global challenges, choose from 150 different policy cards to try and balance the economy with the environment, human health, education, and other important issues. Read More »

Learning to Play and Playing to Learn!

Angelina Gherardelli


Leelo en español AQUÍ SpanishFlag

By Angelina Gherardelli

“If you want to take all the fun out of it, get a bunch of educators involved”

A common joke in game designer circles.

As children we run, jump, and most importantly we play. When my five year old nephew was learning geometrical shapes and colors he played a game where he had to assemble a red square, a green triangle, and other colored shapes into a perfect cube. No one would think of sitting him down in a classroom with a chalkboard and telling him ‘learn this’, at least not at that age. But the game taught him to figure out the rules for himself through patient trial and error. In the same way this simple game taught my nephew basics geometry concepts, colors, and how to follow rules, games can also teach us how to set personal goals, create social bonds and socialize, and learn to navigate in a world that is mostly unknown. Read More »

News: REDD+ Transaction Costs and Games for a New Climate

Climate Change Workshops For Policy MakersIn continuation with the SimPachamama launch month at INESAD, this week has seen a number of articles published around the topics of gaming, deforestation and climate change:

What would it cost to implement deforestation reduction policies in Bolivia?

By Ioulia Fenton

In conjunction with its partners, the Institute for Advanced Development Studies (INESAD) has designed statistical tools, using extensive real life data, to simulate what kinds of policies are likely to make a measurable impact on reducing deforestation while maximizing human wellbeing in Bolivia. As the “How to Live Well in Bolivia” infographic released by INESAD earlier this month illustrates, two policies working in tandem are predicted to have the best results. An internal US$450 tax on every hectare of cleared forest, structured in a way as to mainly affect large-scale commercial agriculture, could raise one billion dollars every four years and kick start deforestation reduction efforts. While laudable on its own, the policy would not be enough. A matching system of payments from rich countries to Bolivia for reducing deforestation that would raise an additional one billion dollars every two years is predicted to act as a catalyst. If the money is then spent on paying people to conserve their forests, on creating green jobs (such as within the eco-tourism sector), and financing anti-poverty initiatives, every year, together, the dual policy effort is forecast to engage 72 percent of the rural population, increase the income of the poor who participate by 29 percent, and achieve a 29 percent reduction in deforestation. (Play the SimPachamama simulation game to see if you can keep forests standing while making the community happy and wealthy). Read More »

Games for a New Climate: It’s time to take games more seriously!

Tracey LiLeelo en español AQUÍ SpanishFlag

By Tracey Li

This month saw the release of INESAD’s SimPachamama game. This is an educational simulation game, designed to teach the user about the deforestation and human wellbeing challenges associated with rural development in Bolivian forest communities. Being freely available online, it can be accessed and played by a large number of people.

However, more traditional ‘low-tech’, face-to-face games can also have a powerful reach: in recent years, many large non-government organizations (NGOs) such as the Red Cross have co-designed multiple participatory games. Facilitators from these organizations then take the games to several countries over the world, where they are used as educational and/or training tools in workshops. Read More »

Concussion Slayer and Four Other Games Making a Real Difference

Half the sky the game

By Angelina Gherardelli

‘Serious games’ are games with a purpose that go beyond sole entertainment by aiming to educate, inspire, or even change certain real world behaviors of its players. ‘Games for good’ or ‘games for change’ focus specifically on creating social change.

The movement is widespread and—as witnessed by the last three months alone—it is gathering momentum. In May, Crete (Greece) welcomed the first international workshop on Intelligent Digital Games for Empowerment and Inclusion; Paris followed with a Games for Change Europe Festival in June; and August brought together the leaders of the serious games industry for a Serious Play Conference near Seattle. The study and development of serious games started spreading in the last decade thanks to the increased understanding of the enormous potential gaming has as learning tool —as explained in the article published on Development Roast Learning to Play and Playing to Learn— and as an instrument of social change. Here five games that in the last three years have demonstrated that gaming can actually change real world behavior. Read More »

Can games contribute to academic research on land use and forestry?

Diana WeinholdBy Diana Weinhold

Academic research on land use and deforestation generally tries to uncover the underlying reasons for people’s and companies’ actions on the environment. For example, academics may investigate the impact of road building on agricultural expansion, how property rights change land clearing, or how agricultural labor supply affects cropping patterns.

Simulation exercises like SimPachamama (whether or not in a ‘game’ form), however, essentially work like thought experiments – if the world worked like this, what would happen if we did that.  As such, a simulation cannot answer fundamental questions of causality: what caused what. But what they can do is allow us to consider some possible outcomes of complex interactions between all the factors considered important (see Ben Groom’s piece for more information). In other words, given that academic research has found these causal relationships to be important, how would we expect the economy and environment to evolve over time under different policy choices? The outcomes from such an exercise should thus not be considered a scientific forecast, and presenting the simulation as a game is thus useful for framing the results as what they are – a hypothetical outcome from a hypothetical economy, albeit one based on current academic scholarship. Read More »

The challenges of reducing deforestation and how scientific simulations can help

Ben GroomBy Ben Groom

To try to begin to save what’s left of the world’s forests it is important to first ask: Who deforests and why? While this varies considerably in different contexts, some broad patterns exist. Loggers and farmers or cattle ranchers are the ‘actors’ that typically clear forests, but what they do to their land is determined by the political and economic systems that they find themselves in: the prevailing institutions, markets and policies. Chief among the institutional determinants are property rights: that is who owns the rights to the land and timber and how this ownership is regulated and enforced. Of the many economic determinants, the nature of land markets, local labor markets, and migration in and out of the locale are key. Where institutions are weak and markets fail to reflect the full economic value of standing forest cause for concern is warranted. Read More »

Can Games Influence Development Policy? SimPachamama in the news

SimPachamamaCoverPageSmallOn September 01, 2013, Americas Quarterly magazine published an article by INESAD’s Ioulia Fenton on whether or not games can influence development policy. Read the original article here.

Can Games Influence Development Policy?

By Ioulia Fenton

Often referred to as “games for good” or “games for change,” a new generation of socially- and environmentally-oriented online simulation games aims to go beyond entertainment by raising awareness of global issues and securing funds for projects—making a real-word difference.

Over 10 million people worldwide have played World Food Programme’s (WFP) “Food Force,” for example, spending money that goes to fund WFP-sponsored school meals projects. However, few simulations have been useful at the policy-making level—until now. Today marks the release of “SimPachamama,” a new game from Bolivia that could influence international, national and local-level policy decisions that affect forest communities. Read More »

Infographic: How to Live Well in Bolivia

LivingWell-nologos-mediumVivir Bien – living well – is a concept that has been prominent in Bolivian politics over the last few years. It sets out the ideological position of living well in harmony with nature and rejects a mass consumption and fossil fuel based economy.

Although Vivir Bien has even been written into the Bolivian constitution with the 2012 Law of the Rights of Mother Earth the country is at a crossroads: what it says and what it does is at an odds. While Bolivia’s leaders propose a harmonious existence, majority of policies are aimed at expanding people’s ability to farm, which leads to the deforestation of around 300,000 hectares of rainforest every single year.

Today, the Institute for Advanced Development Studies (INESAD) came out with an infographic that proposes a two-policy solution that could help Bolivia reconcile its rhetoric with its actions by reducing deforestation while tackling poverty in an equitable way.  Read More »

New simulation tool tackles deforestation and poverty in Bolivia

logo_SimPachamama_enPRESS RELEASE

For immediate release.

London/ La Paz, September 01, 2013 – A new simulation tool designed to help local Bolivian communities reduce deforestation and tackle poverty has been developed by academics and conservationists around the world.

A new simulation tool designed to help local Bolivian communities reduce deforestation and tackle poverty has been developed by academics and conservationists around the world.

The tool, called SimPachamama (‘Mother Earth simulation’ in local language), is based on extensive scientific research of a real-life Amazonian community and simulates the actions and behaviour of villagers near the agricultural frontier in Bolivia. To be played as a game to inform and educate with respect to land-use decision making, the player is the mayor of the village whose aim is to implement policies to improve the welfare of the locals and minimise adverse impacts on their forests.

It has been designed by an interdisciplinary team of academics from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), the Institute for Advanced Development Studies (INESAD), Conservation International Bolivia, and the University of Sussex.

The tool aims to help communities make informed decisions about their forest resources and stimulate debate on the kind of development they want for their community. It takes place over a period of 20 years during which the player can experiment with different policies and observe the consequences of his/her decisions.

SimPachamama has been developed as a didactic tool for use in workshops and training courses with communities, government employees and international representatives, and researchers hope it will help everyone come to the best compromise about the use of natural resources.

For example, results generated by the simulation suggests that a domestic tax of about US$450 per hectare of deforested land would be very helpful, especially if it could be structured in a way as to impact mainly large-scale agriculture.

“Bolivia’s agricultural sector is very profitable because land is 10 times cheaper here than in neighbouring countries and the fuel is heavily subsidised. US$450 per hectare would not significantly affect the earnings of the companies involved, but would make a big difference in terms of deforestation and welfare,” said Dr. Lykke Andersen of INESAD.

“In addition, SimPachamama illustrates very clearly the potential benefits, both for the environment and for human wellbeing, that could accrue from a system of international compensation through the Joint Mechanism for Mitigation and Adaptation of Bolivia, the Bolivian alternative to UN-REDD.

“Together, the domestic deforestation tax and the international compensation payments could both slow deforestation and generate one billion dollars every two years, money which could be spent on conservation payments, creation of green jobs, health, education and other anti-poverty programmes,” Dr. Andersen said.

SimPachamama is available as open source and can be downloaded for free from the project web-site: Apart from providing a quick guide to SimPachamama, and on-line courses in both Spanish and English at several levels, the site also acts as a forum for discussing the design of fair and effective mechanisms for reducing deforestation.

— Ends —

For more information, contact Dr. Charles Palmer from the Department of Geography and Environment at the London School of Economics and Political Science, on 020 7107 5093,; Dr. Lykke Andersen from the Institute for Advanced Development Studies (INESAD) on or (+591) 7 650 1114 or Candy Gibson, LSE Press Office, on 020 7849 4624,

Notes to Editors

SimPachamama is funded by the Ecosystems Services for Poverty Alleviation (ESPA) programme. ESPA aims to deliver high-quality and cutting-edge research that will produce improved understanding of how ecosystems function, the services they provide, the full value of these services, and their potential role in achieving sustainable poverty alleviation. ESPA research provides the evidence and tools to enable decision makers and end users to manage ecosystems sustainably and in a way that contributes to poverty alleviation. See for more details.

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