This post considers how board games can be used as enjoyable, interactive educational tools to teach key themes in topics such as wildlife conservation. Board games, war games and online games have been around for some time. While many of these games are designed purely for enjoyment and may use unrealistic themes, games are increasingly being used as educational tools. Even the classic game that almost everyone will have played at some point in their life, Monopoly, teaches some basic business and economic skills.
However, games are being used in a much more focused manner to teach a range of topics. The War Studies department has a module on War Simulation, organised by Professor Sabin, an expert on the topic who works with the MOD, lectures internationally and organises the annual Connections UK conference for war game professional around the world (see here for more information).
Recently a game has also been developed to help students learn more about World War One and the challenges faced by medics on the Western Front. The game provides an engaging method for students to learn more about the topic, and is being made available for schools to loan it and play (see here fore more information).
In the realms of wildlife conservation, however, there seems a dearth of games; strange given how popular wildlife and nature are. This was the inspiration for the development of Conservation Crisis, a new board game about wildlife conservation. The designers (one of whom, the author of this post, is a PhD student within the Marjan Centre) sought to create a game that was both as true-to-life and as enjoyable to play as possible. The game can be used to teach students and the public at large about conservation and is also raising funds for UK conservation charities working around the globe.
The game challenges players to take control of a reserve in crisis and bring a species back from the brink of extinction. Players must build community projects, employ staff and build tourist lodges to protect their wildlife and generate income for their reserve. At the same time, they face the challenge of militias roaming the area, posing a constant threat to their reserve and wildlife.
The game has basic rules but is designed to be very much ‘learn as you play’. All aspects of the game are based on real-world events and challenges, getting players as close to reality as possible. By playing the game once, players learn a lot about the challenges and trade-offs faced by conservationists around the globe. The more they play, the more they learn and can develop stronger strategies to protect their wildlife.
Players learn basic business skills – ensuing they have enough income to pay their staff, and money in the bank as a reserve should they lose their income source – as well as the key principles of wildlife conservation. The game also deals with a topic that is rarely discussed; corruption. Players have the chance to pay a bribe at certain stages to get through the game quicker, but in exchange they must take a bribe card; these cards lead to negative consequences and an improved understanding of why corruption is so harmful.
Games of different sorts can offer immersive and interactive learning opportunities that offer an interesting complement to more conventional lessons and lectures. Games and simulations will not work for everything, but done correctly they can provide useful educational tools to teach a wide range of topics to a diverse audience.
Richard Milburn, The Marjan Centre
You can find out more about Conservation Crisis (including the chance to download the print and play prototype) at www.tunzagames.com.