New Game Simulates Impacts on Watersheds, Educates Kids and Policymakers Alike

bay game 2010 photo

Photo credit Jane Haley, University of Virginia

How do you get kids to understand the complexities of saving a watershed - from the ecology to the politics - and actually enjoy figuring out how to save it? By turning it into a game of course! After a long time in development, University of Virginia released a detailed simulation of the Chesapeake bay watershed, allowing players to become players such as farmers, policy-makers, watermen and developers, make decisions about what happens to the watershed, and then see how those decisions impact the area over a 20-year period using real data and high-tech simulation. The game was released and played yesterday among students, and Philippe Cousteau - whose Azure Worldwide organization partnered with UVa's game - was on hand to help them out with understanding the far-reaching impacts of messing with marine ecosystems. The UVa Bay Game is an educational tool, but not just great for students. It's also great for politicians and business people. It can be used to explore and test policy choices and research in complex systems modeling.

According to UVa, "Developed by a multi-disciplinary faculty and student team, the UVA Bay Game is the first of its kind. By contrast to less serious simulations, it is based in current science, and the game experience has fidelity to the complexity of its subject. It demonstrates the capacity of the modern research university to integrate deep domain expertise to create research and educational tools with the potential to transform thinking about complex social problems and to generate innovative solutions."

During yesterday's event, Philippe Cousteau chatted with students and discussed the game. He states, "This was an unprecedented event, the first time that people who live and make their livelihood from the bay; people like farmers, watermen, and policymakers have had a chance to play the game and their response was overwhelmingly supportive and enthusiastic.

"The students also came up to us and thanked us for allowing them to participate in this program, they understood the importance of this technology and that they were here on the ground floor and really contributing to the development of a tool that has the potential to change the dialogue of these issues."

It really is amazing to have a tool that can show us fairly reliably what our decisions will have on an ecosystem after two decades. Typically we use trial and error, or whatever gets us the most profit, to make decisions. Now, it's easier to understand the long term impacts and true cost of decisions so that we can make smarter choices.

"This game is not just about the Chesapeake Bay, environments around the world are in decline and humanity is suffering as a consequence, however, this new century has seen a dramatic change in social concern for these issues. We know there are problems and now we are building the tools to solve them," says Cousteau.

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