Yale game mimics Rio+20 environmental policymaking

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Yale graduate students play "Settlers of a Green Future," a board game they developed based on "Settlers of Catan," intended to simulate the dynamics of global environmental policymaking. (Photo by David DeFusco)

Students at Yale University plan to simulate the dynamics of global environmental policymaking and spur public engagement in it with their own version of the popular board game Settlers of Cata” at an upcoming global environmental conference.

Graduate students at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (F&ES) will present the game, Settlers of a Green Future, at the Rio+20 conference, taking place June 20-22 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

“We hope people will get a better sense of the tension and tradeoffs between individual nations’ domestic interests and goals, and the greater good,” said Angel Hsu, a F&ES doctoral student and one of the game’s principal creators.

She and her co-developers of Settlers of a Green Future, Soojin Kim and José Medinamora, are among more than 40 Yale students and professors traveling to Brazil for the U.N.-led conference, formally called the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development.

“Yale University scholars dependably push the boundaries of what we know about global environmental challenges and how to address them, ” said F&ES Dean Peter Crane. “They’ll be at Rio+20 in force to influence the debate and help shape the action.”

Members of the Yale contingent will engage in a wide variety of activities at the conference, supporting official delegations, leading workshops and blogging about the action as it unfolds.

Hsu and colleagues will present Settlers of a Green Future at a workshop about the use of games as tools for understanding environmental policy problems.

The Yale game emerged from a F&ES course co-taught by F&ES associate dean Gordon Geballe and Hsu called “International Organizations and Conferences,” which examines multiparty, international negotiation of environmental treaties.

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Settlers of a Green Future can be played with the same board and many of the pieces of Catan. (Photo by David DeFusco)

That course previously led to the creation of Humans vs. Mosquitoes, a game developed by students at Yale and Parsons the New School for Design. It educates children about vector-borne diseases and climate change.

Settlers of a Green Future can be played with the same board and many of the same pieces as Catan, which has a large global following. In Catan, players seek to establish “settlements” using allotted “resources,” such as wool, brick, and wood.

In the Yale students’ version, players earn points by building sustainable settlements, eco-cities, and eco-cooperatives. Whether they attempt to win alone or with others, Hsu said, participants are forced to evaluate constantly the costs and benefits of cooperation, asking themselves, “Can we actually win faster by partnering with someone else?”

The Yale version also introduces entirely new elements, such as tradable “action cards” that summarize environmental policies under consideration by Rio+20 participants. After June 18, instructions will be made available on the Web, allowing existing owners of Catan to play the new environmental version.

The Yale version has been authorized for educational purposes, and neither the University nor anyone affiliated with the creation of Settlers of a Green Future will profit financially from it.

Rio+20 marks the 20th anniversary of the 1992 U.N. Conference on Environment and Development, also in Rio de Janeiro. Official representatives of scores of nations will address ocean management and protection, universal access to sustainable energy and water, and improving life in the world’s cities, among other issues. Thousands of other individuals invested in environmental preservation are expected to participate in related, unofficial events.

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