A Virtual Competitive Gaming Platform Teaching 21st Century Resource Management and Environmental Stewardship Through Sustainable Economic Development
Introduction: How do we best prepare our children to face the challenges of the world they will soon enter? That has always been the core mission of every educational model humankind has devised throughout our common history. From the first time a parent made the effort to teach their child how to make fire by rubbing two sticks together, we have focused on the best ways to pass on the knowledge that will ensure their survival, health, advancement, innovation, and prosperity.
Climate change, an exploding global population, diminishing global resources, and the consequences of humankind’s’ negative impacts on our environment now threaten our future. These developments have fundamentally changed what we now need to teach our children compared to the lessons we have formally passed down through the centuries. Never before has humankind had to face on a global scale a future as challenging. Every underlying constant we have grown use to over the past centuries are about to change in the course of the next few decades. We are about to leave a period of history defined by a mild, nurturing climate, seemingly inexhaustible resources, and unprecedented global prosperity into a future filled with uncertainty. So I ask again. How do we best prepare our children to face the challenges of the world they will soon enter?
The Sustainable Planet Mission: The “Sustainable Planet” virtual competitive game is being developed as an experiential learning tool by Energime University. The primary goal is to prepare students globally for the complex challenges our population will face as we move into the 21st century. The game requires the student to build a virtual community as they manage resources sustainably and reduce/eliminate the negative environmental impacts that result from economic development and societal expansion. Students will learn about the issues we can expect which will influence our ability to provide for and manage future global societies with regards to food, water, energy, waste, and other finite natural resources. The game is designed to teach these complex concepts through competitive play whereby the mission objectives are the planned sustainable economic development of various “Virtual regions” around the world.
Our issues with resource management and environmental impact are global in scale. They will require a coordinated and cooperative response to address effectively. Currently, we are failing as a population to find those synergies and reverse our current course. Additionally, economic theory and sustainable economic development is not widely taught nor easily understood and therefore left to a select few to administer. As economic development is at the center of why we are faced with these challenges, we will not solve our current issues unless those basic concepts become common knowledge. Individuals throughout our society must be empowered to knowledgeably plan for their futures and make decisions at home and work that support the goals of sustainable consumption, resource management, and environmental stewardship.
Why Sustainable Planet is Necessary: As we approach mid-century humanity’s reliance on essential finite resources will reach a critical stage as our population overwhelms our ability to support human basic needs. In 2017 humanity “Overshot” our consumption of essential natural resources asking far more of our planet than it is capable of sustainably providing. That year we exceeded our capacity to recharge those finite stocks which we harvested, mined, fished, or otherwise extracted from our natural world on an annual basis by August 2nd. This trend started in the 1970s and has continued to accelerate with every passing year. It is imperative that we act quickly to reverse this imbalance.
This decline has been the result of excessive global consumer demand, poor management policy, and the unintended negative impacts that our way of life is having on the environment. Climate change is impacting global hydrologic patterns, our food chain, urban planning, and population distribution in ways we never imagined. It will be incumbent on both current and future generations to master new methodologies and strategies reliant on advancing technologies, production efficiencies, conservation, and pre-emptive planning in order for us to prosper and thrive in this new millennium. The consequences of our failure to adjust to this changing reality will be nothing short of catastrophic. All of this comes down to our population being able to manage our economic expansion and societal growth sustainably. We are therefore tasked with mastering our use, production, and management of the water, food, energy we rely on, and the waste we create.
What is a promising sign is that globally people are starting to recognize the challenges and develop local strategies as to how to counter these threatening trends. Never before has there been so much investment in indoor agriculture, renewable energy, water management and so forth. Schools around the world are focusing in on the science and technology/applications that can solve aspects of this response. Countries are trying to initiate legislation in their homelands and in concert with their neighbors as to how best deal with these unprecedented changes.
If we accept that as fact, my question would be “Why are we still losing ground and on course to fail dramatically in our attempt to reverse our current decline?“ The answer I believe is rather simple. We really do not know how to respond to such an immense challenge as a coordinated global effort. There is no linkage between universal intention and action. No understanding of the complexities of global coordination and cooperation. No economic pathway for key stakeholders to follow which does not punish them on a short term basis making wholesale change for them an impossibility. We simply do not know what to do!
Real efforts at global cooperation and collaboration have failed. The scope of the issues reach into so many of the production areas of industry and economics as they relate to energy, food, water, waste, and other finite resources no one has a clue how to deal with the intricacies of an effective response. There is also way too much of individual and country/regional self-interest. Administrative entities and corporations see things from a perspective of unfair and disproportionate levels of responsibility and cost which stops them from doing what they absolutely must do if we are to have a promising future. This indecision and short-sighted planning is nothing short of societal suicide. There has to be a way to address these imbalances and correct our course and it HAS to start with an educated and empowered population capable of directing change.
To convey these strategies and empower the knowledge as to how we respond to these challenges is all about specific education. A teaching platform that can communicate the intricacies of these complex inter-relationships is essential. With “Sustainable Planet” the student is thrust into the process of having to anticipate, innovate, and form the necessary collaborative relationships which will determine a successful global response. Research has shown conclusively that an “experiential educational format” is far more effective at ensuring higher retention rates of complex concepts. This is compared to relying on just reading or lectures by themselves. Sustainable Planet will accomplish these objectives in a fun and intuitive way.
Having a huge population of student gamers developing strategies as to how we address our current challenges will create new and exciting economic theory. Computers and AI are very useful, but no artificial system is currently capable of matching the potential for innovation and creativity of the human mind. Consider what would be the potential of literally millions of human beings collaborating on solving these issues simultaneously. Year after year building on the previous years’ achievements. The possibilities for creating evolutionary concepts spurred on by the interaction of a generation of our youth managed by our best educators are limitless.
Our best minds thrown together in pursuit of a common goal will reap data and information we can only imagine. We have accomplished such achievements with the Manhattan Project and the Apollo Mission. Why not sustainability? All that is required is the correct approach to solving the problem. What we learn from the Sustainable Planet competition could well serve as the template for regional economic development and global resource coordination strategy well into the 21st century. Our students will not just be learning. They will become the teachers and provide the solutions.
Project Objectives: Energime Institute and our project partners envision the initial gameplay as a semester-long competition. The goal is to have this platform adopted by educational systems throughout the country (World) and to be administered as part of an annual scholastic competition (Like an academic Olympics). Our focus population are students in their final year of primary education prior to entering college. At this stage of life, human beings are at their most impressionable stage whereby they can take these complex concepts and transform those lessons into actionable steps.
Each participant will compete as part of an extended team. Together the students will learn about the new technologies, advanced applications, improved production protocols, and forward-thinking strategies being developed to enable sustainable growth. The team format will condition each student to understand the necessity for coordinated and collaborative action based on long term strategic planning which anticipates growing demands in an ever-changing world. The lessons students learn will be essential for future communities to effectively create jobs, reduce waste, and support sustainable economic expansion under increasingly challenging circumstances. Students through this “experience” will come away with a clear understanding that cooperation, coordination, and common purpose will be necessary in order to address any impactful global response.
Ultimately Sustainable Planet is being developed with 5 important goals:
- To prepare our student population on a generational scale to understand the complexities and opportunities of the world they are soon to be an active participant in developing and maintaining.
- Inspire both the entrepreneurial spirit and active participation of the students in this global effort.
- Train students to recognize the need for collaboration and coordination in addressing these challenges.
- Identify through the competition those individuals that show great aptitude in understanding the complexities of sustainable economic development. This will help stakeholders to quantitatively evaluate these individuals for their skills and knowledge such that they can then be placed into positions of planning and administration as they pursue their careers.
- Create advanced economic theory & development methodology by evaluating winning game strategies.
The Sustainable Planet Game: Students will both compete against, and collaborate with other teams as they strategize how to develop a virtual community in a simulated 21st-century world. All the expected issues of population growth, resource shortages, climate change impacts, and unintended industrial and weather-related disasters will be part of the exercise. Understanding how those eventualities potentially impact long term growth will challenge the teams as they create a community tasked with maintaining and expanding their prosperity as each year passes. The key to the game will be developing forward-thinking strategies which coordinate planning and maximize preparedness. Those teams that accomplish this most effectively will ultimately excel in this training platform. The qualities of anticipation and pre-planning will allow students to incorporate new and emerging technologies, applications, and civic/rural development protocols that will build an integrated community founded on sustainability.
We envision a 2 part competition. The first phase students will compete in their “Home Region” to develop a community that best matches the constructs of the environment and societal norms of the regions they live in. The second phase will combine student teams from 4 separate regions whereby the goal is to collectively build sustainable economic development across a diversified yet inter-connected national/international scale.
Each classroom/team will be tasked with developing a community in 1 of 4 virtual environments that best equates to their local regional conditions. This is desirable such that the lessons each individual student learns can be applied to their own specific community challenges as they enter the workforce and follow their career paths.
As an example: Classroom 1 in Phoenix Arizona would develop a regional community in a “Dry/warm virtual climate”. That region would be challenged by little annual rainfall, poor soil, and a blistering hot climate. Each region would also have specific naturally occurring resources the teams can maximize in addressing development. The “Dry/warm virtual climate” would have an excess of solar energy, a year-round growing climate, and favorable wind conditions natural to those regions. These communities rely on a single primary water resource such as the Colorado River to provide their water. It is that reliance which enables regional development without which they cannot support a large population.
The game objectives which will determine team scoring rankings will be:
- The creation of communities that maximize profits and production while increasing overall standards of living.
- Absorbing population and create jobs employing a maximum number of individuals.
- Sustainably managing local resources with the aim of self-reliance such that there is a reduced need for obtaining basic resources from outside the community.
- Achieving the lowest net carbon impact for the community while reducing, recycling and reusing waste streams for productive purposes.
Final scores in all categories will be awarded on a scale from 1, 2, 3… The teams that achieve the best mark will receive a score of 1 in each of the 4 scoring categories with each subsequent team being scored 2,3,4…..etc. The team which scores the lowest total score for all categories is the winner of the completion. There will also be regional awards, recognition for individual teams, categories, and innovation concepts.
In the second part of the competition, all individual regional teams will be partnered with teams from 3 other “Different regional” competitions. Together will then comprise a single “National team”. Ultimately all teams will be graded as to how they perform as part of that national team managing sustainable development across all 4 regions. Team communications will take place online in both private chat rooms and in a virtual “student union” where inter-team discussions can occur. Resources such as lectures, articles, videos, and other materials expanding on the ideas, strategies, technologies, science and other pertinent information pertaining to the game will be available to all teams for purposes of research and planning.
All competing teams in similar regions will compete in developing similar communities with the same rules and constructs specific to their home regions. Each classroom will be split into several smaller development teams. Each team will strategize to maximize their own team’s development goals within the community.
Regions will be comprised of a soon-to-be-built “New town” on a regional “Playfield” comprised of topographic and geological features common to those specific regions. The “New town” will be situated in the middle of the region. Its streets and neighborhoods are pre-divided into hundreds of lots “Parcels” with a bank, city hall, hospital, power plant, and city street/rural road infrastructure. Each neighborhood and rural area comes with existing zoning rules and regulations governing their initial development potential. The purchase and building of assets into those zoned properties would be the starting point of the actual competition once round play begins.
Before the initial round “Play” would start each small team within the community would be given money and the same number of worker families from which to make their initial investments into housing, farms, industries, markets, and so forth. After the initial round, worker salaries, production earnings, and asset valuation will determine the credits each team receives for the following rounds’ competition. These credits will be impacted by environmental, social, and market variables which are specific to each new round.
The rules for investment, expansion, and innovation opportunities would be explained and revised for each round as the game evolves. How the game evolves will be a product of student ingenuity and the random occurrence of events that result from climate, resource, social and market variables that will play in the background of the competition. Students will be instructed to use strategies that focus on the concept that maximum gains and impact will be achieved through cooperation and coordination within the 4 team structure. Teams are also encouraged to “partner” with other competing (4) teams in matters of resource, common infrastructure, and technology development. This will be necessary in order to increase overall productivity within various regions through advancements that cannot be achieved using the financial resources of a single team or team group. By creating these symbiotic partnerships, the student teams can increase their odds of creating larger solutions such as evolving technologies, or collectively invest in infrastructure such as a power utility that they could not build or acquire on their own. This will earn their teams more money and /or reduce their costs as they further their game objectives in a way that could not achieve using only their own assets. Additionally, students will have the ability to introduce new ideas and protocols into the game that they have invented (Subject to Administrative review) that may then also be included as development options for competing teams.
Some technology examples: Solar photovoltaic, solar concentrator, and passive heating systems. Wind turbines, tidal, and ground geothermal power generating systems. Vertical indoor agriculture, waste separation, algae growing technologies. Atmospheric condensing, desalinization, and water storage options.
The Play: Orientation Period Prior to the start of play, students will participate in a 2-week orientation period. This will be comprised of lectures and instruction familiarizing them with different aspects of the competition. Students will watch videos and lectures from esteemed scientists, technology developers, educators, business experts, and climate sustainability visionaries that will help prepare them for the competition. Each video will be a teaching exercise. The students will be exposed to new concepts, technologies, and strategies that will help them as they play the game. These lessons will focus on game objectives and the different tools and technology/applications that will be available to each team to help make their communities more sustainable as they start to build out their regions.
A whole menu of sustainable improvements will be available to teams as they look to improve their properties and develop their game strategies. How they employ these systems and the new technologies they purchase (Invest in) in anticipation of predictable change will ultimately play a key role in how they fare in the competition.
Every student will be given a guide to the game and gameplay explaining rules and focusing on strategic concepts and resource availability. Each team will designate a team leader to represent them in City Council decisions. The responsibility of the council is to officiate disputes over properties, oversee zoning changes, and organize discussions on the town’s overall strategy. This includes issues such as to how and what common infrastructure they build in the region, and whom and how they cooperate/coordinate with other regional teams. These will be regularly scheduled weekly meetings arranged by the regional overseeing proctor and conducted at the virtual student union on the website.
All teams in that classroom will elect a town mayor. It is then the responsibility of the mayor to initiate and lead discussions with other groups as the town/region looks to implement their coordination and cooperation strategies with other regions.
Individual teams within any region are free to discuss technology and application development freely with other teams and team groups from their own or other competing regions at the “Student Union” throughout the game. These plans and actions are unencumbered by their own community strategies and they are free to act independently should they wish.
Once the gameplay starts, each new day begins a new round. Each new round signifies a new year.
Each session begins with a regional/international video news report. These reports help to define the fluid, changing nature of the game while at the same time serving as a teaching opportunity for the students. Each report describes the year’s weather events, resource availability and costs, and anticipated future trends and predictions from experts in their fields of expertise. The trend reports will forewarn the student on a variety of subjects. These include anticipated population growth and migrations patterns, resource availability, and changing climate conditions, as well as evolving geopolitical situations which can be introduced as variables and impact gameplay. There will also be an introduction to a new technology, application, or production protocol (either already developed or available for development/investment). Teams can then strategize as to whether or not they wish to invest in its development, or purchase the improvement (if already developed) to improve their assets or those assets in their communities.
Finally, there will be a report that will focus on a team, team group, or student participating in the competition to bring recognition to their innovation, strategic mastery, or general success in the game. This is intended to provide additional motivation for students as they look to excel in the competition.
Teams are then allocated funds (credits) which they can then invest to buy, build, or improve assets that they own within that community. They can also use those credits by themselves or in partnership with other teams to develop new technologies or applications which they can then sell or license to other competing teams to earn even more credits. For various owned assets and production achievements, each team is awarded corresponding credits at the end of each round of play from which they can invest in the following round.
What we are hoping to see from the students is innovation and creativity in solving these extremely complex issues. To that end, students will have the opportunity to submit solution concepts that have a regional or national application such that they can apply for virtual develop credits to see their idea to completion. Once their concept is developed it can be monetized for credits by either selling or licensing the application to other teams in the competition. The application is then included in the application/technology menu options for the other teams to use for the remainder of the competition and beyond.
Once we have sufficient funding support or cash flow we hope to provide actual real-world incentives such as cash prizes for idea/solution development, funds for college, and other types of tangible rewards to those who excel during the course of the competition. We feel this added element/opportunity will encourage students to work even harder at both preparing and focusing during the competition. In this way, the competition itself can be their ticket to their dream job or career.
Game Development Considerations The game is being designed to be an ever-evolving virtual representation of the real world. It must reflect and approximate the challenges society faces as we grow our global economy in the face of increasingly difficult circumstances. Those specifics and control factors just like the real world are ever-changing in ways that are somewhat unpredictable, particularly as those variances play out in specific time frames. We may have a feel for the long term trends of change, but how those trends can be expressed accurately over the short term very often is a matter of chance. For the platform, probability balanced by random unpredictability will have to be programmed into the algorithms that define the realities and rules of each new round play.
As examples, those random events that will affect round play include the impacts of;
- Climate change-Droughts, severe weather events (Hurricanes, Typhoons, Tornadoes, Floods), forest fires, crop infestation.
- Resource viability-Crop failures, water restrictions, livestock feed availability, commodity availability, land-use changes, and re-designations.
- Pollution– The destruction of support habitat-(Potable water resources, cropland, fishing grounds), health impacts on worker populations.
These variations will in turn impact other aspects of the game which will then have to be factored in. Those include;
- Civil/Societal unrest/upheaval, unemployment, government collapse, business failures, the viability of existing utility infrastructure, migration patterns, population density.
These unpredictable impacts play in the background of each rounds’ play. These events will have a substantial impact on both the production and survivability (Sustainability) of team assets. Variations in controlling factors, as well as the addition of new technologies, applications and production/structural protocol improvements add a fluid component to how teams earn credits mirroring the realities of real-world economics and market fluctuations.
Online Support Network
A huge component of the competition will the virtual online community that will support the students. This will be where they fill in the blanks and act on their strategic plans and innovation concepts.
This site will have several functions;
- It will be a meeting place for teams, team groups, and inter-team group discussions and strategic planning/deal-making in private, semi-private, and community chat rooms.
- There will be reading, video, lecture, and statistical educational resources for students and teams to do research on subjects, concepts, and technology/applications relating to the competition.
- Regional University administrators will hold regularly scheduled feedback webinars and discussions on a variety of subjects pertaining to the competition with live student feedback, questions and answers.
- There will be a bulletin board for teams and team groups looking for potential partners in development concepts.
- It will serve as an up-to-date news source for the competition with in–depth and detailed analysis of the actual team strategies and circumstantial sub-currents that are impacting the competition.
Some Final Thoughts: The need to change the way we produce and use energy, food, manage water and the waste we create is the greatest entrepreneurial opportunity in human history. Never before has the need for innovation and invention been more necessary. The United Nations back in 2007 estimated the change-over to a completely renewable clean-energy global model would cost over 170 trillion dollars. That was more than 3 times Gross International Product back then. In 2018 we are less than 15% through that transformation. Some experts have said to do the same for food security could be far more costly. Just imagine the number of jobs and the economic growth that could encourage? If only we had a generation of entrepreneurs and a workforce ready to step in and accept that challenge and fill those jobs? Sustainable Planet is the first step in that preparation.
Sustainable Planet can also show politicians, city planners, and policy advocates new and better strategies on how to manage societal growth. The game will produce new economic development theory and implementation methodology based on higher production, better efficiencies, conservation, and waste reuse. Those results could potentially reverse our current perspective on the cost/benefit relationship associated with the expense of environmental stewardship. If our leadership could make these transitions a product of a growing economic base instead of a subsidized effort, how great would that be? This is the promise of what the competition could produce.
For more information on the game contact:
Bill Sosinsky-Founder and Executive Director of Energime Institute.