Gaming the way to sustainable water management

Canadians are very fortunate to have proper access to sanitation systems that ensure our wastewater is dealt with appropriately. However, there is an on-going need in many communities to better improve how water resources are managed. The first key step to creating best practices in wastewater management is to understand the interconnectivity of the water systems that we are using, and that includes understanding who all the water users are, and what impacts everyone may have on the system. It is therefore necessary to maintain collaborative networks between public, private and civil society stakeholders at different organizational levels to establish sustainable water governance. But how can this be done when it is often difficult to get these groups together and share ideas and information on a level that everyone can understand?

A novel technological approach to this problem in resource management is serious games. AquaRepublica is a free-to-play game simulation that is designed to provide opportunities for participants to try out diverse strategies for watershed management in a simplified version of the real world. It allows participants to act as watershed planners who have to find ways to manage conflicts and trade-offs involved in watershed management.

Aqua Republica allows for stakeholders to come together and connect in an informal and low-stakes environment. As such, stakeholders playing the game together are afforded the opportunity to share best-practices, experiences and perspectives insofar as watershed management is concerned. This novel technology is part of a recent trend that looks at using advanced ICT (information, communication, technology) to advance watershed management. Specifically, the UpSWinG (Understanding game-based approaches for improving sustainable water governance) project, a collaboration between the Universities of McGill, Waterloo and Wageningen, is studying the role of serious games for stakeholder collaboration in the St-Lawrence river valley.

Water resource management has never been more important. Proper wastewater management is a significant challenge that needs more attention from municipalities. This knowledge gap could be filled by implementing serious games. Aqua Republica does not specifically deal with wastewater, but it does take it into consideration. Continued research and interest in serious games will hopefully expand the scope of these games. Perhaps one day a game specifically tackling the subject of wastewater will be created that will allow municipalities to try out different strategies in a no-stakes virtual environment.

Colleen Cranmer and Steven Jean

Colleen Cranmer recently joined ESSA Technologies in Ottawa, Canada. As part of the International Climate Change and Adaptation team, she works on a variety of projects involving community adaptation plans, hydroelectric dam impact assessments, and r... Read full biography