The board game I’ve moved furtherest along the development track is a two-person cooperative game. Set matching is the central mechanic. The sets are used to remove/replace blocks on a circular grid. The circular grid is actually a doughnut where players try to stay in a ring
away from the centre of the doughnut, but not too far away from the centre: the sweet spot of the doughnut.
The doughnut was first presented in Kate Raworth’s Oxfam paper from 2012. I first heard about that work at a conference on the Mathematics of Planet Earth in Philadelphia, PA, USA in September 2016. I sat in the second to the front row of a large hotel banquet hall. There were two large projector screens side-by-side at the front. Only the one on the left was being used, that side of the room being closer to the pair of double doors leading to the hallway.
I had a habit of taking a seat a couple of minutes early and always towards the front. That was a particularly good plan this time. Just as Dr. Mary Lou Zeeman was starting to speak, I turned around and saw my half of the rows of folding chairs nearly full and the other half somewhat populated. She was about to speak about Food Systems and Security. It was her third to the last slide that really caught my attention.
When one Door Closes, Another Opens
I had just wrapped up six years of research into predicting how soon after a cloud forms the rain begins to fall. That’s one of the remaining unsolved areas of climate modelling. By wrapping up I mean I successfully defended my dissertation, and when one life event stops another starts.
I had taken a couple of days off from my new university teaching position to attend a conference of mathematicians who are studying climate modelling and climate change, which by the way is different than climate scientists studying the same subjects.
Continuing with any research that was meant to improve climate models wasn’t going to be fulfilling. In those six years of attending and presenting at several conferences per year, I came to realize that the problem was not with the accuracy of the models. The problem was with how the results are seen and accepted (or not) by the public. It was not a scientific problem of accuracy, but a social problem of communication.
I thought teaching at university might be fulfilling. I’d have the opportunity to communicate important topics through lessons and exercises. Unfortunately, even that venture was not particularly fulfilling. I stayed for a year teaching statistics, but it was sadly too similar to teaching high school mathematics. Nevertheless, Raworth’s model which presented multiple social conditions and environmental conditions in a visually digestible graph had remained no further than the edge of my mind.
A New Direction
Not quite three years later, I was at some political/social organizing function in downtown Victoria, BC, Canada where I saw Raworth’s doughnut being presented by an economics graduate student. During a breakout
group, I made a new friend. Hey Greg. We were both interested in this relatively new model.
I started reading scientific articles that downscaled Raworth’s doughnut shaped economic model. There was one examining the model downscaled to the city level, another that applied the doughnut model to two water sheds in China, and a third that customized the model to South Africa. This research felt meaningful enough that I began downscaling the model to British Columbia, Canada.
Not too long after I began this research, I encountered a Canadian politician distorting the science behind the IPCC Reports. By encounter, I mean I sat in a folding chair in a row and listened to them speak. As much as I wanted to point / counter-point, their voice was much louder and wider than mine, but serendipitously enough I had just stumbled upon a board game play-testing group. Lots of people love playing board games. Not just gamers either.
I joined these two causes together to design and produce board games that bring awareness of climate change to those in the public that would not otherwise be exposed to such ideas. The specific aspects of climate change that my board games deal with are environmental conditions such as greenhouse gases, biodiversity loss, and land use allocation, while simultaneously addressing social conditions such as availability of nourishing food and clean water, stable housing, and safe democracy. The very elements that constitute Raworth’s doughnut.
As both Raworth and Zeeman point out, we need to keep environmental conditions below a maximum value, a ceiling; and keep social conditions above a minimum foundation. In other words keep greenhouse gases below a critical threshold and keep the percentage of people living in stable housing above a minimum threshold, … like everybody! When we, as a society, and as a human species are able to do that for all of the conditions, then we are able to have all of humanity living in a Safe and Just Space on planet Earth.
And that’s exactly what the two players cooperating in my board game: Climate Change 2030: Running out of Time need to accomplish, and they only have 10 years to do it.