The latest development involves myself and my colleague sitting down a few hours to discuss how to proceed with development of the game – and ended up in us rethinking the whole thing. We realised that the problems and solutions the players would be dealing with are very abstract and general in nature, and for them to be able to engage with them we needed to make it all utterly – to the point of ridiculously – clear what each of the enablers actually meant. As we had previously gone for abstract groups of people taking general kinds of actions that generated statistics-like results on a huge map, we went the completely opposite direction and decided to try taking it all down to the village level, with very real (fictional) roles that would have to deal with negotiations regarding how to make sense of all of the enablers and try to understand which of them were reasonable. Thus it was that we came up with the (entirely fictional) village of Åkervalla.
The scenic little village of Åkervalla has a population of a few hundred people and is situated in the south of Sweden, half an hour’s drive from the town of Eslöv. There’s a primary school, a church, a small grocery store, some shops where two roads meet, and a combined garage and filling station. In the countryside outside the village there are a few farms, one of which has been transformed into a picturesque bed and breakfast, and one which has opened a flea market in a barn. Most people commute by car to Eslöv or take the train from there to Malmö or Lund – and it’s not very far to Kastrup and from there by plane to the world.
Åkervalla has it’s own local politician, who has a seat on the Eslöv town council. From there, news arrive that action is to be taken to ensure the future of not only the village and the town, but the whole world – and this involves everyone in Åkervalla stepping up and doing their part. This news was delivered by a rather excited but somewhat clueless council member along with a bunch of directives – which go by the friendly name ‘enablers’ – and the people of the village is now trying to make sense of what it’s all about and who is to do what. What actions will have to be taken to achieve ‘sustainable consumption’, and – perhaps more importantly – what kind of place will Åkervalla be once the (apparently very high) carbon emissions from food, home furnishings, and vacations have been taken care of?
This take on the problem of communicating the research results of the MISTRA sustainable consumption project is intended to allow players to take on roles similar to the ones in megagames such as Urban Nightmare: State of Chaos and Aegon’s Conquest, i.e. personas that are relatable through their strong connections to fictional characters and places/stereotypes. Problems that present themselves in the game will be handled via the players’ personas and result in actions that are not only available to the players but reasonable from the personas’ point of view. We hope that this will have players process the enablers to make them work for their roles in the game while at the same time processing them for use outside of the game, in real life. Also, by involving stereotypes and a setting with mildly comical circumstances, we aim to have the game strike a not too serious note in order to involve players and have them take a positive view on occurrences that would be rather grim should they happen in real life, such as the school building sliding into the nearby river or half the buildings of the village being demolished to make room for a combined train station/collective housing project.
Should this approach run into problems such as too high expectations on players to roleplay to make it work or perhaps the setting taking over so that the learning goals are obscured, there’s a Plan B. This is more structural in form and uses Hayworth’s doughnut as a basis for a game room with eight tables, each of which represents an aspect of the world and society (biodiversity, equality, control over resources, etc.). At each table there’s a number of enablers that players representing businesses, local/government authorities, lobby groups, and politicians can spend resources on in an attempt to achieve more sustainable consumption – however, progress at one table may prove to be a step in the wrong direction at another, making negotiations more interesting than they may at first seem.
The first stage of the design process of Åkervalla is to populate the village based on the enablers from the MISTRA project. Next, we will figure out which resources and game pieces are required to make the enablers possible to implement; once that’s done, we will process all the enablers to make it possible for the players to understand and play them in the game. Then, we’ll structure game play into rounds and add a layer of outside influences such as world politics and extreme weather, part of which will be direct consequences of the players actions. Lastly, we will flesh out the role descriptions to make them come alive in the players’ imaginations when they read them, and also make for interesting goals that each player strives to achieve.
Hopefully this design process will go fast enough that I’ll be able to write a report after an interesting playtest session held in February, 2023 – otherwise, I might discuss what comes to my mind during the game design process.