This story was originally written by Hakai Magazine and here as climate desk cooperate.

Two kilometers inland from Hawke’s Bay on New Zealand’s North Island, a crimson gate off the highway marks the entrance to Tangoio Marae. This marae is where the local Maori hapū or community hold regular gatherings and ceremonies. The location seemed perfect: surrounded by lush green hills, close to the city of Napier and just a stone’s throw from the sea. But there’s a catch: the risk of flooding in the swamp is very high. Tangoio Marae’s hapū made serious decisions about a place so important to their community, and one of their decision-making tools was unorthodox: board games.

so-called monopoly, The Māori community designed the game in collaboration with researchers from New Zealand’s National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA), with the express aim of helping hapū decide how to manage flood risk in its wetlands. While NIWA researchers provided scientific data on known flood risks and projected climate change impacts, hapū presented their own experiences and values ​​during a game development brainstorming session.

“Brainstorming is really important,” says NIWA social scientist Paula Blackett, who co-designed with Marae-opoly. “It allows people to express their ideas about what can be done [to address the flood risk], and why. It’s a very inclusive approach because you consider all possible different things. “

The turning of Marae-opoly occurs in several steps. First, the team discusses how to deal with flood risk and chooses to make the marsh more resilient to flooding by waterproofing buildings, raising flood levees, or improving drainage; moving its location; or waiting and saving money. In each round, random “rainmaker” events that reflect the true chance of extreme weather determine rainfall for that decade. Sometimes teams are hit by devastating floods, sometimes dry, but it’s impossible to predict when what will happen. Take turns and so on until players experience 100 years of climate change, with decisions they make early on that get complicated over time.

When the game was ready, dozens of hapū gathered in their Mare for a Saturday game. It’s a lively event with teams debating their options each round.

“While this is a safe environment, it actually makes people aware that whatever decision they make will have consequences,” said Tania Hopmans, chairperson of the Maungaharuru-Tangitū Trust representing Tangoio Marae hapū. For example, investing early in the game for bigger savings could put them at risk of higher costs due to flood damage, but spending a small amount could mean insufficient protection against larger floods.

Games like Marae-opoly are what researchers call serious games—games designed for specific educational purposes. NIWA has been using serious games for several years as a way for people to better understand the risks of climate change.

“Most people are struggling to integrate all the different streams of information they need to make robust climate change adaptation decisions in the unknown future,” Blackett said. Games make this kind of information more manageable and allow people to experience it on a small scale.

Over the past few years, board games have been used around the world to teach a wide range of topics, from medical skills to cultural history and more. Like Marae-opoly, the game can be used to simulate real-world environmental scenarios. For example, Azteca Chess helps Mexican coffee farmers make decisions about pest control.

According to Rebecca Bayeck, an expert on the educational value of games at Utah State University who was not involved in the Marae-opoly project, board games have intrinsic qualities that make them a suitable learning environment. “Collaboration, mathematical thinking, computational thinking — all those skills you need in the 21st century — can actually be found in board games.”

Even commercially designed games can be used for education. For example, Pandemic, a board game in which players work together to stop a global outbreak of several infectious diseases, has been used to teach group decision-making. More recently, the game has gained renewed interest during the COVID-19 pandemic as a casual way to understand the complexities of what’s going on in the world.

But why a board game? Unlike video games, Bayeck believes board games create a welcoming space because they foster human connection.Play games” invite personal interactions where you can see each other’s faces [players]look at their expressions, ask a question,” she said.

Playing Marae-opoly’s casual environment has hapū openly having difficult discussions about their options – either staying to protect the marae from impending floods, or moving the cultural and spiritual center of their community.

By playing the game, Hopmans said, “people can have a heated argument at the dinner table about what to do or not to do, and the results show up after five minutes.”

In addition to facilitating debate, the game clarifies complex concepts. “One of the things that really stood out to me was how people think about and deal with risk,” Blackett said.

For example, a particularly dangerous type of flood in New Zealand is often referred to as a 100-year flood, which sounds unlikely to happen anytime soon. The reality is that there is an equal chance of a 100-year flood each year, and it is possible to have two 100-year floods in a row. Climate change also makes these extreme floods more likely.

Marae-opoly helps Tangoio Marae’s Māori community better assess the risks of their meeting places and how their behaviour affects likely outcomes. This was a low-stakes trial of an important decision – after weighing all options, the community made the real decision. “We’re moving the marae,” Hopmans said.

Fortunately, a local farm recently sold them a plot of land just 300 meters from marae’s current location on slightly higher ground. “Over time, we may still need to take further action,” Hopmans warned, as flooding could eventually catch up to the new location. But, she added, “At this point, we’re definitely moving forward.”

Relocating a site with such cultural and spiritual significance was a difficult decision, and it involved real people and real money. But playing a board game makes it easier to handle.