Teaching Ocean Stewardship through Board Games

By Megan Buras, SRC intern

When you think about ocean conservation, the last thing that probably comes to mind is board games, but scientists from Northern Germany have found a creative way to link the two (Koenigstein et al. 2020). In order to teach students the cognitive skills required to solve marine sustainability problems, they have developed Ocean Limited, an immersive tabletop game that focuses not only on being educational, but linking ocean stewardship to the actions of each individual. Students play as different characters, such as a shipping company CEO, a journalist, the mayor of a coastal town, a commercial fisher, or even an aquaculture farmer. Each character has an objective to accomplish and has specific actions they can take to fulfill their goal. Depending on the players’ choices, their actions can cause environmental impacts. As time progresses, game events occur (ranging from invasive species’ population booms to oil tanker spills) that impact players’ economic activities and income. Mirroring real-world sustainability issues, the game requires players to collaborate to mitigate these negative impacts. When Ocean Limited was play-tested with students in high school and environmental education groups, they found it was very successful at having players actively take part in a way that promotes an understanding of the interdependency of ocean users and their own direct and indirect environmental impacts (Koenigstein et al. 2020).

A group of students play testing Ocean Limited (Source: Koenigsteing et al. 2020)

This game was specifically developed to be played face-to-face to encourage student participation and minimize distractions that digital games often provide (Koenigstein et al. 2020). However, the global pandemic has required educators to be more creative with actively engaging their students at a distance. While Ocean Limited might not be an option for teachers at this time, other digital games focusing on ocean and environmental stewardship exist. FishBanks is an online multiplayer fishery management game that can teach players to manage renewable resources sustainably while tying in economic context (Newton et al. 2015). Games such as Keep Cool and Climate Quest are other online alternatives that focus more on global climate change policies and protecting fragile ecosystems, but still have a strong emphasis on active participation (Creutzig et al. 2020).

FishBanks is a web-based fishery management game where players must find a balance between maximizing profits and sustainably handling fish stocks (Image source: Meritt Thomas on Unsplash)

Through Ocean Limited, these scientists could show that educating people with games provides a direct understanding of complex real-world issues (Koenigstein et al. 2020). As technology advances, it will open more doors of opportunity to expand how we can teach others environmental stewardship in a meaningful and impactful way.

Works cited

Creutzig, F., and F. Kapmeier. 2020. Engage, don’t preach: Active learning triggers climate action. Energy Research & Social Science 70:101779.

Koenigstein, S., L.-H. Hentschel, L. C. Heel, and C. Drinkorn. 2020. A game-based education approach for sustainable ocean development. ICES Journal of Marine Science.

Newton, E. 2015. A Brief Analysis of Fishbanks and Natural Resource Management Decision-Making Simulation Games: Converting a current NRM game into a web-based application.