Joost Vervoort awarded Vidi grant to unlock the potential of games for sustainable societies

Dr Joost Vervoort has been awarded an NWO Vidi grant to research how simulation gaming can be used to experiment with new ways of organising sustainable future societies.

State and non-state actors around the world are urgently seeking new ways to reach global goals such as the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). But where do governments and other actors start when exploring the complex interdisciplinary challenges associated with achieving these goals?

The potential of games for sustainability challenges comes in many shapes and forms, from tabletop roleplaying to VR games. This prototype was developed by students at a game jam in Glasgow facilitated by Joost. Image: Joost Vervoort

Current anticipatory governance approaches lacking

‘Anticipatory governance’ is a term for processes of governance that actively consider the future to inform present day decisions. While current model-based methods are able to provide macro-level analyses about the scale of change needed, these approaches are unable to offer insights into changes needed to systems of governance and to roles of different societal actors.

Games offer unique possibilities for people to engage with the big issues of our time

The potential of games in governance simulations

This is where games can come in. Games offer unique possibilities for people to engage with the big issues of our time. They are a huge part of today’s media landscape – arguably more so than films. Different societal actors are now exploring how they can be used for large-scale political change efforts.

Uniquely, games allow players to directly engage with complex systems and the stories that they create. Games, especially (multi-player) role-playing games, combine a focus on ‘rules’ to represent the dynamics of a system, and ‘roles’ through which players can engage with a system from different subjective perspectives. This combination of roles and rules makes them specifically valuable for simulations of (future) systems of governance.

A groundbreaking new ground-breaking methodological approach

The new research project, called ‘ANTICIPLAY’, will look at how the participatory designing of games can help conceive and frame current systems of governance and their sustainability challenges, as well as future governance alternatives, to develop a new ground-breaking methodological approach – game co-design for anticipatory governance.

Joost at the Climate March: 'There are parallels between global sustainability challenges and games such as Dark Souls that feature themes of hopelessness and struggle". Image: Jonas Torrens

About Joost Vervoort

Dr Joost Vervoort is an Assistant Professor of Foresight and Anticipatory Governance in the Environmental Governance Group at the Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development, Utrecht University. He is also an Honorary Research Associate at the Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford and a Research Fellow at the Research Institute for Humanity and Nature, Kyoto. Joost also leads the CCAFS Scenarios Project and RE-IMAGINE.