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  • Getting to Green

    An administrator pushes, on a shoestring budget, to move his university and the world toward a more sustainable equilibrium.

Gaming the system
July 18, 2011 - 5:00pm

It occurs to me that, if I'm to have any success getting Greenback U, as a community, to envision a sustainable future for itself, I need to get lots and lots of students (faculty, too, but I think the students are more important at first) involved.

Thus, I either have to budget for vast quantities of beer -- to be dispensed both freely and free -- or I need to turn this whole thing into a game. (The 'game' approach seems likely to result in less trouble with the law.)

So what sort of game-ish undertaking might move us forward? What aspect of sustainable operations should it focus attention on? How will it be fun for the students? What sort of cooperative/competitive environment should it foster? What should be the heart of the player experience (what game designers call the "core mechanic")?

As regards an aspect of sustainability, I'm thinking either food or transportation. Transportation is a constant concern of our students, whether they live on campus or off, whether they bring a car or not. Of course, food's a pretty constant topic of interest as well.

I'm thinking that I might start out by focusing on transit, on the theory that students understand the ins and outs of getting around better than they do the ins and outs of producing food. At least, most of them do.

My long-term goal is to build a consensus vision of a sustainable future, toward which the campus (and its community) can take steps to evolve. So, if the initial topic is to be transport, we need at least a rough vision of a sustainable transportation system. And since the university's transportation scheme can't be sustainable if the city's isn't (the two being closely intertwined), the vision has to include large sections of Backboro, either explicitly or by implication.

My first thought is to split the Backboro metropolitan area (or, at least, the part of it closest to campus) into a number of segments (probably 4 to 7). Then arrange a competition where teams of students (perhaps under faculty advisement) propose a transport solution for one of the segments. Each team would be in competition with each other team addressing the same segment. But part of the judging criteria can be how well the particular segment plan meshes with plans for other segments, to incent cooperation/coordination as well as competition.

Game rules need to reflect some real-world complexities such as capital cost, operating cost, existing infrastructure, right-of-way issues, and population density (a major factor in demand). But they needn't incorporate every challenge which will arise in the real world -- just enough to assure that whatever solution is proposed reflects a combination of technical, social, political and economic factors.

Maybe organize it as an iterative series of charettes -- teams get together all at the same time, for maybe six hours. They propose/advance and document their designs. Then all the designs are made available for a week or two before the next iteration begins.

Solutions should be based on technologies that already exist -- at least in the laboratory -- so that implementation within a generation or so is seen as possible.

Get some competitive juices flowing, generate some buzz, reward a combination of practicality and audacity, and provide appropriate rewards. Something minor to identify members of teams from the start. Some sort of apparel or accessory to identify members of teams who return for the second or third iteration. Free beer (oops! there I go again) for the winners. Or up-front tickets to the next big concert on campus. Or something else adequately celebratory. If the thing evolves as I suspect it might, the various designs will tend to coalesce and it's very possible that all the teams will "win" the competition.

Of course, that wouldn't really be a problem. Rather the opposite. (Except when it comes to funding the prizes.)

 

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