Communities face a host of unpredictable challenges — stronger storms and heavy rains, heat waves and droughts, invasive species and wildfires, epidemics and fires. Wouldn’t all this be less depressing if it involved games?
It takes true resilience to prepare and respond — the ability to work together, solve problems, and build back stronger than before. It takes action and collaboration in a number of diverse areas to build that resilience — emergency response, environmental protection, local government and utilities, community building and education. And yet hazard mitigation and emergency plans are often written in silos, by a few key experts.
Resilience games, interactive assessments and collaborative workshops make these topics a whole lot more fun, engaging and accessible. A slew of interactive activities are out there today, all of which can help build connections among a broad range of stakeholders and community leaders, helping to build understanding of shared challenges and build momentum for shared solutions.
Check out some of our favorites and try using them in your community. Want to bring an event or customized version to your group or town? Get in touch - we’d love to help!
Any closet dungeons & dragons fans out there? Participants of all ages love this immersive resilience game, where they take on a variety community roles, work together and find out what it takes to build true resilience and community in the face of disaster. This detailed game is ideal for 20-60 people, whether community members, planners or technical audiences. You can download a full set of game materials that simulate a city of about 200,000 people and include variations for floods, hurricanes and earthquakes, rent the materials, or hire a facilitator.
What We Love: You’re immersed in this award-winning game from the minute you walk in the door, and participants always have some big “aha moments” about the complex interactions between planning and response, and the importance of building community.
How We Adapt It: We work with many small towns and rural areas, with their own distinct needs and challenges. We’ve created an adaptation of this game that more accurately depicts communities with less than 50,000 (or 5,000!) people, and incorporates the real lessons we’ve learned from working on resilience projects with Vermont communities.
If Extreme Event sounds pretty intense (it is!), Resilience Bingo is about as simple as it gets. This simple activity is a great ice breaker or intro game for any community meeting or workshop: just design and print your bingo cards, pass them out, and go! Instead of letters and numbers, these bingo cards include a variety of skills and resources needed for community resilience. Participants win by completing a row, and the whole community wins by learning more about their neighbors and needs. Download our free printable version here or design your own!
What We Love: This activity is incredibly simple to create, use and adapt for most any community or group. Even better, it helps people get to know each other and learn about community assets.
How We Adapt It: We tailor the cards to whichever town or group we’re working with — changing or adding squares that are important for that particular place. We try to offer a prize to up the ante — bonus points if it’s related to resilience (think first aid kit or seed packets). And we often use this activity to kick off a real asset mapping process — collect the cards at the end, and you have a head start on identifying local resources!
Community Resilience Assessment
This great tool isn’t quite a game, but it can be a fun and interactive (and serious!) way for community members to work together and understand how their community measures up in a range of resilience categories. The assessment includes four big categories and several dozen areas; participants evaluate where they are on a spectrum and give their community a score. Individuals can take the assessment as an online tool and save their results, or download a copy to use in a meeting or group setting. Communities can track their progress over time and see how they improve.
What We Love: This is a robust tool that allows communities to look comprehensively at their resilience actions, and understand a range of ways to improve on them. It’s simple scoring also makes it easy to hone in on areas of improvement, and it can be used in a variety of ways.
How We Adapt It: Most communities wouldn’t have a single person with all the knowledge needed to fill this out, so it works best when you bring together people with different roles in the community to complete it together. Bonus: that means they have to talk to each other! We like to run this activity as a larger event — either following the Extreme Event game, or in a workshop with keypad polling to prioritize areas for action.
Resilience is a tough concept for adults to understand, and it can be even trickier for kids. This toolkit from Rand is the full package: talking points and simple messages, activities that integrate with school curriculum, and a fun scavenger hunt game that empowers high schoolers to understand and identify ways to proactively build resilience.
What We Love: This is an approachable and adaptable game that brings resilience down to earth. It’s also a full kit, with carefully designed messages and instructions that make it easy to run.
How We Adapt It: Like most games, we change this one up to have specific details, challenges, talking points and clues that fit the particular group of kids or community we work with. And while this game is geared toward high schoolers, we find that younger kids are pretty great at building resilience too — we’ve adapted parts of this kit to work for middle schoolers or even mature elementary-aged kids.
Here’s another great role playing game, this time geared more toward professionals with a solid understanding of hazards and mitigation actions. You get the same collaborative decision-making fun of the Extreme Event Game, but with a more technical challenge based on sea level rise on the California coast. Players must argue for specific investments in hazard mitigation steps, based on a detailed understanding of flood projections and mitigation benefits. You can download the materials for free or pre-order a game set from Marin County.
What We Love: This game gives professionals real practice at understanding tradeoffs and making tough choices about where to invest and where to let things go. The mitigation actions are realistic, and the big picture questions are applicable to many communities.
How We Adapt It: The California model is applicable to many coastal communities, but not so much for inland areas or communities facing non-flood hazards. We’ve used the concepts of this game to create game boards with different maps and investments that work for rural mountain communities, smaller towns, or areas facing fire, wind, snow and ice, or other hazards.
There are dozens of great games out there — we can’t stop at just 5. Here are links to additional games, activities and resources. Leave us a comment and tell us about others that you like and we’ll keep adding to the list!
Rand Corporation has developed a number of resilience toolkits with activities and messages, table top exercises and more.
Games4Sustainability includes a blog and Gamepedia platform with more than 100 simulations and games around climate and sustainability, including stories of how they are used.
Centre for Systems Solutions offers several simulations and multiplayer games for systemic challenges including energy transition, sustainability and more.
Climate Interactive has a great list of 19 games that could change the future, from computer games to apps to board games — including many familiar games that can be adapted for serious resilience education and planning.