Gamification for Sustainability: Games That Change the World


From the beginning of our lives, human beings discover the world through play and games, activities that favor brain development and do not discriminate between historic periods or cultures. Throughout history, human beings have learned through this playful exercise, an endeavor that’s especially linked to our first years of life when a large number of neural connections are gestated. However, these activities have mutated to become an accelerated learning tool with a high impact on the cognitive processes of people of any age.

Gamification transforms real world concepts, theories or practices into game dynamics aimed at learning those very concepts. The dynamics of the games is thus transferred to the educational/professional sphere. The game makes people feel emotions, therefore, people feel connected with the information that is being transmitted to them, which generates cognitions in less time and facilitates the long-term internalization of concepts.

Without ignoring the impact of traditional pedagogy that add to this effort, it is important to note that play, as explained by David Kolb in the eighties as an experiential learning theory, presents itself as a relevant model to facilitate changes of thought, and therefore of conduct.

Sustainable development – despite being an imperative for the survival of humanity and for the balance of the planet – is still a strange concept for many people, which is why it has used gamification (analog and digital) to respond to the urgent need to amplify its message and generate paradigm shifts.

Enter the 2030 Global Goals game

Based on the above and on interdisciplinary theoretical knowledge that merges psychology, gamification and sustainability, Habitat Games —a Panamanian social enterprise whose objective is to promote ecological thinking and the culture of sustainability through game-based learning— developed the 2030 Global Goals game: an ideal resource to test people’s knowledge regarding the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) proposed by the United Nations (UN) in 2015.

The game appears in the middle of the pandemic with the support of the City of Knowledge, strengthening its commitment to scientific knowledge and innovation for development. “When you think about creative and cultural industries, there is no ‘games’ category, but from the artistic point of view, it works very similar. At Habitat Games, we have turned games into an opportunity to generate social transformation because we want to generate high impact. We think first of the profit and then of the margin” says Raúl Chang, Co-Creator of Games at Habitat Games.

Raising awareness and educating are two of the game’s objectives, however, the goal goes much further, since the activity is expected to be an engine to gather voices, generate conversation, be a catalyst for activities, events and experiences to strengthen teams: “the value we deliver with the product is social, educational and has a high transformation potential,” says Chang.

The idea was born in a family conversation, when Andrés Tarté, founder and director of Habitat Games, received a suggestion from his father, the prominent Panamanian scientist Rodrigo Tarté: design a game about sustainable development, which captures its complexities, to increase the interest of people and help raise awareness. “That idea changed my mental chip and I started looking for ideas to gamify,” says Tarté. What followed was a long process of creation, prototyping and validation that culminated in Ecópolis, his first game.

In 2019, Habitat Games launched its GameRoom concept at the CSR Week organized by Sumarse. There, the first prototype version of the 2030 Global Goals debuted, enjoying great acceptance among the participants. This game is committed to deepening the message of the 2030 Agenda, but with a simpler game dynamic: “Ecópolis is a little more complex and has more elements, but the 2030 Global Objectives game was born as a card game with greater potential for a wider appeal. It has been designed to share with friends, but also for NGOs, schools, universities and companies of all kinds, to whom we grant licenses to carry out their workshops, turning them into multiplying agents of the social benefit for which the game was created ”concludes Tarté.

The game contains 186 unique cards, each associated with specific SDG goals, and can be played in four different modes, where up to eight players or teams can participate. Now, with an initial print run of 1000 copies, the goal is to reach scenarios where people share and dialogue: “we are committed to face-to-face experiences, although we have adapted the workshops to the digital modality due to pandemic issues.  In the coming months we will surely have learning experiences under both modalities ”, says Tarté.

On the other hand, it is expected that the game will not only permeate the spaces of academic institutions and organizations, but also reach homes: “one of the great challenges is that these games break that institutional barrier and enter our homes, because they are ‘serious’ games, but that does not mean that they are not fun ”, ponders Chang.

Responsible production

Like any game, this one needed a coherent, impactful narrative. Seeking to measure up to the elevated purpose that summoned it, the game was manufactured from 99% recycled materials, its rules are printed on the sides of the box to save material and, in addition, the manufacturer is a Women Run Company certified by the US Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC).

2030 Global Goals also complies with all the guidelines for the commercial use of the SDGs’ graphic art and has the express authorization of the United Nations Department of Global Communication for such purposes. “We’ve worked for four years, focused not only on developing the game, but all that this implies: the management of allies, prototyping, validation, manufacturing, commercialization, among others” indicates Tarté.

The City of Knowledge, promoting experiential learning

The City of Knowledge Foundation is committed to joining forces to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and therefore decided to partner with Habitat Games to promote the 2030 Global Goals game: “the City of Knowledge made a substantial purchase of units in pre-sale, which made it easier for us to take the risk of running a small print run, and that’s how the game is hitting the market, ”says Chang.

There are many intrinsic motivations that facilitate learning when associated with play. The mere act of trying, making mistakes or failing, and then trying again, gives a different dynamic to traditional magisterial methodologies. Furthermore, discovering skills in playful contexts encourages exploration and experimentation; that is why more and more, the industry is committed to creating games with purpose, focused on the needs of people and that end up becoming tools that accelerate the fulfillment of the sustainable development agenda worldwide.

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