The Nexus Game

Lead Research Organisation: University of Exeter
Department Name: Engineering Computer Science and Maths

Abstract

The worldwide use of decision games, or often called Serious Games ('games that do not have entertainment as their primary purpose'), is becoming more popular and allows players/stakeholders to experience situations that are impossible in the real world for reasons of safety, cost, time or their rare occurrence. Examples of Serious Gaming applications include domains as diverse as healthcare, public policy, defence, training and education. In contrast to traditional Game Theory or Operations Research where scenarios or problems are typically well structured, serious gaming can simulate more complex, dynamic, uncertain, socially-coupled scenarios, referred to as "wicked problems" that are prevalent in the real world.

Water supply and demand, food production and energy provision and consumption are intimately linked physically, socially and economically, forming the Water-Food-Energy Nexus, an interconnected system that is increasingly a cause for concern due to projected demand growth. Strategic decision making for planning and management of infrastructure supporting the Water-Food-Energy the Nexus is an example of such wicked problems. It can, therefore, benefit from leveraging the technical strengths of simulation models and the social strengths of multi-player/stakeholder engagement in a game execution.

The Serious Gaming approach offers potentially transformative capabilities to strategic decision-support tools to provide better management of complex infrastructure systems compared to purely technical simulation or optimisation methods that have difficulty in capturing the socio-technical challenges of complex systems. The Nexus Game will simulate the evolution of the Nexus system with player(s) interfering in a system's dynamics through various choice variables/interventions. This represents a paradigm shift not only from the approaches that focus solely on technical issues, but also a shift from policy and regulatory regimes that concentrate on individual Nexus components separately.

Planned Impact

The project will focus on UK water infrastructure and water security within the Water-Food-Energy Nexus (i.e., how it could be achieved; possible future scenarios, threats, synergies, uncertainties; what policy approaches can/should be developed and applied, etc). Thus it would directly address a major societal challenge: how should the UK achieve its basic provisioning of water/food/energy in the future, but with a particular focus on water, a strategic question of great importance to any society. Water security is also vital to future UK economic success and environmental integrity as failure to achieve security could have dire consequences for other sectors.

The use of Serious Gaming in water engineering and management is in very early stages and requires initial research and development to explore the potential of this exciting approach. This project will deliver a fast turnaround and open this new approach to wider audiences of policy makers, water engineers and other scientists involved in water research and management. This project will also deliver impact nationally (policy-based research) and internationally (by highlighting issues associated with the interdependencies between water, food and energy), which is a key goal of the EPSRC strategic plan. Furthermore, national excellence in simulation and modelling for water engineering applications, with significant international academic impact, will be strengthened because this project combines, uniquely, technical and socio-economic considerations into a single, complexity modelling framework taking account of societies having to adapt national infrastructure for environmental (climate) change.
 
Description A conceptually simple, but computationally elaborate new game for water distribution system analysis, design and evaluation (SeGWADE) was developed. It has a main goal of finding a least-cost design for a well-known benchmark problem, for which the game environment takes the computational and visualisation burden away from the simulation tool and the player. The game has been evaluated in a classroom environment in which a high degree of player engagement with the game was observed, due to its basic game ingredients and activities, i.e., challenge, play and fun. In addition, a clear improvement in learning has been observed in how players attempted to identify solutions that satisfy the pressure criterion with players readily identifying the proximity of the better solutions to the starting, infeasible configuration. Through applications of Serious Gaming such as this, decision makers can learn about the complexity of the water-food-energy nexus problems, experiment safely using a computer model of a real system, understand conflicting objectives (i.e., minimization of cost and satisfaction of minimum pressure) and develop strategies for coping with complexity without being burdened by the limitations of the ICT technology at their disposal. Further developments of the games includes a new game for Millbrook (Cornwall) in collaboration with Westcountry Rivers Trust and games developed in the follow-on EU projects involving better visualisation of risks related to interconnected infrastructure and water-food-energy-environment nexus.
Exploitation Route This approach can be used for engagement of various stakeholders involved in the water-food-energy nexus management.
Sectors Environment

 
Description We have been working with the Westcountry Rivers Trust to use our serious game and visualisation technology in engaging local stakeholders in Millbrook (Cornwall) flood management discussions. We have also been invited to participate in two EU Horizon 2020 projects, which will involve us developing a serious game and visualisation applications for the water-food-energy nexus management (SIM4NEXUS) and interconnected critical infrastructure (EU-CIRCLE). Further two EU projects have also been approved, which will also develop serious games for water in the circular economy (NestGen) and nature-based solutions for flood management (RECONECT).
First Year Of Impact 2016
Sector Environment
Impact Types Societal

 
Description H2020-DRS-201 (EU-CIRCLE)
Amount € 7,283,525 (EUR)
Funding ID 653824 
Organisation European Commission 
Sector Public
Country European Union (EU)
Start 06/2015 
End 05/2018
 
Description SIM4NEXUS (H2020-WATER-2015-two-stage)
Amount € 7,895,657 (EUR)
Funding ID 689150 
Organisation European Commission 
Sector Public
Country European Union (EU)
Start 06/2016 
End 05/2020
 
Title CP SeGWADE - Competing Player Serious Game for WDS Analysis, Design & Evaluation 
Description An online, web-based Serious Game developed to investigate end-user behaviour when faced with complex Water Distribution Systems design and rehabilitation problems. It couples an innovative and visually attractive interactive WebGL front-end with a server-side modelling engine handling real-time hydraulic simulation. A multiplayer online game infrastructure is implemented allowing interactions with a model to be instantly broadcast to all competing users. The interactions are recorded and saved as text files and can be subsequently be replayed or analysed to explore the decision making process in detail. 
Type Of Technology Webtool/Application 
Year Produced 2016 
Impact The game was played by a class of 20 MSc students at UNESCO-IHE (Delft, The Netherlands) during one continuous session in June 2016. Through applications of SG such as this, participants were able to learn about the complexity of the water distribution system design problem, experiment safely using a computer model of a real system, understand conflicting objectives (i.e., minimization of cost and satisfaction of minimum pressure) and develop strategies for coping with complexity without being burdened by the limitations of the ICT technology at their disposal. The game engine and user interface are based on the open-source principles (the code is hosted on GiTHub at https://github.com/gentr1/DWS_serious_game). 
URL https://github.com/gentr1/DWS_serious_game
 
Title TB SeGWADE -Team-Based Serious Game for Water Distribution Systems Analysis, Design & Evaluation 
Description This multi-player online Serious Game has been developed to allow users to work in competing teams to optimize a Water Distribution System problem in which network reinforcement is undertaken by selecting pipes to be duplicated to meet a minimum pressure requirement across the network as well as minimising resulting costs, leakage and water age. A game interface has been introduced with which it is possible to introduce environmental events and incidents for the players having to cooperate to solve problems. Game types that can be configured include: (i) Design-related tasks - constructing networks so as to minimize future problems where interactions are compared to a metric so as to evaluate how compliant it is with relevant engineering standards; (ii) Post-incident tasks: diagnostic of problem(s) and mitigation actions; and (iii) Optimisation tasks: single-user or multi-user optimisation. In the case of multi-user optimisation tasks, several users can have conflicting priorities. The code is hosted as open source on GiTHub at https://github.com/gentr1/water-serious-game. 
Type Of Technology Webtool/Application 
Year Produced 2016 
Impact The Game was evaluated through the STREAM CDT event (11-14 July, Torquay) during which 24 postgraduate students were grouped into 8 teams competing to obtain the best WDS design solution. Participants were able to learn about the complexity of the water distribution system design problem, experiment safely using a computer model of a real system, understand conflicting objectives (i.e., minimization of cost and satisfaction of minimum pressure) and develop strategies for coping with complexity without being burdened by the limitations of the ICT technology at their disposal. Team members had to communicate and coordinate their activities in order to optimise their common water distribution network. 
URL https://github.com/gentr1/water-serious-game
 
Description EU-Circle Workshop in Athens 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact On the 14th-15th-16th January 2018 - Athens - EU-Circle - We presented a demonstration of visualisation prototypes for:1- Urban coastal flooding Torbay UK 2- Urban coastal flooding Paignton UK + Infrastructure failure 3- Infrastructure failure for Cyprus. The workshop was organised as follows : day 1- CIRP training . Hands on practice. Day 2 - Case study discussion - link to CIRP. Transfer of experience from CS1 France. Torbay/Dresden/ Bangladesh/Cyprus case studies presentation and needs for further development of analyses. AT / CIRP training - discussion of remaining work and deliverables. Day 3 - Cyprus case study only. Optional only for to be involved in the case study. Scope is to define what analyses will be used.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016,2017,2018
 
Description Participating in an international stakeholder workshop for interconnected critical infrastructure (as part of the EU-CIRCLE project) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact This was attendance and presentation of the flood visualisation/game software to project partners (H2020 - EU-CIRCLE) and stakeholders from Cyprus.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www.eu-circle.eu/news-events/
 
Description Stakeholder visit for a workshop organised by the Westcountry Rivers Trust 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The two research fellows attended an open meeting with stakeholders in Millbrook, which was flooded in 2012. The open meeting was arranged by the Westcountry Rivers Trust to investigate ways of using games and visualisation to present outcomes of the flood risk study conducted.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Stakeholder workshop for Sim4nexus in University of Exeter 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact Stakeholder workshop for Sim4nexus where different visualisation prototypes were demonstrated, as well as stakeholder contributed some input the models regarding interactions between water , energy, and environment.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016,2017,2018