Civil Defense: Developing Valuable Real-Life Skills through Play

Saint Anne Parish Youth Ministry, Sta. Ana, Taguig, Metro Manila

Francis Gasgonia & Riza de Guzman

The Civil Defense board game is a disaster preparedness and humanitarian simulation game that allows players to help cities of the fictional archipelago of Calidonia. Players will win and learn about different hazards and disaster scenarios.

In three to five years, each school will have a set of Civil Defense Board Game as a complimentary tool in the disaster preparedness curriculum. Expansion packs and application of virtual reality or augmented reality is also something to look forward to in the next few years.

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It's important to have fun while tackling important issues such as climate change, disaster preparedness and response, because when you take a complex idea such as disaster preparedness and climate change, the seriousness takes out the passion for that idea. But when you combine these complex ideas with gamification principles, it enables the learner to participate in a simulation that allows him or her to have fun. At the same time, imbibing serious principles within the game.

But for every failure there is an opportunity, as cliché as it sounds. It's true that every year it seems like there is an opportunity for me to upgrade and improve upon my initial idea. Time itself will take care of improving the idea - I wasn’t rushing it!

Gone are the days when lecture-type sessions with printed manuals, instructional modules, and power point presentation were relevant in capacity building initiatives.

Francis Gasgonia, 30 years old, recognized the need to move beyond traditional strategies to more interactive and innovative ways of teaching disaster preparedness and humanitarian action that could engage youths and adults.Francis embarked on a journey of creative ideation that eventually led to the development of a unique tool that takes learning one step further – through play.

“It’s important to have fun while tackling important issues such as climate change, disaster preparedness and response, because when you take a complex idea such as disaster preparedness and climate change, the seriousness takes out the passion for that idea. But when you combine these complex ideas with gamification principles, it enables the learner to participate in a simulation that allows him or her to have fun. At the same time, imbibing serious principles within the game,” Francis added.

THE GAME: HOW IT WORKS

Civil Defense is set in Caledonia, a fictional place not dissimilar to the Philippine archipelago, with its numerous regions vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and disasters. The game embraces elements of distinct terrains of land, sea, and present infrastructure – all represented by a texturized colour palette.

The goal of the game is to improve the player’s knowledge of the humanitarian sector’s dynamics and strengthen the players’ strategic and tactical abilities in the context of delivering aid through role play. Players of Civil Defense must think on the lines of their chosen profile to navigate the game – as they face emergencies, their response must be aligned with the perspective of a civil military specialist; administrative specialist; water, sanitation and hygiene specialist; logistics specialist; program specialist, or a protection specialist. Players are tasked to surpass real-life challenges from real-life disasters upon drawing from the playing cards, which include incident action notices and field report cards specific to the terrain they find themselves in.

The board game enables the players to find themselves in realistic situations where response activities need to be strategically executed, stakeholders mindfully engaged, collaborations purposively harboured, and power plays effectively handled. Incentives are given to players who deliver what is needed, where it is needed, and when it is needed by the right population. The game acknowledges actual situations where the abundance or scarcity of resources dictate individual and collective actions, which in turn affects community recovery, as well as rehabilitation of the social, environmental and economic infrastructures.

PASSION DRIVES INNOVATION

Francis is not a game designer by profession, but a licensed Environmental Planner that specializes in urban planning and geographic information systems (GIS). He learnt early on that balancing the three key aspects of his life – his day job, graduate studies, and the development of Civil Defense – would take meticulous planning, herculean effort, and burning passion.

“The thought of developing the game was like a virus that you cannot take out of your mind,” Francis jested. However, he admitted that, there were many times he considered stopping or slowing down for a while. Ultimately, he was driven onwards by his unrelenting desire to contribute his share to improve people’s lives.

“I started this as a side project around 2014, I was working for an NGO, and just decided to go to graduate school to pursue my long-term plan of transitioning into urban planning,” Francis recalled.

ADDING A LITTLE MORE RANDOMNESS

At the beginning, there was no die rule, where the moves of each player were limited and it had been the common response to the board game from different demographics. “I agreed to change this mechanic because it seemed right to add randomness in the game, because it does matter that you are prepared for a disaster or any event, but there is this element of randomness that will affect your plans.”

Francis wanted to emphasize that there are things that one can’t control, in real life. “I want this also to be part of the lesson, the players should understand that some events are out of their control.”

CHALLENGES THAT SHAPED THE GAME

There’s no denying that his journey to make Civil Defense encountered its fair share of hurdles, but Francis remains positive. “When I started doing this innovation, there were many ups and downs. I started and I failed. I tried approaching different potential investors, different distribution channels and crowd funding platforms. All of those failed,” Francis remarked frankly.

“But for every failure there is an opportunity, as cliché as it sounds. It’s true that every year it seems like there is an opportunity for me to upgrade and improve upon my initial idea. Time itself will take care of improving the idea – I wasn’t rushing it!”

“Everything comes in due time,” Francis thought when he got his third funding support to further refine his product. It was around then that he came across a local group in Taguig that was looking for ways to engage youths in disaster preparedness. Without a second thought, he reached out to them.

ON TO THE LATEST PROTOTYPE

Through TUKLAS, he was introduced to a different approach in disaster preparedness innovation, specifically the concepts of Human-Centred Design and the Design Thinking Process – which he incorporated in his third prototype.

“Before, the main users of the Civil Defense were graduate students,” Francis stated. Utilizing the HCD, he was able to understand that strong community engagement and collaboration becomes crucial in coming up with a holistic solution. “I was able to engage the Sta. Ana Parish, Red Cross Youth, and even the indigenous peoples in Dingalan,” Francis added.

“After eight months of getting feedback from our initial playtesting, we made many iterations. Then, we finally tested with the same community that we started out, and they were impressed and they liked how everything changed for the better.”  Francis gushed.

WINNING THE GAME, WINNING IN REAL LIFE

With hopes that the lessons and skillsets learned from the board game will become applicable to real life, Francis also envisages this to be the reality of government agencies, NGOs, and international NGOs – as all these organizations share the same objectives – prepare societies and communities for potential disasters.

In general, this passion-fuelled project aims to instigate a newfound mind set, attitude, and working philosophy among players – who are also citizens who face adversities brought by disasters.

“The skills I want the players to learn in this board game are strategy, preparedness in the face of different situations, and basic knowledge of the different,” Francis concluded.