Bayu Eka Yulian (leaning towards the table) briefs players trying his land use change and oil palm expansion game at the #IndonesiaInnovate fair. CIFOR/Heru Komarudin

Q+A: CIFOR landscape games feature at Indonesia’s Sustainable Districts Festival

Instructive role playing

JAKARTA, Indonesia (Landscape News) – At Indonesia’s recent Sustainable Districts Festival, attendees got a chance to play games conceived and created by scientists at the Center for International Forestry Research, which demonstrate the impacts policies and business decisions have on landscape sustainability. These games were presented at the festival’s #IndonesiaInnovate fair in Palembang, South Sumatra

The Landscape Game, was invented in 2007 by CIFOR scientist Herry Purnomo. He describes it as a cross between Monopoly and SimCity with a focus on landscape-based investments such as agroforestry and ecotourism and related social and environmental costs. Originally a board game, in 2014 the Landscape Game was adapted for Windows Desktop, and Android operating systems.

CIFOR scientists also demonstrated a board game under development based on research related to livelihood dependency on the oil palm industry in rural East Kalimantan. The land use change and oil palm expansion (LUCOPE) game developed by Bogor Agricultural University (IPB) Ph.D. candidate Bayu Eka Yulian is a role-playing game designed to let players walk in the shoes of smallholder farmers dealing with the oil palm industry.

Yulian (BEY) and Purnomo (HP) discussed the games with Landscape News.

Q: This year’s #IndonesiaInnovate fair focused on community-based sustainable enterprise. How do your games resonate with this theme and the sustainability urgencies of real life Indonesian landscapes today?

BEY: Lestari (the Indonesian concept of holistic sustainability) covers two key elements: ecological sustainability and social justice. While ecological sustainability was generously discussed in Festival Kabupaten Lestari, the social justice implications of committing to sustainability weren’t as well-addressed, such as who loses land to business concessions, or who goes hungry to accommodate another’s greed. LUCOPE levels out power relations for players acting different roles and provides a space for multisectoral reflections after the game.

HP: The Landscape Game makes the point that policy alone is not enough to realize sustainability—it requires investment. This aspect is important for introducing the calculations of a landscape’s sustainability. Productivity is just as important as conservation. In the real world, investing entirely in conservation might not be a good thing, because investments needs to make money. The Landscape Game attempts to reconcile conservation and development as it should be done in the real world.

Q: How did you develop your games?

BEY: LUCOPE attempts to simulate what happens to smallholder farmers when they engage in the oil palm expansion. Currently, smallholders meet 42 percent of the demand for fresh fruit bunches (but the impacts of oil palm that smallholders live with are rarely represented to other stakeholders in a relateable way.) The game is based on the companion modelling approach, which covers role-play simulation and the PARDI method (Problem-Actor-Resources-Dynamics-Interaction)—adding landscape visualisation to this mix. The board game, currently a work-in-progress, is funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation as part of Professor Jaboury Ghazoul’s OPAL (Oil Palm Adaptive Landscape) Project.

HP: In 2007, with funding from the EU (European Union), I developed the initial board game. Demand for the game turned out high—every time CIFOR issued 100 boards, they sell out. As sales hit 1,000, we secured funding from the UK’s Department For International Development to digitize the Landscape Game in 2014. We collaborated with Agate, a Bandung-based game developer listed among Indonesia’s Top 11. Additional features in the digital Landscape Game include carbon and biodiversity calculations, and multiple landscapes: Kalimantan, Amazon, the Congo, or computer-generated. 

Q: How do Monopoly and other popular games influence your inventions?

BEY: Many elements of LUCOPE are indeed inspired by Monopoly. Where Monopoly has Chance cards, LUCOPE has Risk cards that establish force majeure scenarios such as forest fires, floods, police raids, and price fluctuations in the oil palm market. But where Monopoly is driven by the economic rationality mindset, LUCOPE is driven by the landscape approach. LUCOPE is also highly customized to reflect the realities of the oil palm business in East Kalimantan (as opposed to Monopoly’s real estate basis in an acultural, ageographical setting).

HP: My pet peeve about playing Monopoly is that investments yield instant results. In the Landscape Game, investments take time to break even. Different investment types such as agroforestry and ecotourism yield different timelines. The Landscape Game also draws influences from SimCity, but it aggravates me that SimCity ignores the social and environmental impacts of say, chopping down a forest to establish a factory. Another feature that differentiates the Landscape Game from Monopoly and SimCity is that one player acts as the Policymaker, who in theory makes regulations to ensure better landscapes. In practice though, the Policymaker serves the interests of the highest earning player, and needs to figure out incentives and disincentives to make the other players comply with whatever policy he or she decides to implement.

Q: Who has played your games, and how have they been impacted by them? 

BEY: LUCOPE is designed for adults. University students, academics, and provincial government officials played this game at #IndonesiaInnovate. Those expressing interest in ordering the board game include the Head of Agricultural Department in Kutai Kartanegara regency (East Kalimantan), Banyuwangi regency’s social forestry committee (East Java), and Musi Banyuasin’s regency government (South Sumatra). IPB lecturer Dr Arya Hadi Dharmawan said that LUCOPE would be useful for teaching actor mapping, stakeholder analysis, environmental analysis and spatial analysis for his students taking Political Ecology or Collaborative Management of Natural Resources. Before the Sustainable Districts Festival, I’ve also introduced this game to the East Kalimantan villages that contributed to its birth, including Muara Kaman district, Pulau Pinang village, and Long Beleh Haloq village. Feeling well-represented in LUCOPE, villagers requested their own board units so that they could invite the visiting regent or palm oil company managers for a game and make a point about their struggles for defending decent livelihoods. Unfortunately, I am not yet in a position to provide these, but I feel that I owe them.

HP: My children nicknamed my Landscape Game “Jungle Monopoly!” Unfortunately I did not track where all 1,000 board games went. But some were played at the Wageningen Landscape Governance Training (in the Netherlands), and others were played in France, Cameroon, Ethiopia, and Peru. A Canadian team from the University of British Columbia played it when they visited CIFOR in Bogor. The game is available in Indonesian, English and French. In Indonesia, the board game is popular with primary and secondary schools, while universities prefer it digital. Institutional uses for the Landscape Game include facilitations at industrial forestry company Musi Hutan Persada, and land use planning training for the World Agroforestry Centre’s (ICRAF) spatial planners in Papua, Sulawesi, and Java. Despite the digital game’s more advanced features, institutions tend to prefer the board game due to the direct human interactions it facilitates. We also delivered a unit of the Landscape Game to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), but never heard back whether they ended up using it.

Q: What are your future plans for your games?

BEY: I plan to secure funding on the 2019 budget for digitizing LUCOPE, and am currently seeking Indonesian game developers to partner with. A digital version of this game would allow players to play from anywhere, and this would be an important tool for mentally revolutionizing the way Indonesians think about land use. I don’t believe going digital will diminish the reflective space that the board game has provided. If anything, a digital space could allow many heads to meet in virtual reality to exchange perspectives and discuss what they learned out of this game.

HP: In response to the Landscape Game’s popularity, (Indonesian book store retailer) Gramedia offered to buy the rights. We would have accepted if the deal only concerned distribution rights, but ended up declining because Gramedia wanted its copyright ownership as well. I would love to produce more board games if an investor would cover its production costs, as long as copyright ownership remains with me and CIFOR. As for the digital version, I am currently seeking new investors to fund improvements, bug fixes, and re-launches on Android and iOS.


Board game puts new spin on competition for land

Rules of Engagement: Landscape Game uses game theory to teach students about multisectoral competing economic interests in land management

Learning Landscape Sustainability and Development Links (journal article on the Landscape Game)

Livelihood Dilemma of the Rural Household Around the Oil Palm Plantation in East Kalimantan

Companion Modelling: A Method of Adaptive and Participative Research

Sawit Watch & Tempo Institute’s report on the oil palm’s century-long journey in Indonesia





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