Playing Lasarus: Gaming the path to resilience or the next unused toolkit?

This post is part of the Agriculture and Ecosystems Blog’s month-long series on Resilience.

During the recent Resilience 2014: Resilience and Development Conference in Montpellier, one clear trend was evident: everyone has a game to play.

Resilience is something that “comes from within rather than without,” emphasized David Nabarro, United Nations Secretary-General Special Representative on Food Security and Nutrition, delivered his opening remarks at the 2020 Resilience conference. “If our resilience building efforts are to be successful, they must enable and empower people, societies, and institutions to strengthen their own livelihood systems and make them more resilient to shocks,” he said.

Dr. Luis Garcia-Barrios presents Lasarus : an interactive farming game. Photo: Nilar Chit Tun Dr. Luis Garcia-Barrios presents Lasarus : an interactive farming game. Photo: Nilar Chit Tun

Shocks are something that most farmers are too familiar with: droughts, storms, and natural disasters can devastate decades of work. As such, most researchers have found through their work, many farmers are risk averse to new methods and technologies that could affect their crop yields. In an attempt to demonstrate options and possibilities beyond the complex crop models and coding structures – researchers have come up with games to help role-play the possibilities and options.

There is a potential for behavior change through the use of games. In fact, many presenters at the conferences presented success stories on how these games permitted the very same farmers who were reticent to use the advice based on models to actually consider different ways of improving their daily work. In the NonCropShare Coordination Game, currently being employed by farmers in Cambodia through IFPRI, the game investigates how choices to maintain non-crop habitat or employ pesticides shift in response to changes in incentives. To play the experimental field game, it requires four players and works as a coordination game.

During the panel on ecosystem services and sustainable intensification, several agricultural games targeting farmers and land owners were featured in different areas of the world. Luis Garcia-Barrios presented gaming and simulation to explore collaborative land use decision-making in complex social ecological systems called Lasarus. The game reveals the cascading effects of resource collapse.  The game revolves around local land use planning; the players (6) act as farmers and can choose revolving land use and resource management tools.  Personal income is chosen in each round. The game continues until no further change desirable.

Clearly, success stories are going to be featured in a major international conference – but this begs two main questions:

1. How effective are the games in the long term? Or is the goal simply to create a safe platform for discussion?

2. What does success look like in the long term? Is it linear to the point that farmer uses a game – farmer changes behavior –farmer gets better yields?

An oversimplification surely – but the research and gaming effects remain to be seen.

Failed attempts at behavior change in the form of onsite workshops, toolkits and mobile applications are plentiful in the world of agriculture – many of these knowledge dissemination tools employ one-way communications – the expert gives the information and the audience absorbs.  Games can open the door to two way communications.

It is important to note that many of these games arise from failed attempts at modeling and decision-support systems, which were to solve our problems with a touch of a button. Unfortunately, they often require experts to input and output the information, which was often not useful for decision-makers.  Games may be one approach that can lead to the gap where many previous predecessors have fallen short: human contact and stakeholder participation.


Interesting perspective, Nilar. I agree games are a good way to break the ice and to help farmers or stakeholders 'get' what researchers are trying to communicate through role play and the discussion that ensues is invaluable for all parties involved. Whether that actually changes behaviour or perception when outside of the game mode is another question.

I wonder how much this differs or overlaps from other methods such as playback theatre?

Any tool that helps to explain complex science theories and involves emotionally is very welcome, however we also need effective tools that help to find and apply solutions adapted to real situations would be even more necessary.

And here an.integration of IT, business management and science concepts would have a high future potential for farmers,and in some countries - already has. An example - partnership of Vadofone and Farmer's Club in Turkey (
Though much more could be done, and I believe - very soon it will. IT innovations, internet of things are developing fast, and will help not only with resilience issue.

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