Online Gaming for Groundwater Cooperation

In May 2020, WYN, IGRAC and the NL IHP-HWRP Committee jointly organized a Zoom webinar on serious gaming in transboundary groundwater cooperation. Originally meant to be a three-day Game-a-thon held at IHE Delft, this webinar was an innovative way to come together, virtually, despite the difficult circumstances of Covid-19. Moderated by the serious game expert, Joanne Craven, 25 young professionals from around the Rhine Basin interacted virtually to create their own games. As both an organizer and a participant to the webinar, Emilie Broek – part of the Governance group of WYN- shares a short recount of her online experience.


A little less than a year ago, my Committee co-created a young professional competition which focused on the development of serious games. I was inspired by this idea after following a short summer course on serious games at IHE Delft. Having completed my Master’s degree in international relations and diplomacy recently, I was intrigued by the way serious games could be used to simulate different political and water conflict scenarios. Through a serious game, I could apply new knowledge immediately into practice, strengthen problem-solving skills and simplify complex tasks. Building a serious game was a fun and meaningful tool which has the potential to bring stakeholders together and create new solution spaces.

During the short course, I also had the pleasure of meeting Joanne, a serious game expert who eventually joined us for the Game-a-thon. Based on the triadic game design, Joanne instructed the class on how to build a serious game that incorporated elements of fun, meaning and reality. Split into teams, the class created different games that were one one hand entertaining and on the other hand could help solve water management issues. It was interesting to observe how games could be applied in real-life scenarios that enable water experts and practitioners to jointly address their water challenges.

Webinar in progress. Source: Emilie

I completed this summer course with a strong motivation to continue exploring serious games which led me to Tim Nolden from WYN and Claudia Ruz Vargas from IGRAC. Through careful planning and brainstorming, we jointly decided to organize a Game-a-thon on transboundary groundwater cooperation in the Rhine. This regional initiative aimed to focus specifically on bringing together young professionals living in the Rhine Commission for Hydrology countries. During the three-day Game-a-thon at IHE Delft, the participants would be split into pre-selected teams to address a transboundary groundwater issue that would be in line with the targets of the Rhine 2020—ecosystem improvement, flood prevention and protection, protection of water quality, and groundwater protection. With the guidance of Joanne, the rest of the workshop would be dedicated to game development, testing and final presentations. In the end, the winning team would receive the chance to professionally develop their game and present it at the Rhine Commission for Hydrology’s 50th Anniversary celebration.

Although the Game-a-thon was planned for 11-13 May, it unfortunately needed to be postponed due to COVID-19. However, this did not prevent us from organizing a webinar. Planned as a short ‘teaser’ for the real Game-a-thon, this webinar  convened the workshop participants together via Zoom. Thanks to our amazing trainer, Joanne, we were ultimately able to host an interactive online experience. With around thirty participants, this one-hour webinar was a fun way to connect and introduce the competitors to the core concepts of a serious game. 

Breakout sessions in progres. Source: Emilie

In order to make the webinar as interactive as possible, Joanne decided to split the participants into five breakout rooms. It was really nice that Zoom enabled this breakout feature as it allowed space for a mini-gaming competition. Joanne instructed each team to create a simple game using only a pen, paper, two dice and 20 counter pieces (coins, beans etc.). Within a 15-minute timeframe, each team came up with their own groundwater game—a mini version of what they would later achieve during the Game-a-thon. In the end, each team appointed a representative to present their game to the rest of the participants and gained points according to the criteria they had managed to achieve (game name, applicability, play-testing, funny/absurd element). Joanne tallied these points together and awarded the winning team a virtual trophy.

Winning team of the mini-gaming competition. Source: Emilie

Although we could not hold the Game-a-thon in May as we imagined, however,  we were still happy to have been able to meet the participants online. Personally, it was also a nice way to interact with young people across the Rhine Basin after almost two months of lockdown measures. Now that the participants have been introduced to one another and are familiarized with the basics of a serious game, I am really excited to see what they can come up with during the actual Game-a-thon. As soon as the situation with Covid-19 allows, we will re-organize the workshop and welcome the participants to IHE Delft. 


If you are planning to host your own online event or would like to learn more about this initiative, do not hesitate to contact me at