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This proposal was moved here from Adaptation Workspace 2016


Troubled Waters is a crowdsourcing game aimed at developing methods for alleviating wide-ranging severe water stress now and in the future.




The concerns around ground water supply and the emergency state that is already upon more challenged countries need to be addressed immediately, and are already decades behind schedule. A gaming approach, properly engineered, with winners applying their correct results directly to geophysical hydrological systems, is a deft response to this constant and growing danger.

Game learning around how to build resilient STEM capacities, products and processes in order to attain “clean water for all” would evaluate and model aspects of generic and specific, healthy and unhealthy hydrological systems in their parts and processes. The learning process aims to address concerns and integrate balance throughout the hydrological system in parts and as a whole. Virtual “construction and management simulation"^1 exercises would be followed by training in the field alongside experts, utilizing individual-global funding to execute life-saving changes to the problem of low ground water supplies.

The Troubled Waters game develops its cloud-emplaced educational technology in order to teach gamers skills surrounding simulation concerns and solutions; e.g. to build a) water treatment plants^2 ; b) rainwater harvest systems^3, and c) manage run off. Data resources within the game such as text and graphics will direct the player toward hydrological success.

Efforts will be made to raise funds through concerned governmental, non-profit and private resources. These funds would place Troubled Waters in school curricula; hire science and technology and administrative experts for game development and player guidance; and, by enabling the formation of teams involving the top level game winners and local, state, and federal engineers and officials can lead to implementing these balanced modifications in the field. 

Final results will allow residents in water-deprived areas to receive positive benefits through a wide range of innovative and practical solutions.


What actions do you propose?


Given that the Troubled Waters game is based within the actual ability of users anywhere to build virtual hydrological system modifications of both the structure and water management, we prepare for actual geophysical, crowd-designed construction and management modifications.

Learning to model healthy hydrological changes will be based within a life-like 3D Unity^4 format familiar to conventional games such as Populus^5, or Godus^6,. Algorithms may be used to estimate relationships such as average water output during a specified period fo time.

The first pilot game will examine, evaluate and plan according to scientifically-and-technologically-measured structural problems and possible solutions. STEM experts along with game designers will experiment with modifying the model geophysical system and will determine a variety of solution pathways. Mediation experts and game marketers in turn will examine the material in the context of player rewards, integrating concerns and possible solutions around regulations, trading, water resource plans, etc. Beginning gamers will start their learning process using clicks of the mouse to take them through the execution of necessary steps in order to gain their first categorical win, the successful integration of the entire generic hydrological system into a healthy, future-safe entity.

Later, gamers constructing and managing on the cloud alongside expert guidance will examine and determine specific feasible systems according to science and engineering and sociopolitical conflicts, arriving at possible solutions that are determined to be moral and ethical in consideration of ground water integrity. Top winners gain access to modification tools, funding, and collaborative human resources.

The University of Virginia’s Bay Game^7 has real-life stakeholders; they determine management decisions through the gameplay in order to bring about balanced changes in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Troubled Waters instead focuses on learning and building through Populous-like 3D construction and management strategies, with the results assessed hydrologically and socially.  The players will move from studying stylized micro systems within a generic hydrological system to examining the more complex real systems such as those identified by the GRACE satellites' mapping out of underground reserves of water.^8 ^9

Funded advisory specialists, such as hydrological research scientists, construction engineers, regulators, macro and micro economists, plus administrative experts versed in conflict resolution will together with game designers build and “test drive” player choices; these will determine rules guiding how one gains or loses points. Task complexity will be based on age, aptitude and interest. Instruction will encourage curiosity and discovery playing.

Once an expert-based pilot game has been developed, there are three levels of gaming to be implemented within school-based learning technologies (the Green Schools may be especially receptive to such programming):

Level 1) A fun, rudimentary gamer’s version based within a generic system, playing for points based within cumulative, reinforced education; acquiring game point gains toward tangible, socially-and- practically responsible rewards, resulting in caring about the resolution of water supply concerns. This will prepare for bringing the game project closer to physical implementation during Level 2.

Level 2) is for those who have established themselves as candidates to succeed in solving more difficult generic-format challenges, gaming in conjunction with professional conservationists, regulators and engineers, who help them them determine what to do within specific systems* in preparation for Level 3;

Level 3) is where the best players are offered the opportunity to go out into the field and work directly with a funded professional corps of conservation experts, regulators and engineers to develop the physical implementation plan, and actualize the top winners' results, based on successful game construction and management simulation.

*N.B. Project ideas and approaches for improving water supplies will be shared with conservation officers and engineers in the relevant communities, potentially teaming up to share vital resources and implementation goals. Game advisory experts are selected from outside immediate political, media, and social arenas, deterring factional preferences and control.

Sample lesson plans:

Lesson 1 includes a Troubled Waters overall look at aquifer depletion around the world, designed to educate users about crisis areas; it helps them to think about what specific hydrological systems are of special concern to them.^10 This lesson outlines specific aggravants to eco-balanced hydrological systems and possible improvement interventions. People from different parts of the world can select areas of interest and get factual slides and other media.

Lesson 2 offers a tutorial on how to build a rainwater harvest system onto a house using Minecraft and other tools to complete the task.

Lesson 3 offers instructions on how to build rain water run off catchments, for example.

Once the gamers arrange online hydrological system enhancements such as ground water storage containment capacity, internal channeling, internal placement and engagement of new technologies for desalination, purification, and replenishing water supplies, e.g. graphene and carbon nanotubes^11, solar, and external rain water harvesting catchment systems, these gamer models are scored according to technical feasibility and function combined with moral and ethical merit values.

Sociopolitical variables such as water trading and water rights will factor into the game; the player loses points for causing death or undue disadvantage through lack of ground water; game scores accord with considerations such as expert-determined fair treatment of the water’s nation and country of origin. Water trading, both in view of quality and quantity within the context of economic considerations and regional trading is being experimented with in Australia, the US and a number of other countries. The evolving tendency is toward the selling of water entitlements as part of water rights through federal and state agencies, and private ownership, plus an emerging community base of indigenous support for establishing rights of the planet as an entity.

In the level 1 win the gamer successfully creates a generic healthy hydrological system. Level 2 with the help of experts modifies a specific troubled system. Level 3 of the game implements changes that result in fair, fiscally-sound funding proposals, thereby helping convince regulators and governments to implement practical environmental incentives and solutions.  Individual, local, regional, national and global funding would be accepted and employed, given anonymous, un-tethered contributions.

Troubled Waters holds strong appeal within gaming culture as a cross-over activity, from in-school educational programming activities to outside-the-classroom edutainment, to feasible global community change. The empowering connections with professional mentors stimulates and transforms players through the game maxim of doing good by doing well.

Troubled Waters is designed as a game that leaves several possible right answers open to interpretation. Technical smarts are not enough; an open mind and the power of experimentation dare us to combine our skills and perceptions, and as a result to excel. As discussed in “Starting Point: Teaching Entry-level Geoscience, “strategic games based in useful learning provide continuous challenges, leading from one to another, keeping players hooked, “setting clear short term goals appropriate to the level of the player and the context within the game."^12

Each challenge should satisfy some kind of learning objective: completing a measurement or a portion of a map could be a rewarded challenge as part of a larger game. Troubled Waters game play “encourages the students to use games to escape into their studies.” ^12

Troubled Waters' various learning branches offer extensible studies of related concerns, such as agriculture, population, rainfall variances affecting drought and flood, and food production choices, using the same balancing game dictates.

New capabilities advance through the game’s flexible format, where smaller and greater epic wins and their rewards compel and propel the successful players into a new part of the board to explore, or even a new task. The point of the game is not just to win it, but to keep playing onto next and greater levels, and for final epic winners to participate in geophysical actualization through conscientious, funded, directed team efforts.  Combining fun and realism is a winning combination.

SimCity and Minecraft verify the popularity of construction and management simulation tools at our fingertips; we will direct these tools specifically toward building valuable long-term climate solutions. Minecraft Education Edition is a version adapted specifically for educational programming^13 Some of the virtues of SimCity may help to direct the development of Troubled Waters, where, for example:

Players face disasters including flooding and tornadoes, earthquakes, lightning strikes, volcanoes, and meteors.^14; use God mode where players may terraform, and trigger disasters. External tools such as the Building Architect Tool (BAT) allow customer third-party building and content to be added to game play."^15 Many of the future technologies in SimCity are based on research being done today, such as fusion reaction power plants to replace the dirty coal power plant.^16

Who will take these actions?

Anyone, anywhere with computer access may participate in this solutions-based modeling game utilizing new technologies that encourage positive behavioral and societal shifts, ones that result in employment and educational opportunities to emplace safe and vital changes throughout hydrological systems around the globe.

Ideal dispositions for game activists are those who are engaged and purposeful, resilient, rigorous optimizers, creative problem solvers, effective collaborators, persons available for multi-stakeholder partnerships, who may be funders, domain experts, etc..


Where will these actions be taken?

Everywhere there are hydrological systems, and especially at crisis locations.

What are other key benefits?

The benefits are ultimately inclusive, holistic and universal in nature, designed to benefit all of Gaia through popular and progressive methods.

Achievement goals will address work to resolve problems such as border tensions between the US and Canada and the US and Mexico; drought concerns in California; pollution concerns in Flint, Michigan; community versus corporation struggles, and aging infrastructure; with solutions such as desalinization, recycling wastewater, efficiency and conservation.

Virtual and concrete efforts help people to examine rational arguments that address water wealth as power; water as politics; and specific concerns such as in the Jordan River Basin; Yemen's cities running out of water supply; Syrian drought and civil war; pervasive pollution; water poverty; water scarcity; economic drive; pollution, and the rise of cancer in affected areas.


What are the proposal’s costs?


The MIT Game Lab has approved the Troubled Waters proposal for prototype development over a two-year period with a cost of approximately $165K per year. In addition, management and strategy consultants, environmental experts, and research science costs and fees are estimated to be about $300K/year, (e.g. a full-time Master's Level scientist/engineer may be $75K per year - many experts would be part time consultants). So the annual cost over a two-year period would be approximately $500K per year, $1M for two years.

One possibility relative to the above would be to attain foundation funding through collaboration with an MIT professor, and to hire the MIT Game Lab plus other interested MIT affiliates from a variety of disciplines for paid research. NIH, NSF, corporations, and other funds and foundations are possible financing sources.

Other possibilities including working with a game development and publishing firm such as E-Line. E-Line works with technical experts from the University of Arizona, which could be another possible way to fund collaboration between for example E-Line and MIT. ^17 

The University of Virginia has acquired major funding through IBM.^18

As with SimCity it would be ideal to make Troubled Waters an easy-to-use, effective, engaging and free game, with charges for data and other services. Features such as largely concealed data and narrative will make the game feel more natural and fun to play.



Time line

Over the period of two years, the following is proposed: 1) to develop a strong basic program with a pilot prototype in place after the first year that includes a preliminary game structure; 2) in the second year test it in view of whether there is too much benefit to one party, and rebalance it so that more benefit goes to others. 3) An additional three-four years will provide time for spin up, to conduct trials and run interfaces with transfer to the cloud for general roll out.

This past fall I audited the Design and Development of Games for Learning MITx course led by Eric Klopfer where I further familiarized myself with how games are set up depending on learning goals, and how they fit into the education and business worlds. Troubled Waters is targeted to be designed as a viable product and service, making money and social impact a double bottom line: youth empowerment through market-based learning.

Within the school systems over a period of the next five - ten years Troubled Waters may gain the interactive capacity to provide feedback and scaffolding to make learning enjoyable and masterful, meaningful when the game is turned off.


Related proposals

Human Nature, with Help, Will Solve the Problem is related in the sense of making use of positive reinforcement to change the public "climate" on climate change activism.

The Riverside Project - A New Approach in Management of River Space proposal faces the preservation of river water through the work of engineers, politicians, and local stakeholders.

Resiliency in Face of Anticipated Droughts Is Provided through Desalination Hopscotch discusses ground water supply options in order to provide resilency against scarcity in times of drought.

The Rain in Namibia. A complete spatio-temporal analysis looks at measurements similar to those of the GRACE satellites, in view of optimizing water resources.









^7 University of Virginia Bay Game

^8 Richey, A. S., B. F. Thomas, M.-H. Lo, J. T. Reager, J. S. Famiglietti, K. Voss, S. Swenson, and M. Rodell (2015), Quantifying renewable groundwater stress with GRACE, Water Resour. Res. 51, 5217-5238, doi:10.1002/2015WR017349.

^9 ^2 Downer, C.W., and F.L. Ogden, 2004, GSSHA: A model for simulating diverse streamflow generating processes, J. Hydrol. Engrg., 9(3):161-174. See


^11Examples of new technologies that might be applied are from MIT Water Club “Water Night” poster presentation winners in the Water Chemistry and Nanotechnology category: Brendan Smith "Nanoporous Membranes for Water Filtration" and Bianca Chaves "Synergy Effect in the Oxidative Degradation of Organic Compounds using Ozonation Combined with Carbon Nanotube Electrochemically Active Filters"






^17Eline Media

^18 University of Virginia major funding through IBM