Japanese Scientists Create Board Game About a Changing Arctic

The theme of the game is Arctic sustainability. The players must balance the three dimensions of economic development, social development, and environmental development. (Photo: JAMSTEC/ArCS)

A project hosted by the Japanese National Institute of Polar Research recently released a role-playing game that takes place in the Arctic. 

The Arctic board game is a role-playing game in which each player takes the role of either an oceanographer, cultural anthropologist, industry personnel, fisher, or diplomat. Players must make decisions to cope with the changing Arctic. 

High North News has spoken with Hajime Kimura and Tetsuo Sueyoshi, two of the creators of the game. They say their aim is to create an educational tool that can be used to introduce students to the complexities of the Arctic.

Hajime Kimura. (Photo: Private)
Hajime Kimura is the project manager for the game. He previously worked as a researcher in international law at the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology. (Photo: Private)

“The Arctic is an interconnected region where politics, economics, and rapid environmental changes affect each other, and the game incorporates all these elements. We also hope more people will get interested in the Arctic changes and its regional and global impacts through playing the game, and we want to encourage students to learn more about the unique ecology and the important environmental issues in the region", they say. 

The game creators say knowledge about the Arctic is quite limited in Japan, and they hope to expose a wider audience to the region with this game. 

“The general public in Japan is more focused on Antarctica. Quite a few Japanese people actually believe penguins live also in the Arctic”, they say and continue:

“For the last ten years, Japan's research community has been working actively on Arctic science. But this research activity is not that well known in Japan. Especially compared to how well known Antarctic research is, which is a much more popular theme. Research on the Arctic is a relatively new topic here in Japan".

Tetsuo Sueyoshi is a researcher with a focus on permafrost and climate at the Japanese National Institute of Polar Research (NIPR). He worked for the ArCS-project as an outreach coordinator and partly joined as a game creator. (Photo: Private)

In order to be able to convey the complexity of the Arctic, the game creators had to put together a team of scientists and experts. The creators say they do not only want it to be a purely academic experience to play the game; they also hope it can be fun. 

“To create a board game was a new challenge for us. None of us are experts on games. To bring all the Arctic topics and themes into the game, and creating a game system based on that, was the biggest challenge. Another challenge was to achieve game balance, not making the game too easy or too difficult to play. This is difficult to accomplish.”

How do you plan to distribute the game?

“The game is not for sale at the moment. Our original idea is to use the game in the classrooms as a tool of education so that students can play with teachers or researchers, who can give instructions on the rules and background information. To sell it as a stand-alone board game, we would need a more detailed rulebook or player’s manual and a booklet to explain the Arctic changes.

I am sure there will be a demand for such a game around the High North. Maybe you will release it outside Japan in the future?

“We have discussed it seriously. Hopefully we can do that one day.”

Excerpt from the game instructions. Each turn in the game the players must collect one "sea-ice tile". The tile represents the decline of sea ice and the lapse of time in the game. (Photo: JAMSTEC/ArCS)

The game is developed by the Arctic Challenge for Sustainability (ArCS). ArCS is a Japanese national Arctic research project, hosted by the Japanese National Institute of Polar Research, Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology, and Hokkaido University.