In memory of Graham Chapman, creator of the ‘Green Revolution Game’
It is with deep sadness that we report the sudden death of Professor Graham Chapman on the 31 August 2014. When we embarked on the African Farmer Game several years ago, we looked to Graham for ideas and inspiration and based our project on the pioneering board simulations that he created with a number of colleagues over three decades.
He was an enthusiastic supporter of our game from the outset and generously served as an advisor in the early stages of its development. His observations and questions were always sharp and insightful, as he had an intuitive understanding of our objectives and desired learning goals.
Graham was years ahead of his time in recognising the value of simulation games as a learning tool.Although ‘serious games’ are a hot topic today, with numerous programmes and networks devoted to their development and promotion, Graham was creating them almost 40 years ago. The Green Revolution Game, developed with Elizabeth Dowler in late 1970s and early 1980s, simulated small farmer decision-making in a rice-growing area of Bihar, India, at the height of the Asian Green Revolution. Using a simplified model of an agricultural society within realistic constraints, the simulation powerfully demonstrated the complexity of decision-making and helped sensitise players to the impact of rapid agrarian change from the farmer’s point of view. The game was eventually commercialised by Graham and Liz and used widely in training settings around the world, for example, to help rural bank managers in India to understand the problems of small farmers and political scientists in the UK to gain a greater appreciation of small-group dynamics.
In the 1980s, at the request of the World Bank, Graham worked with Isabelle Tsakok to adapt the Green Revolution Game to create a whole country version called Exaction. This extension included an urban sector, an informal sector, trading intermediaries, overseas trade and a national government, all of which could have a profound effect on the outcomes.
Graham’s work on ‘games for change’ continued into the 1990s, when he collaborated with Henk de Zeeuw and Janice Jiggins to produce Africulture, another board simulation, this time with a focus on small farmer decision-making in rural Zambia. Here, more emphasis was placed on simulating intra-household interactions and negotiating resource allocation decisions between men and women household members. These gendered aspects of the game, combined with the inclusion of a town to allow rural-urban migration and flows of capital and technology, added important new dimensions to the understanding of agrarian change in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Graham’s interests crossed academic disciplines. A geographer by training, he experimented with Q-analysis and combinatorial analysis for revealing ‘deep structure’ and multi-dimensional dynamics in systems, and had the foresight to include an early BASIC computer program with the original Green Revolution Game. Although his games were paper based, he clearly had the vision to see the possibilities that would open up if the simulation could make use of developing computer technology.
In all these innovative board games Graham clearly saw the value of providing people with a ‘lived experience’ and understood how it could be much more powerful than simply learning about issues in an abstract manner – for him, the human factor was always central. In our planning of the African Farmer Game, we recall discussing with Graham the importance of allowing players to ‘cheat’ and his conviction that this possibility should be included in the game. Novice educational game designers often try to lock down the possible game actions and steer learners along a pre-defined path. Graham’s desire to have the game as open ended as possible was testimony to his deep understanding of learning.
It is our hope that our work on the African Farmer Game will help sustain Graham’s invaluable legacy and his commitment to creating innovative simulations that allow players around the world to ‘learn by experience not instruction’. Given his deep knowledge of the subject, it seems appropriate to leave the last word to him:
“Let me finish by repeating one of my favourite themes: that the social sciences singly say nothing of consequence: that the physical sciences on their own say nothing of consequence to human experience: that however simplified, the only models which are going to aid us in understanding (not necessarily predicting) our predicaments, are those which enable physical constraints to confront human imagination and creativity. Only sophisticated gaming simulations provide that unique mix.”
The African Farmer Game Team
– John Thompson
– Judith Good
– James Jackson
– Ellie Martin
– Nathan Oxley
Chapman, G. (1989) Developing Real Imaginary Games. Irrigation and Drainage Systems 3: 309-313.