Add to collection
  • + Create new collection
  • Serious gaming is growing in appeal across the education sector. This article explores gaming as a tool for learning, using the Aqua Republica Eco Challenge 2016 as an example.

    Gaming as a tool for learning

    Games have long been used for developing both skills and knowledge. As digital technologies continue to develop, the range of digital learning games also continues to grow, driving an area of learning called game-based learning. It’s not new, but it is using new digital tools and platforms – and there is an accompanying pedagogical shift from using games to motivate and engage students in learning to using ‘serious games’ as the basis for knowledge and skill development. ‘Gamification’ describes the process of applying game rules to a learning process.

    New Zealand Council for Educational Research (NZCER) Senior Researcher Rachel Bolstad is undertaking national research into how games and simulations can help us think differently about learning and exploring what teachers and students are doing with games in the classroom.

    Rachel blogs about game-curious teachers and how they see games as a “rich resource space that can be shaped, moulded, stretched, and connected to a very diverse range of curriculum and pedagogical goals”. Not surprisingly, playing games is only the tip of the iceberg, and the games themselves aren’t always the main focus. Games hold multiple opportunities, and for some teachers, it’s the “coding and digital technology skills”, while “others are interested in play-based learning and role-play”. The teachers involved in Rachel’s research “don’t just use games as a resource to learn something from, but as something to learn through, and this involves engaging with games in all manner of ways. As a player, designer, maker, fan, or critic, and sometimes as an expert who can use their game knowledge and skills to teach others.”

    Increasingly, teachers are seeing games and game design as a vehicle for the development of students’ thinking and other key competencies, as well as more specific knowledge and skills.

    Aqua Republica – a serious game for learning

    Unfortunately, AquaRepublicaNZ is no longer available.

    Aqua Republica is a serious game based around water catchment modelling. The aim is to achieve the highest score while taking into account environmental impacts, community wellbeing and the economy. The game is based on a real New Zealand catchment and uses the same system that scientists use for existing and future catchment water modelling.

    Within a science context, this game could be used as a basis for building knowledge and understanding about the water cycle, habitats, ecosystems and ecology while also developing key competencies such as thinking, relating to others and using language, symbols and texts. There is also tremendous scope for cross-curricular thinking and learning, as multiple perspectives, economics, mathematical calculations and ethical thinking all come into play. Following on from participating in the game, there is richness in unpacking the experience as a class discussion and/or literacy activity. There are also opportunities for further learning for students in digital technologies and art, creating future coding and artwork for future games.

    The inaugural DHI-UNEP New Zealand Aqua Republica Eco Challenge 2016 is complete!

    In September 2016, 460 students from 22 New Zealand schools participated in the inaugural Aqua Republica Eco Challenge.

    The game provided an innovative way to inform New Zealanders in water resource management and the intrinsic trade-offs involved when considering these resources.

    As well as fostering personal responsibility through decisions made within the serious game, there is also a strong element of lifelong learning as it builds knowledge and understanding within a real-life context.

    The national winners of the inaugural New Zealand Aqua Republica Eco Challenge 2016 were Ashleigh Turner and Melissa Parkinson from Opotiki College.

    These dedicated participants took out the top spot from the Bay of Plenty and are the overall national winners of the inaugural New Zealand Aqua Republica Eco Challenge 2016. This YouTube clip shows Opotiki College teacher Matthew Williams sharing his thoughts on the value of the game to his students, and Ashleigh and Melissa talk about their gaming experience.


    “It is a resource that can go across many learning areas.” Teacher

    “Thanks for the awesome time for students! They all enjoyed playing the game every lunchtime. It was also great to hear their conversations during the game as they were sharing the ideas and helping each other.” Teacher

    “They were engaged and enjoyed the game. We mixed up the pairings, so it was good to watch the new dynamics.” Teacher

    “Learning through play is a great motivator for many of my less able pupils.” Teacher

    “For those who stuck with it, they obtained unexpected success.” Teacher

    Game development

    Rose Jowsey and DHI New Zealand set out to engage New Zealand students by playing a fun but serious game as well as developing a sense of water stewardship. The game development team, based in Auckland, created an iconic ‘Kiwi catchment’ using genuine New Zealand features and cultural concepts. As a pilot, there were learnings along the way for both the technical team and the participants.

    “We are really pleased with the enthusiasm and fantastic engagement from participants throughout New Zealand.” Rose Jowsey, Business Manager, DHI New Zealand

    “We now have a better idea of what is involved and where improvements are required when the challenge is run again in the future.” Carl Johnson, Technical Lead, DHI New Zealand

    Discover more information about the Aqua Republica Eco Challenge 2016 game:

    This AquaRepublicaNZ ​serious game is now offline.

    Useful links

    Water games is a collection of different games addressing various water challenges.

    TKI has further information about gaming for learning.

    Check out our Gaming and virtual learning – Pinterest board.

    The NZCER Games for Learning project is complete, but see the stimulating reports.

    Read this North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE) blog article Serious Games for Coastal and Marine Conservation, Management, and Adaptation – Find a Game for Your Work!. has simple online games with ecological messages. The audience is from age 6 and upward

      Published 2 November 2016 Referencing Hub articles
        Go to full glossary
        Download all