A game that shows how every drop counts amidst Bengaluru’s water crisis

Taking the current water crisis into consideration, Fields of View recently hosted a public session of Hanigalu, a gaming simulation built on Bangalore’s real water data

Published - April 12, 2024 09:00 am IST - Bengaluru

Residents collect free water from a tanker amid the water crisis, in Bengaluru.

Residents collect free water from a tanker amid the water crisis, in Bengaluru. | Photo Credit: SHAILENDRA BHOJAK

“Water has been a pressing issue in Bangalore for years,” says Trina Talukdar, Chief Visioning Officer, Fields of View, a city-based organisation that builds games and simulations on public policy issues. While she agrees that this year is worse than ever before, she believes that there is a bit of collective amnesia when it comes to Bengaluru’s water issues. “We pretend that this has never happened before, and everyone acts surprised,” she says, talking about how it is a persistent problem.

Taking the current water crisis into consideration, Fields of View recently hosted a public session of Hanigalu, a gaming simulation built on Bangalore’s real water data. “By playing this game with other people from around the country, you can understand in-depth about water security planning, its intricacies and trade-offs,” says Trina of the game, which was developed back in 2019 in collaboration with Azim Premji University, as part of the Small Grants Programme of the Bengaluru Sustainability Forum.

In the summer of 2019, Bengaluru was assailed by yet another drinking water crisis – it was, as the Fields of View website states “just one reminder about the intersection of urban governance and management of a natural resource against the background of climate change.” It also points out that though constitutional provisions exist to involve citizens in the governance of a city, the utilisation of these spaces has remained stunted. “Similarly, methods and tools for citizen participation have remained largely underdeveloped,” it adds.

That is where experiential games, like Hanigalu, can help. They are a great way to fill in these gaps by helping citizens understand the water crisis from multiple perspectives, and be able to make better, more informed decisions both at an individual level and as a collective, believes Trina. “We wanted to find a way to get to the centre of it all…to understand the complexity of the problem and come up with a solution, keeping multiple points of view in mind,” she says.

About ‘Hanigalu’

In 2018, Cape Town in South Africa almost faced Day Zero, when the South African legislative capital’s taps nearly ran dry, leaving its residents, more than four million of them, in a dire water crisis. The catastrophe, however, was averted, thanks to a host of water-conservation initiatives.

There are some striking parallels between Cape Town in 2018 and Bengaluru today, making the idea of a Day Zero here rather plausible. Hanigalu, which is set in the fictional city of Paanipura loosely modelled on Bengaluru, takes its players through the history of this city, once amply watered by lakes and even a non-perennial river, but now facing a severe water crisis, with the looming risk of a Day Zero.

It describes how Paanipura, with an altitude of 934 m above sea level, an enviably pleasant climate, a series of lakes that helped recharge aquifers and afforestation drives by its far-sighted rulers, had ample water for many centuries. The recent past, however, is a different story. Hanigalu goes on to also highlight the effects of indiscriminate urbanisation, industrialisation and migration on the city and shows the kind of pressure the city’s infrastructure and resources, including water, will be under if there is a further increase in the city’s population.

Players are also taken through the current water situation in the city, dwelling on supply, coverage, the demand-supply gap, the relationship between socio-economic status and access to water, waste-water treatment strategies, and the economics of water supply and treatment, among other things. They are then asked to choose between various scenarios, develop strategies to deal with the scenario chosen and understand the repercussions of these choices on the overall water situation.

For instance, during the pandemic, when household water consumption increased due to citizens being at home more and increased hygiene needs, one of the strategies suggested was diverting industrial water to households as industries were closed, explains Trina. “Many citizens thought it was a great solution,” she says. However, what happened in reality was more complicated, she points out. While choosing this option helped preserve groundwater, the water supply and sewerage board went bankrupt: industries usually pay more for water as household water is subsidised. “It enables people to see all points of view,” she says. “We put our research out in the world through these serious games and simulations so that it can convert to real action on the ground,” she says.

Hanigalu website.

Hanigalu website. | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

A training tool

When Hanigalu was first developed, the primary audience for the game was master’s students. “We wanted primarily to involve people who would be involved in different aspects of water security planning, especially students doing their master’s in sustainable development,” says Yashwin Iddya, Chief Knowledge Officer, Fields of View. “We wanted them to understand the complexity of water and what kind of data goes into managing it,” he says.

While students continue to be a key stakeholder group, over time, the Fields of View team realised that many other sorts of audiences could benefit from such a game. “We are now focused on taking this game and putting it in the hands of (as many) diverse stakeholders as possible,” says Trina. She feels that solutions to our problems could come from different quarters, including policymakers, resident welfare associations and civil society organisations.

“Different people and groups of people are trying to solve this issue in silos,” she says. Hanigula, she firmly believes, could help us understand the issue more holistically and push us to come up with solutions by taking into account the grievances of other stakeholders. “It is not just about finding a solution for our building but also how finding a solution for our building will affect this larger ecosystem around us.”

Why games?

But, why play games to deal with our water situation? For starters, it allows a safe place for experimentation, Trina explains. “In real life, you cannot say, let’s increase taxation or divert industrial water supply and see what happens,” she states. A gaming simulation built on real-world data, however, allows someone to experiment, learn, and even fail. “You can choose an option, and if you don’t like the results, you can come back and choose another option.”

Other advantages offered by serious games, in general, include better engagement, more accessibility and higher retention of learning, she adds. “Human beings store information and data as stories,” says Trina, who believes that it is the natural inclination of our species. “People will show up to play a game and tell stories.”

To learn more about Hanigalu, log into fieldsofview.in

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