Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley speaks at the Chesapeake Executive Council meeting at Historic Mount Vernon, Va., in 2009. A new computer game prompts players to assume roles and make decisions affecting the Bay. (Photo by Michael Land/Chesapeake Bay Program)

A new computer game created by a team at the University of Virginia is giving students a real-life look at how decisions by the Chesapeake Bay watershed’s 17 million residents affect the future of the Bay and its local streams and rivers.

The U.Va. Bay Game is a large-scale interactive simulation of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The Bay Game demonstrates the importance of political and civic collaboration and serves as a tool for exploring and testing policy choices.

In the Game, players assume roles as farmers, watermen, citizens, developers and policymakers, and play the game according to those roles. For example, farmers decide whether to plant cover crops, and developers decide between regular and sustainable development. Players then see the effects of their decisions on each other and on the Bay watershed over a 20-year period.

"The Bay Game shows how human behavior is interrelated, how what we do in one location affects people and the environment here and everywhere," said Thomas Skalak, U.Va. vice president for research. "It is our goal with this tool to inform public policies, private investment trends and societal behaviors in ways that will enhance human health, economic prosperity and environmental sustainability."

The Bay watershed is represented in the Game as a collection of seven smaller watershed regions (the Eastern Shore, James, Patuxent, Potomac, Rappahannock, Susquehanna and York) and the Bay itself divided into a north and a south region. Each of these smaller watersheds contains an agricultural sector and a land development sector, as well as general public sector.

  • Approximately 64,000 farms throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed are represented, with players making decisions regarding both crop and livestock farming practices.
  • The land development sector is represented by the number of residential acres and acres that may be converted from agriculture or forest to development. Land development players make decisions to buy and sell land, and develop property they own using conventional or sustainable practices.
  • Players representing watermen make decisions about their method of crab harvesting (dredging or potting) and the length of the harvesting season. They also have the opportunity to invest in new equipment that would increase their efficiency.
  • Player roles also include those of policymakers, who make decisions on land use, the crab industry and agricultural policy. These players creative incentives or impediments to the other players' decision-making.
  • In each region, players also represent members of the public with specific feelings about the economy, the environment and their perceived quality of life.

The Bay Game, the first simulation of its kind in this region, is based on current science and is true to the complexity of the Bay watershed. It has the potential to generate innovative solutions to finding a balance between a healthy environment and strong local economies.

“The Bay Game is a progressive tool that brings together the power of the local – the realization that we're all in this together,” Bay Program Director Jeff Lape said.

The Bay Game was developed by a faculty and student team at the University of Virginia. Azure Worldwide, an environmental education organization co-founded by Phillippe Cousteau, has since joined the team, which hopes to eventually develop a K-12 version of the Game for the watershed’s younger students.

Visit U.Va.’s website for more information about the Bay Game.



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