How To Understand Your Climate Impact And Discover Actionable Creative Business Solutions

Creative Business Solutions For Understanding Your Climate Impact, with Matteo Menapace

Mainyard Tower Hamlets resident Matteo Menapace uses creative business solutions by making cooperative games and also runs educational workshops, teaching people how to use games to tackle real-world challenges.

Matteo’s workshops can also help businesses and teams to get out of creative ruts and find new solutions to pressing challenges, through creating bespoke transformative learning experiences for businesses.

In celebration of Earth Day, we took great pleasure in chatting to Matteo about his latest project Daybreak  – a cooperative game about climate action which he co-designed with Matt Leacock.

Hello, Matteo. Thank you so much for joining us on the Mainyard Studios podcast today. I’m really excited to hear about what you’re working on at the moment and for you to share more about your projects. Why don’t you start with that? Why don’t you tell us what you’re working on?

I’m working at the moment on a game called Daybreak , a board game about tackling the climate crisis on a global level. This is a game that I’m working on with a designer called Matt Leacock, who is famous for having designed a game called Pandemic.

It’s a game that came out about 12 years ago. So well before the COVID pandemic, but it’s a game that has created a new trend for board games because it’s a cooperative game. Co-operative games are those where everyone plays together as a team to either win or lose the game all together, which is quite unconventional.

Most games are competitive in the sense that people play against each other. Whereas in a cooperative game, everyone plays together against the game itself. So in Pandemic for instance, the threats and the common enemy are four deadly viruses that are spreading around the world. And people have to work together to try and contain different kinds of outbreaks as well as finding the cure – a vaccine for the viruses.

In the game that I’m working on at the moment, we are tackling a different kind of problem, which is the climate crisis. The premise of the game is that every player is in charge of a power block in the world. We have the US, China, Europe and the global South.

They work to carbonize the economy at a global scale, as well as building resilience, which allows players to resist a growing number of crisis. Like storms, heat waves, tornadoes, and all sorts of shocks that are weather related; as well as social political, economic crises that are either caused, linked or exacerbated by climate change.

This is a game where people work together to try and bring about the kind of system change that we feel is really important to talk about and also to plan out, to explore and to imagine. It also helps players understand that we really need the world’s leaders to start working together and cooperating – not just pretending when they meet up for the various negotiations and then not actually doing anything serious about it.

So yeah, that’s what I’m working on at the moment: Daybreak.

 

What kind of impact do you think that has on people? As in playing a game instead of taking action in another way, like protesting. What difference do you think it makes to be doing it via a game?

By the way, if you want to play test it, we are play testing via a virtual tool called Tabletopia .

We have moved the game to the virtual arena because of COVID, but also because it’s allowing us to reach out to people all across the world. The challenge was finding an online tool that allows players to move cards around in a 3d space. Hopefully we’ll be playing soon also in person.

We’re always looking for people that are interested in playing this kind of game. It’s an experience where, like I said before, because it’s a cooperative game, it’s kind of different from the usual competitive type of game in the sense that everyone sits at a table, whether that’s virtual or a real table, and try to work together.

So it ends up being like a big brainstorming session in a sense, because you’re moving around cards, you’re playing cards, you’re taking the damage from the crisis, but you’re also doing a lot of talking. People constantly talk because there is no competition between players, meaning that it makes sense for everyone to exchange ideas to decide together what to do to strategize together.

And so it’s, you know, two hours of deep conversations about climate solutions.

Going back to your previous question: “what kind of impact does playing this sort of game have on people, and what kind of action are we hoping to inspire?”

It’s about awareness. Making people aware of the scale and urgency of the problem.

A lot of climate action has been framed around individual choices. So for instance, eating less meat, driving less or flying less, recycling more – these are all really good things, but at the same time, only acting as an individual is not very empowering and it’s also kind of disingenuous because the type of change that we needed to actually make a difference in is decarbonizing, reducing emissions, preventing the kind of catastrophe that is otherwise going to come.

It’s not going to be enough to just act individually or be good ethical consumers. The first thing that we want people to realize through playing this game is that there is a level of political social action that is required and only that level of collective action can lead to real solutions – solutions that actually make a difference at scale.

 

So if a business was playing this game, what are some of the solutions that they might come up with of how they could make an impact or maybe become a bit more environmentally sustainable within their business?

We give people a way to see what currently happening on a policy or technology level. The game will present them with 150 cards, for example, that each contain a different kind of solution. And then, as a business or as a group or as a team, people can then consider the solutions and think about how those could be applied to their business and in real life scenarios.

For example, if you’re a business, you may see different kinds of energy generation options, which you would then potentially investigate as a way to power your office. For instance, you could invest in solar panels toclean up your energy supply.

Another thing that people could investigate is Policy perspective.

However I want to emphasize that this game is not like a workshop. It’s not a place where people come up with solutions as such, but rather a game that already has a bunch of solutions that people can try out and then see what happens when those solutions work or don’t work together.

And then at the second step, people could think about the solutions that are more relevant to them and then investigate how those solutions can exist in the real world. In the workshops I design, people do more of these kinds of brainstorming activities.

So that’s where people can be a bit more creative in the sense that they come up with solutions that are kind of tailored for their businesses.

 

Can you explain a bit more about what you do in the workshops?

In the workshops, I get people to play games and also make their own games.

These workshops can be anywhere between one hour and the whole day. In an hour, people can come together as a team and make a game by hacking or deconstructing an existing game, and then rebuilding it according to their own values and their own rules. And that can give them first of all, a fun hour together to practice collaboration and to practice ways in which they can create this kind of world of rules. They can also express their own ideas.

Then, and for the more in-depth workshop, people are building games that are specifically related to a problem that they’re facing as an organization or modeling an environment or market, that they are operating in. So it’s a way to help people build some kind of layer or version of what they can use as a tool to communicate to their colleagues or to their clients, and also to have conversations within their organization.

This is completely off the cuff, but imagine making a game about running a business like Mainyard Studios. What are the challenges? What are the rewards? Where and who are the players and what are their motivations? It’s these kinds of questions that get people thinking, then building a system of rules, and then seeing how people operate within those rules.

It’s a way for people to both have fun as a team, as well as creating something purposeful that can then be used as a tool to have further conversation.

 

What happens after they play the game and they’ve discovered new solutions or managed to think about their business in a different light? Do they then go away and create their own framework of how they’re going to implement changes? Or do you give them resources?

Both – it’s really up to them. Generally, people feel really excited about making more games. So, after taking part in a workshop, they often contact me because they had an idea for another game that they want to create, which may have nothing to do with their business.

You know, it could be completely fantasy based, but still kind of rekindling all the passion that they had before. I really like this because people are genuinely excited about making the games and also they see after even a short time that they can do it. That is not something completely inaccessible for them, especially when it comes to board games.

What I do and probably haven’t specified yet is I teach people how to make board games, not video games, because board games are made out of paper and little objects, and they’re mainly played through interaction with other people in real life. So, it’s very easy to make a board game because you already know how to manipulate all the material.

You already know how to write. And you already know how to roll the die and all that stuff. And the rules of the game are embedded and played out by people’s brains. And it’s really easy to change that. Whereas it’s not that easy to change the code that runs a video game, so that can be very empowering for people.

And then for the other kind of response that people tend to have after a workshop is that they, find that choosing games can be a really interesting way to convince people, to have a different perspective, and try things that they may have not been able to do through a presentation or through another tool.

Asking people to play a game can be something that they agree to more easily. And then through playing a game, you’re not giving them specific answers, but you’re allowing them to explore. It provides space to have these conversations around what they should do as opposed to tell them what they should do.

So, it’s a really, really nice tool to have this conversation without being preachy, if you like.

I’m curious as to how the collaboration started in the beginning for the game that you’re working on now – Daybreak. Also why did you decide to focus on the global issue of climate change rather than another global issue?

I’ve been interested in the climate crisis for quite some time, and for the most part of the last decade I’ve been looking in and then looking away. I’ve been reading a lot of books about it, but then whenever I thought about doing something practical I am often overwhelmed by how big and complex it all is.

Throughout 2019, there was a lot of waves of protest. The school strikes, extinction rebellion, and other organizations that started to bring this topic back into the center of the public discourse. And so that kind of reawakened in me that interest, and also the desire to do something a bit more practical about it.

And then at the beginning of lockdown last year, I wrote a blog post about pandemic that I mentioned earlier about what we could learn from the game Pandemic in relation to the new reality, which was the COVID-19 pandemic and the lessons that were mainly around cooperation and coordination and working together to tackle this big global challenge.

After I posted this blog post on Medium, I reached out to Matt Leacock, who’s the designer of Pandemic. And at the time, I didn’t know him, he was just like someone that I follow on Twitter. I just reached out saying, “Hey, I wrote this article, I was wondering what you make of it?”

And to my surprise, he came back a few hours later saying, “Oh, that was really interesting!  I’m actually thinking about making a game about climate change. So should we talk?”

This was roughly a year ago, and after that we started having a weekly chart where we initially discussed some ideas and shared some common frustrations and thoughts on:

 

How do we even frame climate change in a game? How do you make climate change playable and how do you make it enjoyable for players?

And then little by little, we started throwing around ideas and understanding that this has to be something that exposed the problem on a global level. And then we thought about who are the players? How do they play? What kind of challenges do they face? What is the main driver of threats. And we started coalescing around this idea of the main board having to mock the world where people put their carbon emissions.

One of the goals of the game is to reduce carbon emissions. Each player controls, as I said before, one large block or a country and throughout the game they have the option to roll out different kinds of policies and technologies to reduce those emissions.

And then those emissions are constantly accumulating in the atmosphere which is in the center of the game board – representing global warming. The players monitor a growing number of crises that are either natural disasters or different kinds of political, economic shock that can lead to people falling into a state of crisis.

If there are more than a certain number of people in crisis, then everyone loses together. The game kind of forces people to collaborate, to decarbonize their economies, as well as building systems of social resilience.

The game brings people together to try and imagine what it would be like tackle the climate crisis, on a global level. What if the world’s leaders actually took climate change seriously? That’s the kind of question that we were started from. And then the game allows you to explore that for a couple of hours.

I love that you’re inspiring people, or you’re making it more accessible for people to think differently. It makes them change within their own personal lives or on a on a bigger scale, as you were saying. That’s amazing.

 

How did you get started with making board games and doing these educational workshops?

I’ve been playing games for forever (since I can remember). My favorite game when I was a kid was a video game called SimCity where you, you would start from a sort of empty landscape and you have to build a city or rather you build the infrastructure for the city. That was my first experience of playing games, but I didn’t really even consider that I would become a game designer.

I actually started off as a graphic designer. I studied communication design at Uni, I then had this idea to make a game about philosophy.

The story that I was interested in is by Greek philosopher, Plato, and that kind of reawakened my interest in games. I went down the rabbit hole of becoming a video game developer and long story short, I then got bored of making video games and transitioned into education. I became a university lecturer, teaching people how to make websites and how to design interfaces.

As I was experimenting with different teaching methods, I went back to games as a way to teach people in a safe space, that can make them feel free to problem solve a specific challenge.

I was experimenting with educational games to teach people how to learn to code for instance, and then I realized that technology can sometimes get in the way. So I started experimenting with board games as tools that allow you to work together on problems, but without having goals, or the baggage of learning for example, how to code or learning software.

And so, yeah, in a kind of roundabout way I rediscovered that I really liked games, and I I’ve been enjoying making games since.

 

Do you think that there’s a difference in the way people learn when they learn through playing games as opposed to a different medium?

Yeah. it’s not just about playing games, but I realized that the most transformative learning experiences happen when people actually make games. Playing a game can be a really deep experience because you’re stepping into the shoes of someone else and you’re really focusing on one challenge, defined by your rules.

And that’s cool. But when you’re actually making the game; where you’re actually making the rules; that’s where you start to develop all sorts of skills around systems thinking. So, understanding the various parts of the system and how they work together or don’t work together, plus how these rules then dictate the way that people interpret them or the way other people respond to them.

In my experience as an educator, I found that yes, learning games are great to get people excited and to have a fun learning experience, but even more importantly, to help people or to allow people to make their own games, or to take existing games and turn them around, that is what will develop the critical thinking that will then allow them to interrogate all aspects of their life.

If a business wanted to do a workshop with you, would you then help them to create their own game in the workshop? Is that kind of the basis of what happens?

Yeah. And it normally starts with a conversation on life.

So on my website and they matteo.me, I offer at the moment, a couple of different workshops, one which is more about brainstorming. I love bees and love, how they also collaborate. Sometimes people think of bees as an organism. It’s like a big brain that has thousands of little flying parts or flying neurons. Brainstorming is essentially how bees work together to solve problems.

Then it’s about tackling these organizational problems in a way that is structured by the rules of an overall plan. Then the work is more about helping people create their own games by starting from an existing game and then hacking it down to a more superficial level to start with, then deeper and deeper until they create their own game.

They make a game, which is about the kind of problem that they’re trying to solve.

Can you give us an example of a of a problem that a company might come to you with, that they were trying to solve by doing these workshops with you?

Recently I worked for a company in Scotland called Creative Carbon. They bring together activists and practitioners on climate action. We developed an online version of the brainstorm, where they called people from all over Scotland and most of the rest of the UK to brainstorm ideas around a UN negotiation meeting that is happening later this year in Glasgow. And so in that workshop, people have to draw a card that represents a different challenge that the organization or that the wider community is facing, and then together brainstorm ideas, which would then be voted on by other people and then submitted to the game to see what the idea would be more or less likely to succeed.

So it was a way for people to have these very structured conversations around specific problems, and then to evaluate those ideas again, and find a sort of winning criteria that they had to decide all together.

It can, if someone wants to play just to win, they could win very easily by submitting boring ideas or ideas that they know would kind of work, or they can pretend they could work. But if people get into this kind of role play mindset and decide that this can be a really useful structure to come up with ideas that could work in the real world, then that’s when the magic happens.

That’s where the game has people be more creative and come up with more ideas than they would in a normal brainstorm.

 

Where do you find your inspiration for your game designs? Who or what inspires you?

It’s really about the idea that anything can be turned into a game.I think I tend to make games about whatever I’m interested in at that moment. Years ago I made a game about bees because I’m interested in bees! Then I made a game about Dementia and sharing memories because my grandma was suffering from Dementia – It’s called Fading Memories

Then I worked in making a game about climate change, like I said, because I’m interested in that topic. The inspiration can be all around us!

And I think games are one way to express that. I think games are a self-expression tool.

There’s also a lot of possibilities for making games about mundane subjects or also making games about the real world. A lot of games that exist that have been made so far are about fantasy world or something fictional and that’s fine. I mean, I really enjoy playing fictional games, but at the same time, I think there is a gap for the games that are taking real life and turning it into something playable. And I think there is also some sort of limitation in the way that thinking about games has to be only for fun.

But if we’re thinking about other forms of media, like film or novels or even graphic novels, those are not just about human emotions or making people laugh, but they can be about anything.

In the same way games can be made about anything and games can be producing different kinds of emotions, not just one, which is the stereotypical fun.

 

Going back to what you said about there being a gap in the market for these kinds of real-life games, how did you discover that that that gap was there? Is there much of a market for collaborative games?

There is definitely a market for cooperative games.  The top two games out there at the moment, possibly top three are all cooperative games.

More recently I feel that people have more of a desire for a different kind of playing experience where they work together with their friends or with their families, trying to solve a problem all together, which is presented by the game. It’s all of you as a team against the game, as opposed to the typical game where you are playing against other players.

So there is definitely that gap in the market, which I think is trying to solve real human desire and need. And in terms of the themes of the games, I feel that there is a gap in the market for games that are about real life.

If you look at most games, they are about either some kind of, you know, war or Napoleonic years or second world war or something like that, or about some fictional world, but there’s not that many games about now or about people in real life.

So I’m hoping to see more of that.

 

What impact do you think it has on people when they play these kinds of games?

I think it can open up conversations where playing a game can be a safe space for people to play a different role than what they have in real life.

They get to explore different perspectives and to see the point of view of other people, or it can be a way for people to press themselves and to take a more active role in the way that stories are told, for instance.  For example if you watch a documentary about a theme that you’re interested in, you’re kind of consuming that knowledge or you’re acquiring the knowledge and maybe then you can go and talk about it with other people.

But if you were to play a game about the same topic, then as you play, you’re constantly having to make decisions. And often you have to justify those decisions or to discuss those decisions with other people. So it’s an experience that helps you think through and talk through those things.

I feel that this can be applied very well to real life because cause we need to talk about certain subjects and doing it from a game can be a very accessible and structured way to do it.

 

It’s definitely an amazing tool to use to help people. Do you have any other kind of tools or techniques that you use to help with focus and productivity specifically?

I just had a chat recently with, with a friend who runs a company called Mind Over Tech  that helps people and companies to get more intentional about their use of technology and we were discussing how to be more focused. There is one technique that I realized is really powerful, that I hadn’t really considered up to that point.

And that is to delay the urge to search.

I’ve been trying to get more intentional about how I use social media or how not to use social media recently because social media can be a huge distraction. It can be a source of anxiety by comparing yourself with other people and getting into weird arguments.

Google search for instance is also a potential distraction or something that can lead to a kind of compulsive behavior.

So I had a conversation around this, where Zach suggested that instead of searching immediately when you think to look up something on Google, instead write it down on a piece of paper. Then only after a few hours at the end of the day, look up all the things that you wanted to search and then really decide whether you actually wanted to go and search those things.

I’ve been trying it in the last couple of days and I think it’s been really nice because it prevents me from getting distracted and also made me realize that often I go on a search engine. Not because I’m really looking for something, but because I’m trying to distract myself unconsciously. And so not having that immediate gratification can be a really good way to maintain focus.

It helps you stay in the flow state. Try experimenting with it for a couple of days. It really works.

 

What do you find consistently challenging in your business? Whether that’s in your business in general, or maybe the specific project that you’re working on at the moment, what are your challenges?

One of the challenges we’ve been facing like many other people, of course, over the last year has been transitioning from something which is very much based on human interaction in real life.

As you can imagine, a workshop is generally people being in the same room, talking to each other, writing on post-its, doing things in the same space and then having conversations, as well as playing games and designing games is something that generally requires a lot of human interaction.

All of that stuff has been either not possible or severely limited over the last year. So the challenge there has been to kind of reinvent the tools or the format for these kinds of experiences.

And I have to say designing and prototyping games online is also challenging.

There are tools like the one that we’re using at the moment called Tabletopia. Or for a board game, I just texted a few hours ago the latest prototype to some friends in Delhi and kind of ironically in the middle of a storm in Delhi, which was weird, but also related to the whole subject of climate.

Obviously I couldn’t test with people in Delhi, if it wasn’t for this technology, but at the same time, it makes everything a bit slower. You have to learn how to use a different tool, a different interface. There are issues with communication and connection.

So it it’s got pros and cons, but it’s what has allowed us to keep working. Over the last year the challenge has been changing the standards of what we do and adapting to this new reality.

I think these things have been the main challenge from a business point of view. When it comes to game design and the workshops that I run, one of the biggest challenges for people that take part in these workshops is to change the way that they think about games and equally when it comes to making cooperative games, realizing that those require a different kind of mindset than competitive games.

It’s not that cooperative games are harder than competitive games. It’s just that I think as a society, as a culture we are used to competitive games.

So we use to think of our interactions with other people in terms of competition until when it comes to designing a system that instead forces or encourages cooperation. We are kind of a bit illiterate. And so some people come to this workshop and find it really hard or challenging to design a cooperative game, but that’s more like a testament to the kind of society that we live in.

But once they get through that initial hurdle, people tend to really enjoy the results, the cooperative spirit that comes out of.

 

How do you reach your audience? How do people find out about you and the service you provide, like the games that you create and what you can help them to achieve?

Word of mouth mostly. I’ve been semi-active on social media. I have a website.

So running workshop with friends, and then they talk about it with someone else. Then they often think, that could work for my business, or that could work for the organization that I work with and then taking it from there pretty much. And in that sense, I’ve been pretty lucky. I think that if this kind of subject tends to be one that is appealing for people. Like when people think of games, they think of fun. So it’s a relatively easy sell, I would say.

 

Where do you see the future taking you?

I want to continue making games. This is actually something that I haven’t done for a long time.

Like I said before, I’ve been in education for some time. I’ve been making games full time for only about a year and a half, so I’m really enjoying it. And I want to continue doing that in the future. So yeah, I’m looking forward to this game coming out about climate change.

I have a small personal project that I’m working on – a present for my brother and his fiancé are going to get married at the end of the summer. So I’m planning to design a little game for them. They’re both doctors, so the game is going to be about creating a sort of Frankenstein body by putting together puzzle pieces, one piece at a time, and then scoring based on how many different arteries, how many organs are stuck together and stuff like that.

That’s such an amazing gift! A personalized game!

Yeah. We’ll see how it turns out.

 

How has joining Mainyard positively impacted you and your work?

It’s been great because it gave me and my partner who is sharing the studio at Mainyard, the opportunity to have a separate space from home. We are close by, and  we can walk home, or back and forth in 10 minutes.

And it’s been great, especially in this last lockdown. During the first lockdown, we both worked from home in a small flat. And I think this is a situation that many people, especially in London, are facing – working from a space that is not designed to be a workspace and can feel claustrophobic in many senses.

Instead, having the studio gave us extra space. Over the last few months, it’s really been a great space, both physically and mentally we have been able to separate work from home, being able to come here to the studio and, and do focus work.

And then at the end of the day, we can just pack up and go back home where I don’t take my computer. So it’s been really useful from that mental point of view.

 

As it’s Earth Day this month, and as you’re specifically focused at the moment on climate change, do you have any tips for how could small businesses could become more ecocentric and sustainable while they’re also growing their business?

This is a huge topic and it depends on how deep the businesses want to go in looking at their supply chain or their business practices and investigating the carbon footprint of all their suppliers or the people that they work with across various activities.

We’re part of an economic system that is fueled by fossil fuels. So it’s really difficult or nearly impossible to be carbon neutral or to be sustainable in this day and age. But at the same time everyone can look at what they do, and explore ways in which they can reduce their carbon footprint.

It’s a complex topic, because on one hand wanting to be sustainable is good. On the other hand, what do you prioritize? I think a lot of businesses can just kind of pick where they would like to be sustainable, but that could mean impacting their revenues or impacting their growth.

So the consideration is how companies can be sustainable and still make good revenue. And in fact, I feel that in the future, this will be more and more the case, but it’s not always just a question of the business individually making those choices.

But it’s a question of changing the landscape around businesses.  I’m talking about the energy sector, because I’m more familiar with it at the moment. But for instance, in a business landscape where the company that extracts and sells oil is not profitable because of a tax system will be because of, you know, the whole regulatory ecosystem that makes that kind of business model, not viable.

So to summarize, I think that we live in a space where often being unsustainable is actually good business. And I think collectively we need to change that. We need to create a system where doing the right thing doesn’t impact the possibilities for the business to grow.

I think we need to thibk about how to scale and not just think about how the individual business can be better, but how can we change the rules of the whole economic game? That’s a big challenge.

I was listening yesterday to an interview with the marketing director of Patagonia, the clothing company, and they’re doing an amazing job in terms of being a sustainable business. I’m looking at the way in which they work with suppliers and where they source material, how they treat their employees, and also the wider impact that they have in terms of campaigning for causes that they deem important.

And, and so they’re a great business, but I don’t think that we can ask every business to be like Patagonia. But rather we should change the rules of the game. So that every business can be like Patagonia because Patagonia, unfortunately in today’s day and age is an exception and we need to change the rules of the game so that companies like Patagonia can be the norm.

Definitely. Well, I I’m so happy that you had, you know, we had the opportunity to talk today and then I got a chance and that all of the anyone listening to this podcast will have a chance to understand your business a bit more and what you do and how you can actually help, help other people to grow their business or to, you know, gain some new perspectives or learn some new skills.

 

If you want to contact Matteo for a workshop or to design your own game that will help you solve some of your business challenges, or to learn some new skills:

LINKS

 

If you’re interested in making your business sustainable read our blog “How to run a sustainable business” and see how we make Mainyard sustainable



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