Project Title: WaterWorks: A game to teach water systems thinking

Principal Investigator(s): Dr. Mike Sellers, Indiana University, The Media School

Dates: March 2017-February 2018

Total Federal Funds:  Total Non-Federal Funds:

Project Reports
Project Factsheet

Public understanding of the water system is vital in dealing with the myriad of water challenges facing the world today. A lack of deep systems understanding of how water needs to be treated to be delivered to the home and what happens to the water once it leaves the home can pose severe sustainability and adaptation challenges. Neglecting natural water resources can lead to environmental, socio-political, and economic concerns. Prior research conducted by our lab had Indiana University student participants (N = 578) draw how water reaches the tap in an average home in the U.S. and is then returned to the natural environment. We also conducted an expert elicitation (N = 15) to create a simplified correct diagram to code each student drawing. Results show major gaps in understanding: where 56% of the participants did not draw a water treatment plant, 71% did not draw a wastewater treatment plant, and 1 in 5 participants had untreated water returning to the natural environment. For the majority of non-environmental students, the water system stops at the home. Given this prior research, we are now working on an interactive and immersive online video game to teach players about the water system. Our game, called WaterWorks, simulates a localized region where the player is responsible for building and maintaining a water system. The goal of this project is to test whether game play can improve systems understanding and how players understand the risks associated with water quality, quantity, and infrastructure. Lastly, we aim to test whether increased understanding of water related risks leads to fostering water conservation.