Using play to study and build resilience

October 17, 2017
Brooks Hogya

When most people think of board games, they remember evenings playing Monopoly at the summer cabin or marathon games of Risk in their undergrad dorm room. But playing a board game as an act of academic research?

Brooks Hogya, a graduate of Royal Roads’ Master of Arts in Disaster and Emergency Management, started exploring a game as research while figuring out his thesis topic. But even he was skeptical it would catch on. 

“I just didn’t really think people would be interested in what I thought was cool,” he confesses with a laugh.

His idea turned into the Resilienceville Game and became the centre of his thesis, “Disaster Risk Reduction through Play: A Serious Game Based on Research, Comprised of Research, for the Purposes of Research.” It also netted him the Governor General’s Academic Gold Medal, which honours the university’s graduate student with the most outstanding thesis of the year.

As a paramedic, event adventure sport professional and entrepreneur, Hogya says he often learns by doing. As he worked on his master’s thesis, Hogya felt somewhat constrained by the typical format for academic research.

“Research can often be esoteric. I was looking for a way to synthesize information and interact with it in a non-intimidating way,” he says.

Hogya, with help from fellow graduate student Mark Altermann, developed the Resilienceville Game, which integrated existing disaster resilience theory while also allowing them to conduct research with volunteers as the game was played.

Resilienceville focuses on understanding disaster risk reduction as a complex decision-making process. It is based on research on gaming, socio-ecological models of disaster resilience and recovery and research on young people’s understanding of these topics. The game allows players to interact with a disaster, while all along collecting data, all disguised as a board game for 4 to 5 players. It bridges research and practice, engages people and generates further research data.

Hogya says his game is nothing like Monopoly or Snakes and Ladders.

“Most people’s view of games is that’s it’s for children, and that it’s this luck-based idea where the dice control it and I just pick up a card and it tells me what to do,” he says. “So what I wanted to do was create a way to interact with these intellectual concepts but in a choice-driven game and to create different scenarios.”

Hogya and Altermann piloted the game at a social innovation workshop at the ResilienceByDesign Innovation Research Lab at Royal Roads. Forty young adults played the game as part of the research and gave feedback.

“Brooks is a stellar example of Royal Roads’ unique orientation to graduate studies with working professionals and our commitment to engaging and encouraging non-traditional students,” says Robin Cox, Hogya’s master’s thesis supervisor and director of the ResilienceByDesign Lab. “Brooks exemplifies that which excites me about teaching and mentoring students. He is invested in learning, he is open to feedback that challenges his thinking and assumptions, and he is creative and innovative.”

The game’s successful reception both in academia and beyond has led to new opportunities for its co-creator. Hogya is now working with a team on a second board game on emergency response for the government of Alberta.

Since his graduation in 2016, Hogya has put his expertise to work outside academia as a provincial emergency coordinator for B.C. Ambulance. He also returned to the role of scholar-practitioner this past summer, beginning the Doctor of Social Sciences program at Royal Roads.

He says he continues to be committed to thinking of innovative ways to do and use research.

“Now that this Pandora’s box is open I see that lots of people are interested,” Hogya says. “People play around with ideas in lots of different realms and now this is a fun way to play around with some of these more academic ideas.”

This profile was developed with the assistance of the Research Support Fund and will be included in the forthcoming 2018 Research in Action publication featuring Royal Roads University faculty and student research.