Emerging Technologies and Edtech June 19, 2014

Country of Origin: Singapore
Languages: English
Developer: Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Media Lab
Publisher: Tzai Entertainment
Year Published: 2011
Platforms: iOS
Genre: Puzzle/Action
Subject: Science, Environmentalism

Backflow’s fast-paced game mechanics challenge players to sort various recyclable and non-recyclable waste by flipping switches along an urban pipe network. Gameplay content focuses on environmental awareness and proper recycling procedures. The game evolved from a research initiative at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (USA) that used simulation based methods to investigate behavioral change. The game focuses on recycling and the environment because an individual’s behavior within these areas affect the wellbeing and behavior of others.

Backflow’s real strength lies in the fact that it puts the player in the role of administrator. Answering the age old question, “How hard can it be?”, Backflow forces players not only to deal with the core-switch flipping gameplay, but with budgets and capacity planning. In between rounds, players can purchase garbage or recycling from other cities, earning them more money, but making the puzzle more difficult. Further, as waste management systems become more robust, they also become more complicated. The game makes a subtle point through its gameplay: Waste management is tough business.

The actual learning that is embedded in the game proper feels a little thin, it also feels like an asset for engagement. As opposed to a generic, didactic message about taking care of the environment, Backflow lets players come to their own conclusions. As part of a larger lesson about municipal services and the difficulty of environmental care, there aren’t many other games that focus on this important part of the modern urban landscape.