Game Assignment for Environmental Economics

This page authored by Nelson Altamirano
National University, School of Business and Management
Author Profile
Initial Publication Date: July 13, 2012


This is a group assignment for Environmental Economics at the undergraduate level that could replace a course paper assignment. At the end of this assignment students will understand economics, environment and geosciences at a deep level and learn how to differentiate theoretical results from real situations; gain excel skills, team working skills and game creation skills that are useful in their working environments; reinforce their writing and presentation skills; and finally learn the subject by doing it and having fun.

Used this activity? Share your experiences and modifications

Learning Goals

The main goal is for students to incorporate at least 3 key concepts in the rules of the game, the strategies of players and calculations in the game engine, as well as to use real data as much as possible. If the game is to save water in a residential home it is expected that the incentives to save water, the costs incorporated, the alternatives to choose from and the volume of water corresponds to reality. In addition, students gain group working skills, excel skills and visualization skills from their own peers.

The specific economics, environmental and geosciences concepts are chosen by the students from a list that comes from the course learning outcomes and that are presented in the attachment below. Instead of imposing my own interests and reality, I want students to apply concepts to their own reality and interests and become experts in the areas that make more sense to them.

The list of concepts in the attachment comes from the learning outcomes for an environmental economics course. It does not include the geosciences concepts yet, because this is what I want to learn in this workshop.

Context for Use

This assignment replaces the term paper I used to include in my courses, so it is a significant effort that counts 25 % or 35 % of the course grade. I tried this type of activity in introductory microeconomics with adult students (average age 33.7) in a very fast learning environment (the course last only 4 weeks, more or less like a summer session in traditional universities but students take only this class). The level of engagement and student commitment is fabulous and it would be better if students play a game designed by the instructor in class. The class sizes at my university are between 25 and 35 students, so I usually ask students to make groups of 3-4 students. A single student cannot complete the assignment because no single student has all the skills necessary to finish the assignment in 3 weeks. Some students are good writing papers, others have graphical skills and are great with illustrations and simple animations, others are good with math, calculations and excel skills, and others are good with the creative process of fun playing situations. It is necessary that students understand the scope of the assignment before they form groups, so they have a sense of work distribution since the beginning. I found very important if the grade can incorporate an individual and group component and you provide some guidelines about group management.

Description and Teaching Materials

The first attachment, 'Student Handout Game Assignment' includes the complete information for this activity: Game for Environmental Economics Assignment Description; Theoretical Concepts to be Included in the Game; Online Support to Design the Game; Suggested Steps and Time Table. The second attachment, 'Course Description' includes the description of a possible course in environmental economics where the game activity could be placed. This document includes the course title, textbook, course description and learning objectives.
Student Handout for Game Assignment (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 20kB Jun20 12)
Course Description (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 14kB Jul16 12)

Teaching Notes and Tips

Play a game in class : It is easier for economics to play one or two games in class because we have already games available in the literature that are 'sure' winners, for instance the 2nd auction market. There are some games for environmental economics too, but I am not familiar with educational games for sustainability courses. I only know of a home water saving game developed by my colleague Ben Radakhrishnan at the School of Engineering.

Rubric: Create a grading rubric that incorporates individual and group grades.

Monitor Activity : Timing and group management is critical for the success of this activity. My students must report a specific piece of the assignment every week (the term lasts only 4 weeks), have a space in the course shell where they collaborate and develop the assignment and have a space to communicate. In terms of group management I suggest to use some free website like

Office Hours and Teaching Support: Expect students to come to your office hours more than ever with this assignment, and you may need to extend your faculty support. However, it is not painful because students are so engaged with it that for the 1st time in their student experience they want to share new things and learn more than the regular staff we teach in the classroom. I am not a game design professional, so I am limited to basic things, but we have an online support site.

Excel Support: It is amazing all what excel can do for game creation and engine support. Students already have some excel experience from work and quantitative courses. The most previous experience the better. However, they may not be familiar with graphics or connected sheets and some math tools.

Luckily, there are many videos in YouTube that explain all these things and students can learn by themselves on the fly, and they can add free add-ins like Solver for graphing and finding solutions with no calculus. If you are not familiar with excel, identify any statistics book with excel, for instance Humberto Barreto's Intermediate Microeconomics with Excel and Introductory Ecometrics with Excel.


The delivery items are a written report in Word, a game engine in Excel, a game board in Excel or Powerpoint to play the game, and a powerpoint to make the group presentation. The written report includes six separate sections: Abstract, Instructions, Game Board and Excel Engine; Debriefing Section; References and Appendix. The most important sections are the Instructions (rules, strategies, constraints with economics concepts) and the Debriefing Section (what is the expected result and how the trial diverted from the theoretical prediction). The game engine operates all calculations in the background based on key concepts learned in class and real relevant data; it should also compute the winner of the game.

References and Resources

The general online supporting site we use at National University: