Teaching sustainability to a broad audience through an entertainment game – The effect of Catan: Oil Springs

Emile J.L. Chappin*, Xanna Bijvoet, Alexander Oei

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

30 Citations (Scopus)
127 Downloads (Pure)


In order to attain a truly sustainable society it is necessary for people to make ‘the sustainable choice’ in daily life, business and governance. Instrumental in increasing the awareness and understanding about sustainability issues and improving people's behaviour regarding sustainability issues is sustainability education. However, sustainability education is not yet widespread and is found to not always be effective in tackling people's behavioural aspects regarding sustainability issues. This paper addresses a novel form of sustainability education that has potentially both a wide reach and tackles behavioural aspects of sustainability issues directly: serious gaming. It is shown how an entertainment game, a scenario expansion for the popular board-game Settlers of Catan, can be used to educate a broad audience on sustainability issues. Through a causal analysis of the educational mechanisms embedded in the game scenario the strategies that players might use were found. Subsequently, workshops were held to observe how players are affected by playing the game. The results suggest that playing the game affects people's attitude towards sustainability and, predominantly, the sustainability of the behaviour. Although only the second finding could be supported by statistical tests, the anecdotal observations and quantitative findings do point in the same direction. It was found that the sustainability concepts embedded in the game together with the gameplay dynamics drove the educational effects of the game. These game dynamics enable players to experience real sustainability issues: players are forced to reconsider their strategies, not necessarily to save the Island of Catan, but for their own victory in the game – which is a strong lesson related to sustainability in general and climate change specifically. Future research should focus on conducting larger-scale surveys supporting the execution of statistical tests. In addition, this research points at the untapped potential of teaching sustainability concepts through entertainment games and suggests that game developers incorporate sustainability concepts through educational mechanisms in their games.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)556-568
JournalJournal of Cleaner Production
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Behavioural change
  • Climate change awareness
  • Education
  • Entertainment game
  • Serious gaming
  • Sustainability


Dive into the research topics of 'Teaching sustainability to a broad audience through an entertainment game – The effect of Catan: Oil Springs'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this