21 January 2022
Murgame: a debris flow game from the WSL
GeoPrac.net recently highlighted that the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research (WSL) has written an interactive game, Murgame, that both highlights the risks associated with debris flows to mountain communities and that gives the player experience of the effectiveness, and economics, of various types of mitigation. The game can be accessed for free online and is available in a range of languages, including English. It is good fun to play.
The premise of the game is that the player is asked to design and build a village that meets key parameters (number of inhabitants, schools, shops, farms, etc). The location of the village is on either side of a debris flow channel. Once constructed, the player simulates either a large or a small debris flow. Murgame uses the well-known and very effective RAMMS simulation tool to assess the debris flow behaviour. At the end of the event, which plays out on the screen, the user is presented with data on the costs of the event to their village.
The player can then design various mitigations, which range from soft (an information centre and/or a siren) to hard (levees along the channel for example). The simulation is then run again, and the impact on the villages, as well as the acceptability of the measures to the local population and the cost-effectiveness, are calculated.
I played the game to design a small village (18 inhabitants) with a school, a farm and a shop. I then simulated the large debris flow. The outcome was not a happy one:-
I then constructed some levees along the channel to protect the village and re-ran the simulation:-
The game demonstrates that the levees are highly effective in controlling the flow, and the village emerges mostly unscathed. Of course this is an unsightly and expensive option though. The game provides an assessment of the amount of damage prevented, the cost-effectiveness of the measures and the acceptability to the residents:-
The player can then experiment with other measures, and with other village configurations, to explore the balance between loss, investment and acceptability.
I thoroughly recommend Murgame – it’s fun, educational and valuable. I can imagine using it to raise awareness with older school children, students and members of the public. WSL should be commended for this initiative.