Primary 7 at Oxgangs in Edinburgh are playing Beo (Gaelic for "life"); they have been playing for over two hours (with a break) and their enthusiasm is undiminished. "Oh, no!" cries the child in light-hearted exasperation, "not Human Wellbeing again!". "We take a lot of looking after," agrees the leader, and the game goes on.
Beo, you might say, is the Monopoly for the post-Thatcher world, a non-competitive boardgame, played collaboratively to save the planet, the game we must either all win, or all lose. It has been eight years in the perfecting, and is now being promoted by an Edinburgh environmental charity, Living Water, for use in schools and colleges, and elsewhere.
There are two boards available so far, for "Scotland" and "The World". In both cases the mapping shows the natural features and the climate. At the start of the game the players place a polished wooden pebble anywhere on the board, and the eight dials on the side of the board are set at mid-point. They are then dealt their "Solution" cards.
The dealer then turns up a "Challenge" card, which might be to promote human wellbeing by channelling water, or saving the Siberian tiger from extinction, or preventing soil contamination, and the players have to trump it with appropriate "Solutions". When they fail or succeed, helped or hindered by the "Chance" cards, the dials are moved forwards to "catastrophe" or back to "safety", and another "Challenge" card is turned up. The aim, as W C Fields saw it, is to try to get out of the world alive.
Obviously, the main educational thrust of the game is environmental, and you can see this working on many fronts. New words and ideas are being introduced as the children wrestle with the likes of "biodegradable" and "sustainable". Images and ideas from hours of TV wildlife and news watching are turned into attitudes and opinions. Post-game discussion brings an offer from one of the boys to collect the class's cans for recycling.
It is also an excellent "listening and talking" experience, in which the cards children hold give them an authority that maybe their oral skills and class status usually deny them. Above all, it is a sharing, non-competitive game for a society being slowly separated by success and failure. The Old Adam (and Eve) is not easily suppressed: the competitive children offer their solutions, right or wrong, frequently and irrepressibly; when the class can choose a problem, they choose "War". To their chagrin, they find they have to abolish it.
Class teacher Valerie Watt was impressed with the sustained concentration from the class, the variety of activity, and the way the game let them bring their "telly" learning to bear on international issues. "Of course," she had to add, "this is a special event, not planned within the usual school curriculum. " That's the rub: Living Water gained this much sought-after entree into schools only through Edinburgh's Festival of the Environment; this excellent educational resource deserves a more general recommendation.