Democracy vs. Sustainability – a branched interactive story wins MEDEA Awards 2022

By Jonathan Stauffer, University of Bern, Switzerland

Have you ever been annoyed by book protagonists making less than smart decisions? I have. I remember when I read the Jurassic Park book, back in the days. They built a zoo for resurrected dinosaurs in an area where power breakdowns and tropical storms were hardly uncommon. I remember thinking to myself: electric fences? Really?

Then there were the books that allowed you to participate by making your own choices, as in “When you think the gardener is the killer, turn to page so and so”. Some of you may remember the so-called game books. I loved them – if they were well made. They gave me a feeling of empowerment, a feeling that I, as a reader, was somewhat in charge of the story and I tried to make my decisions as wisely as possible.

That is what we tried to accomplish with this project, containing 20+ branched videos and thus giving the students a feeling that they are in charge of the narrative and that their decisions make a difference in the story’s progression.

In “Democracy vs. Sustainability” the students step into the shoes of a small town Mayor and can make decisions for the benefit of a fictional town called “Boomington”, its citizens, and businesses – and for their own political career. After all, you only have an impact if you get re-elected. Right?

And as Mayor you face all kind of problems: a water crisis caused by industry emissions and farming pesticides, food waste in restaurants and supermarkets, et cetera. Now it’s up to you: should you let the citizens vote on the water crisis or should the stakeholders decide what to do? Should it be mandatory or voluntary for supermarkets and restaurants to use a new food waste app? After each decision people will tell you what they think of it and the story progresses further in branched directions.

In this way the students can feel and see the direct consequences of their decisions and thus learn about the complex interplay between basic democratic processes and sustainability efforts.

In addition, Professor Ingold from our University of Bern, appears after most decisions giving some scientific background information. We were very lucky that she was open to the idea of our gamified approach.

We were also lucky that the project was well received. We were able to present it at several educational congresses, the highlight being that it won the MEDEA award! That was also a highlight for me personally, given the amount of persuasion work that was required during the production process. Winning the award shows us that there is still a lot of potential in game-based learning. I can hardly wait to further improve the approach in upcoming projects!

Why don’t you try it out yourself? This is where you can play Democracy vs. Sustainability:

If you want to share your thoughts on it, we’d be happy to hear them. Contact:

Editor’s note: Democracy vs. Sustainability I a branched interactive story was a well-deserved winner in the 2022 edition of the MEDEA Awards and represented at the Awards ceremony in Leuven by David Graf, University of Bern, Switzerland.


Jonathan Stauffer, University of Bern, Switzerland