Learners at Sacred Heart College discover the principles of evolution by natural selection from the bottom up by playing a MindBurst boardgame

Learners at Sacred Heart College discover the principles of evolution by natural selection from the bottom up by playing a MindBurst boardgame.

The Evolution Game was originally developed for the Integrated Studies workshops on the 4th Industrial Revolution at Sacred Heart College. It was focused on engaging learners in knowledge creation. The object of the game is to allow learners to discover the principles of natural selection from the bottom up, and explore evolution by natural selection as a model for innovation. The learners discussed how humans could intentionally design their innovations, instead of relying solely on random mutation. Our ability for deliberate design can be extended to how we choose to live our lives. Using deliberate design as a philosophy for life enables learners to realise the agency they have over their own lives. It is not simply self-expression. It is self-expression that is directed at transforming the world towards a specific goal.

In the game, each student plays the population of a species. When the game starts, the students have to roll a die which randomly determines their starting species. They become either carnivores or herbivores, sweaty or furry, social or anti-social. Throughout the game their species will undergo further mutations, e.g. the acquirement of wings. They draw their species the way they imagine it, and the game of evolution begins. The students now have to compete for resources and living spaces whilst battling the elements to ensure the survival of their species.



To simulate the random process of mutation the students roll a die each round and stand a chance to gain more features. If their species does not mutate that round, the learners have an opportunity to migrate to biomes better suited to their species, or escape the threat of predators, or to hunt down prey. During the course of these rounds, various interactions with the environment and other species caused the species’ populations to fluctuate depending on its characteristics. Occasionally catastrophic events would occur, such as floods and meteor strikes, which would devastate the life forms in the game. Some lucky few had mutated in such a way that allowed them to evade the brunt of certain natural disaster and so the “food chain” was constantly reshuffled throughout the game.


An example of disaster that occurs in one of the rounds

After a number of rounds, some of the species thrive due to their mutations, whilst others die out completely and go extinct. After all the rounds are complete, the winner is the survivor with the highest population. In the feedback session after the game, we asked the students what insights they had on the process of evolution. They replied with a resounding “It’s unfair!” – And they were exactly right. No matter how strategically they may have played, or how well their population was doing, they were unable to ensure victory or avoid defeat. This is because their species would mutate unpredictably, and mutation was the most essential element for survival. If their species failed to adapt to its environment, then another species more well-adjusted would simply come along and push it out of its niche. It’s survival of the fittest.

In nature, organism make mistakes when replicating genetic code. These mistakes result in slight alterations to the organism’s form and function – what we call mutations. If these mutations happen to be advantageous, in terms of the organism’s environment, then they assist in its survival thus increasing its chance of reproducing and securing its place in the gene pool. Beneficial mutations are “selected” via their ability to survive and reproduce. This process of random mutation followed by selection is how life-forms evolve and innovate to cope with their surroundings. In the game, these aspects were mimicked by the roll of the die, and the varying environmental pressures from the biomes and natural disasters.

The issue with natural selection is that the innovations aren’t guided, making the process slow and reliant on sheer luck. We as humans aren’t constrained by these limitations. We can intentionally design our innovations, receive feedback and adjust our model depending on what was successful. We would be wasting an invaluable opportunity if we didn’t use this fact to our advantage. Our ability to interact with environment and transform our surroundings can be used to shape our lives such that every action we do assists in achieving our ideals. This is what is meant by ‘deliberate design as a philosophy for life’. MindBurst offers generative workshops on innovation and evolution which enable learners to become active agents in their own knowledge production. Resources such as the evolution game engage learners, and allow them to develop their own understanding through the experience of grappling with information on their own terms.