Game Review #2 Catchment Detox

Water management issues have been topical in Australia and around the world for a long time. With an increasing global population, and a changing climate, education about this is most important of resources has never been more valuable.

In Catchment Detox you play as a catchment manager, who has 100 turns (representing 100 years) to change the landscape with the aim of benefiting industry, biodiversity and water quality.

The game was developed with the eWater CRC, CSIRO, ABC, Australian Government Department of Innovation, Industry, Fisheries and Science (circa 2008 when the game was published).

The key values of the game are:

  • Things that occur upstream affect the whole Catchment System
  • Water planning (building dams, water restrictions) is needed to tackle variable water resources
  • A healthy environment is important
  • Communities are best when they can produce all their own food
  • Best practice agriculture is a good tool
  • Investing in research can generate gains in technology and management strategies

To play the game you will need an internet connection and a computer that has Flash 9 at least.

catchment-detoxVisuals: For the type of game that this is (a simulation game), the visuals are as good as can be expected. The icons are easy to identify and there is a nice colour scheme.

Music: Some sound effects but pretty minimal.

Gameplay: In each turn of the game, you can use your available budget (starting from $100 000) to make changes to land use along the catchment, and this continues for 100 turns. Different land use practices will gain  you points which contribute to the end game score. The game is pretty easy to get into, but deceptively hard to master. As an adult I didn’t find the gameplay to be particularly thrilling like other simulation games that I have played before.

There is no hidden ‘game god’ that will step in and stop the game if things get out of hand, so there is no reason why you couldn’t cause massive salinity problems in your catchment and still receive a positive score (I tried this in one iteration), or just cover the whole place in beef farms (as in the first image). I also successfully played the game by covering the whole catchment with a National Park (it was certainly a serene game). In real life I believe someone would step in and reassign you to a different department if you were so biased against one or the other type of land management.

One interesting element is the variability of rainfall from year to year. Your catchment might be able to sustain lots of industry one year, but not the next. Options to help address this include building dams and larger forests. This element is something that occurs in real life, and that needs to be taken into account by real water managers.


Impact: As well as the game itself, the Catchment Detox website has lots of other information on water issues within Australia. There is a section which gives information for Teachers to use in class.

Top scores are listed on the website, but after I few looks I think they are the product of glitches or hacks to the system. This is disappointing as I wanted to see what made a genuinely successful catchment on the game.

It might not be the most entertaining simulation game that can have children playing it for  hours on end, but as something that has been locally produced to address education on a nationally important issue, it is alright. It would be a great addition to other resources on the issue.

Cost: 5/5 (free!)


Education: 4/5

Contribution to science: 0/5


You can play Catchment Detox here

All images courtesy of Catchment Detox.


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