Dear EarthTalk: What are some ways people are using games to help reduce their carbon footprints?
—Leah McNeil, Colchester, CT
Environmental advocates and organizations are increasingly employing gamification—defined by Merriam-Webster as “the process of adding games or game-like elements to something…so as to encourage participation”—to get people to learn about environmental problems and take action to reduce their carbon footprints and overall impact.
To wit, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Ecoresearch.net and the DecareboNet research project have partnered on a “game” called Climate Challenge that gets everyday people to pit their predictions about climate change and its effects against the opinions of experts around the world in an effort to see if the “wisdom of the crowd” can come up with answers faster than the experts alone.
Players are encouraged to research answers to questions about things like annual Arctic Sea Ice minimum coverage or the monthly average global surface temperature before submitting their answers. According to Climate Challenge creators, it’s not cheating to research to find the best answers; indeed, it’s the goal.
Players can come back every month for new questions, and see how they are doing compared to experts, friends, and even the collective “crowd”—and can win prizes by guessing closest to the actual value for a given question each month.
Another game focused on educating people about climate change is EduCycle, from Finnish game designer Neste. The free augmented reality (AR) app encourages players to design a city’s transportation, buildings and farms while cutting greenhouse gas emissions to levels specified under the 2015 Paris climate accord. “By simulating the carbon cycle in real life,” Neste maintains, “the game teaches kids and adults about the effects of global warming.”
Save Ohno is a creative take on gamification for the sake of the climate, courtesy of concerned college student Dylan Husted. The main character in the free online game is Ohno, who represents the player’s great granddaughter and is impacted by climate change in the future thanks to our actions and behaviors today. On the game’s SaveOhno.org website, players can see Ohno’s town get destroyed by extreme weather. But when players take positive action in the real world, the conditions in Ohno’s online (future) town improve accordingly.
Players can improve Ohno’s world by following tasks suggested within the game, and can also plug in real world campaigns and activism they are involved with to improve Ohno’s town. “An example ‘campaign’ could be a petition to get your local school to invest in renewables,” says Husted.
Meanwhile, World Climate Simulation is a role-playing exercise whereby groups can take part in mock United Nations climate negotiations and learn what it’s like to work with others to craft global environmental policy. The game uses an interactive computer model that allows participants to find out how their proposed policies impact global climate in real-time. All the tools and materials for the World Climate Simulation are available for free and multiple languages are supported.