For both kids and adults, games are sometimes a great way to learn about social issues and brainstorm creative solutions. The nonprofit Games for Change has worked on this idea for more than a decade, and at its upcoming annual festival in New York, it will present four new games that tackle the most pressing challenge for humanity: climate change.
"The environment, civilization building, and sustainability are topics that get explored in games—but often they are just the backdrop and not part of having an explicit goal of learning or education," says Games for Change president Susanna Pollack. Think SimCity, or Minecraft.
With Columbia University Climate Center’s PoLAR Partnership and the company Autodesk, Games for Change launched the "Climate Challenge" and the winner will be decided from among four finalists at the festival.
"Games can help inspire curiosity, optimism, and problem-solving, all of which are crucial elements in the collective impact to address climate change. Through games, people can explore potential climate changed futures. Games are also used by organizations like the military to help people evaluate and make decisions regarding complex material," says Stephanie Pfirman, a researcher who leads the PoLAR Climate Change Education Partnership.
Games related to sustainability and environmental science can come in many forms. Pfirman highlights multi-player card games like EcoChains: Arctic Crisis, storytelling games like Future Coast, and sea level rise interactive modeling tools like Polar Explorer.
The Games for Change finalists, chosen from 50 entries, are all in a prototype stage and are addressed for different age ranges. Some are about world- or community-building, with carbon and energy budgets explicitly figured in. Another, Carbon Runner, is a fun endless-runner style game. If you’re going to spend your time glued to a screen, all look like a pretty good way to spend that time.
"A neighborhood simulator with emphasis on ecology and entropy." Allows players to simulate the carbon and energy contributions of each part of the city.
This collaborative simulator game allows middle-school players to work together to build a sustainable virtual civilization and protect the ecosystem. They can even propose and lobby for their laws in their world, but they have to back them up with data.
Also aimed at younger kids, this game puts the player in the body of the "Green Ninja," which must make environmentally-friendly decision by choosing which items in his path to collect ("you found hydropower") or destroy ("you defeated the oil monster!"). It also quizzes kids on green facts.
Be an urban planner and learn how we can shape cities to deal with the consequences of climate change and mitigate its effects. You can play this game here.
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