Playing to change the climate

By Tania Ouariachi

Imagine you have the ability to change the energy model to mitigate the effects of climate change, how would you change a whole city balancing pollution, energetic productivity and happiness of the population? Travel back in time and picture yourself as a superhero with superpowers that can save the planet from destruction. How would it feel to be in control of human decisions and forces of nature that lead to carbon pollution and other impacts on the environment? These are just some examples of experiences offered when playing “MyGreenPlanet” or “Mission Possible, Save the Planet”.

An entire genre of climate change games is available online and for free. These games can be powerful tools to communicate and educate youth on climate change issues. They usually have as objectives a) developing familiarity with and knowledge of the topic, b) raising awareness of causes and consequences, c) stirring emotions and reflections, d) stimulating the development of ideas and solutions and e) promoting a change in attitudes and behavior. Unlike television, where teenagers become a passive consumer of information, with “serious games” they have the capacity to face some of the problems that they will face in the future and adopt the roles of characters that have to be able to make sustainable decisions.

The global storylines and contents found in these games are very diverse, from urban planning to energy transition, waste management, water conservation or responsible consumption. In the simulation game “Climántica”, for instance, the major has to create a sustainable territory to reduce CO2 emissions and keep population happy, planning actions in a strategic way and being aware of causes and consequences of climate change. Players decide to leave for a new territory, and can choose between an inland territory, a rugged territory that gives way to the open sea, and a coastal territory, allowing them to place themselves in a meaningful location, according to their own context and interests.

“Garbage Dreams” invites players to take on the role of the Zaballeen people (who recycle 80% of the trash they collect), build a recycling empire and get Cairo’s total recycling as high as possible. Another great example of the narrative weight of some of these games can be found in “Water Alert”, where young people are engaged in an adventure of strategy and survival aiming to ensure that the people in a drought-challenged village, who are facing the threat of a flood, have water that is safe to drink and a clean and healthy school environment.

There is strong interest in the educative community to use online games as pedagogical tools in class. Under the paradigm of “game-based learning”, several projects have already been implemented successfully to address climate change in schools using online games. When these tools are used properly, they can add a critical approach to environmental education, opening spaces for reflections about possible alternatives in relation to our current lifestyles.

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