Working Group:
Gaming the Future of Climate Communications

Climate change is already at the heart of many of the world’s environmental challenges, and science clearly tells us the worst is yet to come. Yet public demand remains low for mitigation and adaptation efforts. Could innovative new tools for science communications reduce the impacts of climate change on people and nature by changing the way people think about, and act to address, climate change?

Photo: Cara Byington

Working Group Summary

Can Video Games Succeed Where Traditional Climate Communications Have Failed?

About 60 percent of Americans still do not consider action on climate change a priority, despite overwhelming scientific consensus that immediate action is necessary to prevent dire ecological and social consequences. Recent studies show that the effectiveness of climate change communication depends on both the message and the messenger. The Gaming the Future Working Group is exploring how to create those new messages and messengers through video games that influence the way people think about climate change – and even more importantly, how urgently they act to address its very real and immediate challenges.

Learn about the Challenge

Photo: © Jessica Scranton

The Challenge

Overcoming Entrenched Perceptions About Climate Change

Science communications has long fallen prey to the “information deficit” model of communicating: people lack information to make decisions, and scientists provide it from a position of unassailable authority.

But while the best available evidence is important for good decision-making, past failed climate communications efforts have made clear that more information is not necessarily better. In the United States, for instance, where stances on climate change fall squarely along entrenched socio-political lines, more information seems to force opinions about climate change farther apart along those lines of identity.

Is it the information that is the problem? Or — at least in part — who is presenting it and the ways and vehicles through which it is delivered? Recent studies in science communication strongly suggest the latter. These studies point to new solutions that focus on new messengers and modes of communication — such as the new generation of hyper-realistic, immersive video games.

The video game industry is now larger than the movie industry in the United States and continues to grow, with 59 percent of Americans playing games. They are a promising platform for profound innovation in communication, education and social change.

But creating video games that can change human behavior requires an understanding of how people interact with games, what they take away from them, and how they react to them. Games can be seen as providing “designed experiences” in which players can learn by doing and being. The environmental community has been slow to embrace video games as a medium for communication and education. Nonetheless, a few games have addressed climate change — most focusing on emissions reduction, but some involving adaptation and climate impacts.

Could such games eventually overcome entrenched perceptions and create a new public demand for meaningful action on climate change?

Read about this Inquiry

Nov 11, 2012 aerials of coastal destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy storm surge along the New Jersey Shore.

The Inquiry

Exploring the Ways Video Games Could Influence People’s Perceptions and Actions on Climate Change

The Gaming the Future Working Group will build on these first attempts and host a rapid, agile-style Working Group meeting organized around how to advance five key activities:

  • Synthesize existing science on how video games can positively affect behavior. The Working Group is specifically interested in what types of games motivate behavior and will produce at least two synthetic papers on the current understanding of the role video games can play in positively affecting understanding and behavior. These will be targeted both at education researchers and educational game developers.
  • Develop a game portfolio. The group will generate and explore at least five ideas for games that draw on the synthesis of psychology, education and sociology literature, as well as syntheses of climate change literature. The group will also create guidance on producing games that change behavior associated with climate change mitigation or adaptation. This will be targeted at game producers, posted on the web and potentially presented at the annual Game Developers Conference.
  • Synthesize necessary climate-change science. All of the games will be based on sound science — and some will have science as a centerpiece. The design of the games will likely require syntheses of the current understanding of diverse but specific topics such as: carbon sequestration; energy efficiency; land-use change; human responses to climate change; and climate impacts (e.g., agriculture, human health, water availability).
  • Develop, produce, test and release at least one game as a pilot. The Working Group will choose one or two relatively simple game ideas that have large potential for success and develop them using open source software, then disseminate and promote it on Edutopia, as well as other channels such as the App Store, Facebook and Google Play. The group will also engage focus groups of students and educators to assess the game portfolio and help select the pilot. Focus groups will be drawn from several existing networks, including the Wildlife Conservation Society’s five New York-based parks (Bronx Zoo, Queens Zoo, Prospect Park Zoo, New York Aquarium and Central Park Zoo).
  • Launch a center for game design to address climate change. The Gaming the Future Working Group views this SNAPP project as both a research endeavor and an incubator.

Meet the Gaming the Future of Climate Communications Team

Photo: © Bridget Besaw | More Info

The Team

The Gaming the Future of Climate Communications Team