Gaming for Good: Al Gore Brings Climate Reality to Video Games

by Zachary Rybarczyk

Is Al Gore a secret gamer?

Known for advocating climate protection measures through books, movies, TV shows and concerts, the Nobel Laureate is venturing into a new medium to spread his message: video games.

Gore’s nonprofit climate education and advocacy organization, the Climate Reality Project, recently teamed up with global brand and trend consultants at PSFK to challenge design firms to create an interactive video game that uses the momentum of social media and gaming to advocate taking action on climate change and quash misinformation.

Video games and social media will play a key role in the future of fighting climate change, Gore says, as policies needed to accelerate the transition to clean technologies are blocked by oil, gas, and coal industry’s influence on our government.

“The architecture of the public square on the internet is very similar to when the country was founded, when the print-based media were dominant.  Individuals have easy access, almost no barriers to access, ideas matter.”

Watch a short speech and roundtable with Gore on the subject:

Gaming For Good from Piers Fawkes on Vimeo.

Of the many submissions for ideas, which included real-time news feed filters aimed at sorting through climate news and identifying misinformation, some of the highlights incorporated elements of much-loved video games of the past.

RealiTree, developed by Stark Design of New York, created an interactive, virtual tree that reflects the health of the surrounding environment based on real-time data feeds. “It’s really like a gigantic Tomagotchi game that … thousands of people can play to keep this tree alive and well” described its creator, Daniel Stark.

Another wildly popular classic, The Oregon Trail, was the basis of Climate Trail, a text-based game in which players must follow a money trail to discover “the ultimate destination … to come to the truth about climate change and promote awareness.”

But in this game — like in reality — the consequences of not achieving your goal are far greater rather than breaking a wagon spoke or catching dysentery.

by Zachary Rybarczyk is an intern on the energy team at the Center for American Progress.

13 Responses to Gaming for Good: Al Gore Brings Climate Reality to Video Games

  1. Mike Roddy says:

    What we really need is a video game set in 2100, showing how people are going to be battling for basic necessities. I’m working on a pilot to present to one of the big gaming firms, but it’s a major process.

  2. Sam says:

    Well, this was one of the most interesting games released last year…

  3. Nick Berini says:

    I like that idea!

    Or how about a remake of the classic “civilization”, only instead of starting as nomads and developing an advanced society you start as an advanced society and try to prevent climate destabilization and the world that accompanies it.

  4. Merrelyn Emery says:

    I’m sure it seems reasonable to use such a popular medium for this important purpose but the reality is that use of media such as video games is a symptom of one of our problems which is divorce from reality. The more time people spend playing on their computers, the more insulated they become from their physical and social environments and the less time they spend playing with their friends, talking to their neighbours or working with their communities. Serious game players rarely become activists any more than serious TV viewers do.

    I hope I’m wrong in this case and there is some educational effect but we desperately need to overcome the dissociative effects of these screen based media rather than attempt to use them for purposes for which they are not suited. Overwhelmingly, the evidence shows that the more we substitute these media for good old talking and working together, the more stupid and uninformed we collectively become and the more our social maladaptions accumulate.

    Getting kids and adults back outside, in school and community gardens or on walks, and helping them observe what is happening in the real environment is much more likely to have the desired effect, ME

  5. prokaryotes says:

    But it needs a multiplayer component, i hope the developer is considering..

  6. Joan Savage says:

    A family member tried out “Fate of the World” when it came out months ago. He brought it up when the Semiletov interview about methane releases hit the blogosphere. He said that in the FotW game, “when you started getting methane releases it was usually time to reload and start over since you couldn’t “win” from that point on. “Winning” meaning losing less than half the world population, etc.”
    Clearly, Joe Romm and David Archer’s pieces about methane don’t link methane release so tightly to other consequences, like major population decline.

  7. prokaryotes says:

    Climate knowledge for computer game

    With two digital projects, staff members from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) supported professional programmers with their expertise. For the computer game “Anno 2070”, scientists of the research project Climate Media Factory, funded by the federal government, discussed scenarios of global warming with game developers and informed them about the latest state of climate science. PIK contributed a problem statement for a programming contest as well. Both projects were about knowledge transfer.

    “Anno 2070” turns gamers into architects of the future. “Not all aspects of climate change could be represented in a game, of course reality is much more complex,” says Jürgen Kropp, project leader from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. But the gamers experience what their actions cause – the course of events is based on scientific facts, not only the developers´ fantasy. The Climate Media Factory is a cooperation with the Film and Television University (HFF) „Konrad Wolf“. The game is part of a successful series of Blue Byte enterprise, its predecessors were set in the past instead of the future.

    In various cities around the world, programmers recently met to put their know-how to use for a good cause. At the fourth “Random Hacks of Kindness” event (RHoK), numerous projects of different organizations like Welthungerhilfe and Leipzig University received support. The Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) was asked for input and introduced an idea to develop an application which enables the lay public to verify statements about climate change.

    On behalf of that, a team of programmers developed a first prototype that is going to be enhanced further. The idea is that if someone reads something somewhere about climate change, he or she can type keywords into the application and receives links to publications to validate the statements. The publications will be sorted in regard to whether they are mere opinions or written by reputable scientists. For that purpose, the application takes the number of peer-reviewed publications published by the respective author into account.

  8. Henry says:

    The movie version has already been done, “Mad Max; Beyond Thunderdome”.

  9. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Pretty spot on, Merrelyn. We started radically dissociating from reality when the box entered our living-rooms, but computers are an order of magnitude worse. I thank God that the thought police have banished me from commenting at the ABC and other places-I can drag myself out to the garden that much earlier every day.

  10. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Sorry to keep you out of your garden Mulga. But didn’t I notice something recently about “Those who the Gods wish…” nicely snuck into Drum comments about ‘the man with the big hat’? ME

  11. RelayeR says:

    Ironic that one would use the www to assert that new technologies are making people more “disconnected”.

    “I hope I’m wrong in this case”, and I think you are. I learned there was such a place as “Kentucky” playing monopoly as a kid. The first time I read the name “Montezuma”, I was playing Sid Meier’s Civilization.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is: you can learn stuff reading, watching tv, playing games. The medium is of little consequence. What you do with the new information you acquire is what is important.

    So the theory that new technologies are making people more disconnected is, from my experience, wrong. You mentioned “the dissociative effects of these screen based media”… I just don’t see why reading a book or newspaper would keep you connected, but the same information on a “screen based media” would have “dissociative effects”. It doesn’t make sense, at least to me.

    Let’s remember that without these “screen based media” you wouldn’t have read this story, me neither. You couldn’t have commented on it. I would have not read your comment and wouldn’t have been able to comment myself.

    Seems to me that these “screen based media” allowed you and I to connect, somehow.

  12. Dr.A.Jagadeesh says:

    Very Innovative approach Al Gore. Our Centre is also in the forefront in Climate change issues,Renewables and Sustainable Development.

    Nayudamma Centre for Development Alternatives
    2/210 First Floor
    NELLORE- 524 002
    Andhra Pradesh
    Phone: ++ 91 861 2317776
    Mobile: +91 9490125950

  13. Merrelyn Emery says:

    RelayeR, unfortunately the medium does have consequences. When a person is behaving in the natural environment including when reading, their cerebral cortex shows a majority of beta or fast wave activity, indicating intellectual activity.

    The first data on watching TV (1970) using EEG showed a majority of slow wave activity. This pattern has now been shown many times and has been confirmed by newer technologies such as CAT scans and MRI. There is no data to the contrary.

    The reduced cortical activity means reduced critical analysis and loss of meaning and purpose. Testing shows that people retain an emotional response but almost no details. These media give a sense of familiarity but little understanding. Recognizing the letter ‘a’ does not mean you know how to use it. Being connected via the internet brings us vastly more ‘information’ but it is yet to be shown that it brings us greater understanding or puts more meaning into our lives, ME