Climate Change

First off, let me again reiterate that not all educational games are created equally–so my intention is to provide a peek into the games that I think get the learner interested by encouraging them to learn how systems behave and to learn “content”–by uncovering it, presenting them with both challenge and immersion through narrative.  Although approaches that “show, teach, n’ click” have their place, the aforementioned approach interests me much more.

To that end, I’d like to mention the game, Climate Change, which was produced by the BBC, with support from the Univ. of Oxford.  Climate Change puts the player in role of the President of the EU.  As president, the player has to make policy choices that drive down levels of CO2 emmisions from the year 2000 to 2100.  Throughout the process the play has keep emission reduction balanced with resources such as electricity, water and food, all the while remaining popular with the people.  Let me vouch as someone who’s played this multiple times–it is not easy.

Game creators are the first to admit that although a lot scientific research went into the game, players shouldn’t take the outcome of the game as “serious climate change prediction”.   That said, the game uses climate change data published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)–and the authors provide a most excellent write-up about the science behind the game.

However, climate change modeling is complex, and the purpose of the game isn’t climate modeling.  Rather, the game seeks to help people learn about the factors that cause climate change, and the policies and politics that governments need to wrestle with when making decisions that affect these choices.

To that end, I found myself in the middle of yet another learning experience.  Even though part of my background is in science, knowledge of science alone is insufficient to solve the problem.  Every policy decision that I made in the game (players can choose from national, trade, industrial, local, and household policies), there were consequences that affected food production, power consumption, and water availability.  Incidentally, the policies that I mentioned were all taken from written government policies (with a few exceptions in end-game play–e.g. mining the moon).  Add to this the need to be favored in the electorate, and having to “answer” to the UN on setting and meeting CO2 emissions standards, I found myself with a real challenge.  For instance, supporting policies on biofuels / alternative energies alone didn’t solve the CO2 emissions problem since implementing those policies has costs which must be addressed.  Taxing the public (either through a fuel tax, emissions tax or general tax) has the consequence of increasing income, but at the expense of popularity.  For each policy option, the public either strongly approves or disapproves (and everything in-between) your decisions, and if your popularity plumets too far, you’re ousted from office.

At the end, you’re given a screen that tells you how well you did in each of 3 broad areas:  CO2 emission reduction, Wealth (of the EU), and Popularity.  Basically, I found that by prioritizing CO2 emission reduction to meet the standards proposed by the game, my country’s resources took a huge hit–and thus basic public services in some cases fell apart–as did my popularity.

It’s worth saying that Climate Change is both an informative and fun game.  Let’s just say that I’m glad that being the one responsible for leading climate change for real isn’t my real job.

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