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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Computer Game based on Climate Models

Air Date: Week of May 6, 2011

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The Fate of the World is a new computer game that forces players to deal with the world’s biggest problems, including over-population, rising seas and scarce resources. Users quickly learn there are no easy answers to meet our global challenges. Host Bruce Gellerman speaks with game designer Ian Roberts about how playing computer games can teach us how to solve real-life problems.

Transcript

GELLERMAN: In the coming decades, global leaders will deal with problems that will test our civilization: intense storms and droughts, famine, and social upheaval. Time is running out. Now the Fate of the World is in your hands.

[Music from the Game composed and performed by Richard Jacques.]

GELLERMAN: “The Fate of the World” is a new computer game that puts you in charge of the global effort to respond to the challenge of climate change. Your goal: to confront the effects of worldwide warming, save the planet, and have some serious fun in the process. Ian Roberts played a pivotal role in determining the Fate of the World - he designed the game.

VIDEO: Watch a trailer for Fate of the World:

ROBERTS: There’s no reason why you can’t make a good game about something that matters - something that, when you play the game and learn about what’s going on in it, you can take that away and have it inform your real life. Because when we play games, we get really good at beating a game. We get really good at that game and knowing it and understanding it. And if that game is based on reality, then that’s some knowledge that we can really do something with.

GELLERMAN: I heard that this game was developed on a drunken dare.

ROBERTS: (Laughs) Something of the sort. We met a climate scientist, Dr. Miles Allen, in a pub in Oxford. And he said, ‘I bet you could make a really great game about climate change.’ And ultimately we’re here thanks to that bet.

GELLERMAN: (Laughs). So the game is chock-filled with a lot of information - a lot of data. Is this real stuff?

ROBERTS: Yeah, it really is. We wanted, in a sense, to make a game that as well reflected what we could know about the world as it is. I don’t think there’s ever been a computer game that really had radiative forcing as a key concept that the players can play with: it’s like, ‘Yeah, I’m going to play this policy - it’s going to change my radiative forcing! So what’s that all about?’ But the players are really, really interested in finding out more about it.

You become the leader of a world, wrecked by extreme weather. (Courtesy of Red Redemption)

  

So the data about population, about GDP production, about resource needs - we actually put a scientifically peer reviewed climate model in the game to give our results in temperature rise. And we’ve tried to collect the best data that we could find to represent the world as we think it will be in 2020, which is when the game really starts.

GELLERMAN: Well, let’s start playing the game.

[MUSIC, DINGS AND PINGS OF GAME PLAY]

GELLERMAN: I’ve got it on my computer here. And I’ll load it up: “Fate of the World.” And what’s the concept here?

ROBERTS: The concept is that we start the player with the position that we don’t do anything really about climate change at all. So we fast-forward ten years in a world where very little has been done. And in response to climate change, the world has put together an organization to help regions manage policy and address funding for climate change projects and this is called the Global Environmental Organization. It’s something akin to the World Trade Organization, for example. And the player is put as President of this organization and gets to act as overseer to climate change policy around the world, good or bad.

  


GEO is a fictionalized UN that spearheads the global response to climate change. (Courtesy of Red Redemption)

GELLERMAN: Okay, so I chose my mission, which is Africa. And now it’s asking me - it says: ‘As President Gellerman, how do you wish to be addressed? Sir, Dude, Your Worship…’ I like that one. I’m going to be “Your Worship”- that’s the way I like it. So take me through it! So I’ve chosen my mission - I basically have to save Africa.

ROBERTS: That’s right. The goal of the mission is actually to improve the standard of living in Africa. The idea with the game is that the world is changing whether or not you like it or not. So you need to try and play policies that will make change in the direction that you’d like, rather
than the direction that would naturally happen.

GELLERMAN: So I’ve got some money and I can spend it on investing in clean energy or organic crops or protecting buildings against a rising sea.

ROBERTS: So what you have at the start - you have a number of big projects, which you can commit to: things like renewable energy, or nuclear; you have things like protecting forests, protecting areas from droughts. And the idea is that as you play these policies, it unlocks further options. So by opting into particular kinds of focuses, you can say, ‘In this region, I’m going to focus purely on welfare development; in this other region, I’m going to focus on improving their GDP through investment.’ I can focus on stability, for example.

So one of the advice that the tutorial gives is to open up welfare offices in Africa and also political offices - because stability issues could mean that, in the game, should a region be unstable, you could be banned from that region. And that would mean that any policies that you were trying to do may not complete. And obviously that would be detrimental to your efforts.

GELLERMAN: Then you travel five years into the future and we see how our policies turned out.

[TYPING SOUNDS]

The game takes place in the near future, but offers prescient challenges. Here we have to respond to severe flooding in Japan. (Courtesy of Red Redemption)

  

GELLERMAN: So I’m at 2025. And now we can get debriefed.

[TYPING SOUNDS; GAME PINGS]

ROBERTS: That’s right.

GELLERMAN: Well that’s tough - boy, I did awful! (Laughs).

ROBERTS: (Laughs). Well the world is not necessarily going in a particularly good direction at the start of the game. The problem is very complex - all of the issues you find are related, so policies you play will have multiple outcomes, and something may or may not be a good idea to play at this time in this place.

So it’s a real learning experience. What we find most players experience is they go: ‘Well I’m intelligent, I’ll be able to look at some options and pick something that sounds pretty good.’ They’ll go in, they’ll pick some options that they’ve read about in the news or they think just generally sounds like a good idea, and then they’ll see really what happens to the world when they choose those and find that it’s not as simple as that.

You’ll start to get an idea as to why climate change, why global resources, why global populations and economies are as complicated as they are - because everything is connected.

GELLERMAN: You don’t sugarcoat it. If I try to control population by making a one-child policy, the people resent me! And then if I switch to organic crops, the yields go down!

ROBERTS: That’s right. So - I mean you’d think, ‘well as controller of this world - as ultimate ruler of the world - I should be able to fix climate change, right? I can just tell everyone to stop doing the things that they’re doing which is bad, and it should be fine.’ But what you have to realize is that the game is about a relationship with these regions, so some of the strategies that are involved are actually doing things that may be detrimental to the environment as a whole in one region in order to develop it in a particular way so that you can actually do things later. So there’s a lot of complexity in the game, and I think it gets a good idea as to why the policy decisions that politicians need to make are really not as simple as it might seem.

[EPIC THEME MUSIC]

GELLERMAN: Well, Ian, I had a lot of fun. Thank you very much.

ROBERTS: My pleasure, Bruce.

GELLERMAN: Um, um…Your Worship.

ROBERTS: Your worship. Of course (Laughs).

 

Links

Red Redemption is available for PC download

 

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