game as social system
Regional climate change should not be seen only as a threat; changes to weather patterns could generate opportunities for large-scale innovations, and, developing a climate-proofing strategy now is likely to be more cost effective than taking drastic actions later.
[Kabat et al. (2005) ]
Since these issues are not only of scientific relevance, but ultimately concern
the whole national as well as trans-national population, our university considered
the topic highly relevant for the national competition in science communication.
Looking for adequate means to communicate our scientific insights
to the general audience, it took not long before the idea of a game came up.
Both senior and junior staff of all relevant faculties were assembled to discuss
the plan of a game, and an inventory was made of what games existed,
followed by brainstorm sessions in which initial ideas were proposed.
criteria climate star simulation parameters game elements scenario(s) module(s) argument(s) presentation
When we came accross a serious game in an altogether different domain,
we nevertheless did find the inspiration we were looking for.
In the ground-breaking Peacemaker
game, we found an example of how to translate a serious issue
into a turn-based game, which covers both political and social issues,
and with appealing visuals, not sacrificing the seriousness of the topic.
By presenting real-time events using video and (short) text, Peacemaker offers
a choice between the points of view of the various parties involved, as a means
of creating the awareness needed for further political action.
With Peacemaker as an example after which to model our climate game, we started
working on the design of a turn-based game, allowing the player to
manipulate parameters of climate change over a period of time, against the
background of a climate simulation model, and offering the
opportunity to explore climate-related issues and opinions, using interactive video
or by playing minigames.
Clima Futura was born!
Fig 1. Climate Star
CONCEPT -- CLIMA FUTURA
The Clima Futura game is targeted at an audience in the age of 12-26.
Primary goals are to create involvement with the climate issue,
and to provide information by allowing the player to explore cause and effect relations,
using models based on scientific research in a continuously evolving field of knowledge.
Of the topics mentioned, not all may immediately be represented in the simulation model
underlying Clima Futura, but may only be addressed in exploratory interactive video.
The climate star is actually used by the VU Climate centre as an organizational
framework to bring together researchers from the various disciplines, and in the Clima Futura
game it is in addition also used as a toolkit to present the options in
manipulating the climate simulation model to the player.
A generally acknowledged uncertainty within climate research surrounds the notion
of climate sensitivity, that is the extent to which the climate and
climate change is actually dependent on human activity.
In practice, the actual assessment of climate sensitivity may determine
whether either a choice for mitigation or adaptation is more viable.
Cf. fig 2, plotting marginal costs and benefits (vertical) against
stabilisation targets of atmospheric concentration
of greenhouse gases (horizontal).
Fig 2. Tradeoffs Mitigation vs Adaptation
In the Clima Futura game we choose for using climate sensitivity as
as a parameter for setting the level of difficulty of the game play, where
difficulty increases with the value for climate sensitivity.
Fig 3. The Greenhouse Effect
Fig 1. Game play, Simulation, Exploration
Each of the three elements is essentially cyclic in nature, and may
give rise to game events. For example, game events may arise from
taking turns after 5-year periods, due to alarming situations in the climate simulation,
such as danger of flooding an urban area, or accidental access to confidential
information in the exploration of video material.
In addition, Clima Futura features mini-games, that may be selected
on the occurrence of a game event, to acquire additional information, gain bonus points
or just for entertainment. Examples of mini-games, are negotiation with world leaders,
or a climate-related variant of Tetris.
Clima Futura also features advisors that may be consulted, to gain information
about any of the topics of the climate star.
After a first round of design, which resulted in the Clima Futura Design Bible,
that we will discuss later, we created a trailer to announce our game and to
invite our target audience to play it: can you save the world?
The trailer begins with a descriptive part, displaying the affluence of
our society, but indicating climate-related problems, including economic threats
to (third world) countries and animals endangered in their natural environments.
This announcement of doom is followed by an indication of the political dilemmas,
and opposing world leaders. The climate star is then introduced
as a means to gain scientific insight, which is a sine qua non for saving the world,
and so, in conclusion, play Clima Futura, and save the world!
GAME DESCRIPTION FORMS
Having decided on the general structure and elements of the Clima Futura game,
a turn-based game loop, a climate-model driven simulation, exploratory video, and
mini-games, the problem is how to connect these elements in a meaningfull way, and design
a coherent collection of game events.
This problem is further aggravated by the need to find a way to design in a
collaborative fashion, necessitated by the sheer amount of disciplines and people
Before enforcing the game event description format, our ideas about the design of
Clima Futura were gathered in a collection of narratives and brief descriptions,
in what we called the Clima Futura Design Bible.
Using the standardized game event description format, we hope
to arrive at a more uniform way of describing the narratives, the perspectives
from which these narratives can be experienced, the challenges or problems a player must solve,
the resources available to the player, such as capital, knowledge and political power,
the rewards, possibly using bonus credits for succesfully playing a mini-game,
as well as the visuals, which will where possible be derived from the collection of
videos we have available.
In addition to the game event description format, we also provided a minigame description form,
containing a field to indicate the event that gave rise to the minigame,
a field for a description of the minigame in words, as well as a field for the visual
depiction of the minigame. Together, the game event and minigame description formats,
provide a means to develop an online hyperlinked design document,
that may serve as a reference for further design, development and coding.
For the elaboration of the design, we are developing storyboards,
which characterize in a visual way the major (dramatic) elements of narratives,
structured using a subdivision in:
Although the actual workflow that we will deploy during development
is at the moment of writing not clear, we will strive for developing templates
that allow for a quick realization of the designs captured by the game event and minigame
description format(s), along with the storyboards for visual design.
A MODULAR ARCHITECTURE
In the beginning, we envisioned the realization of our climate game as a first-person
perspective role-playing game in a 3D immersive environment as for example
supported by the Half Life 2 SDK, with which we gained experience in creating
a search the hidden treasure game in a detailed 3D virtual replica
of our faculty.
However, we soon realized that the use of such a development platform,
would require far too much work, given the complexity of our design.
So, instead of totally giving up on immersion, we decided to use flash
indeed as a poor-man's substitute for real 3D immersion,
which, using flash interactive animations, has as an additional benefit
that it can be used to play games online, in a web browser.
Together with the Flex 2 SDK, which recently became open source,
flash offers a rich internet application (RIA) toolkit,
that is sufficiently versatile for creating (online) games,
that require, in relation to console games or highly realistic narrative
games like Half Life, a comparatively moderate development effort.
To allow for component-wise development, we choose for a modular architecture,
with four basic modules and three (variants) of integration modules, as indicated below, in fig 5.
Fig 2. Clima Futura Architecture
In addition, we would like to develop a facility that allows players
not only to submit their own video material, but also to
build or modify their own minigames, which might then be included in the collection
of minigames provided by Clima Futura.
These argument types are related to what we have previously characterized as,
respectively, logos, arguments based on logic, reason and factual data,
pathos, arguments that appeal to the emotion(s) of the audience,
and ethos, which in essence does an appeal on the belief in the
trustworthiness of the speaker.
In Vox Populi, video fragments are annotated with meta-information to
allow for searching relevant material, supporting or opposing a particular viewpoint.
based on the users' preference, either a propagandist presentation can be chosen,
expressing a single point of view (POV), a binary commentator,
which shows arguments pro and con, or an
omniscient presenter (mind opener), which displays all viewpoints.
Although a research topic in itself, we would like to
develop a video content module (3), that provides flexible access
to the collection of video(s), and is media driven to the extent that video-material
can be added later, with proper annotation.
Together with in-game minigame building facilities, it would be in the spirit
of a participatory culture, to provide annotation facilities to the player(s)
of Clima Futura as well,
to comment on the relevance and status of the video material,
To present the concept of Clima Futura, we decided to have three central presenters (anchors)
and an expert-panel (choir),
that may comment on detailed scientific or technical issues. The presentation,
stressed the multi-disciplinary approach.
It covered the following topics, in the order of listing:
Although it too early to look back, we may on reflection
ask attention for another potential pitfall, that endangers any educational game,
once aptly expressed by Sartre in his criticism of l'esprit de serieux.
Indeed, we may become too serious!
In concluding our account of the design and development of Clima Futura,
we may refer to an ontology of humour,
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