Looking at the games discussed in
Playing Games with the Climate,
we see primarily games that either focus on (overly simplified) climate prediction models (logos),
or games that challenge the player how to become climate-correct (ethos).
In our approach, we not only aim to include (well-founded) logos and ethos
oriented game-playing, but also wish to promote an understanding of the pathos
surrounding climate change, where we observe that the models taken as a reference are often
gross simplifications and from a scientific perspective not adequate!
To this end we will, as an extra ingredient, include interactive video as an
essential element in game playing.
This approach effectively combines a turn-based game-play loop, with
a simulation-loop based on one or more climate reference models,
with in addition exploratory cycles, activated by game events, which allow the
player to explore the argumentative issues in the rethorics of climate change,
facilitated by a large collection of interactive videos in combination with minigames.
As we will discuss later, this approach imposes additional challenges for both
the conceptual and technical design of our game, but in this way
we can also contribute to the issue of
media literacy, or ``mediawijsheid''
as the Dutch Council of Culture calls it,
that is making students aware of the impact of the media
in presenting controversial issues.
The contest, the plan, and the process -- building the team
The Academische Jaarprijs
(yearly national Dutch prize for scinetific communication) is a contest
for bringing high-standing scientific research under the attention of the
general public, including the younger generations!
The VU University decided to submit their internationally well-renowned
climate research as a candidate for the prize.
Organized within the Climate Centre,
in close collaboration with other Dutch universities, our climate scientists
Regional climate change should not be seen only as a threat;
changes to weather patterns could generate opportunities for large-scale innovations,
developing a climate-proofing
strategy now is likely to be more
cost effective than taking drastic
[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.
Games we looked at included:
offering ways to explore climate-correct behavior, the
ThinkQuest climate game,
checking your knowledge for basic climate-related facts, the British
Climate Change Hero
game, meant to improve the players knowledge about climate change factors, the
German Climate Simulator,
which allows for experimentation with climate change based on a simulation model, and the BBC game
where the player must take decisions to tackle climate change and yet stay popular.
But none of these games seemed to be satisfactory as a basis for our game,
although each of them provided some inspiration,
one way or another.
Rethinking our submission for the contest, we reflected on the criteria
we were told the jury would look at:
- relevance -- what is our message?
- identity -- who are we?
- impact -- why would anybody be interested?
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!
Final 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.
Clima Futura is a turn-based game, with 20 rounds spanning a 100-year period.
In each turn, the player has the option to set parameters for the climate simulation model.
The game is centered around the so-called climate star, which gives a subdivision
of topics in climate research, as indicated below.
- climate strategies -- (1) emission reduction, (2) adaptation
- climate systems -- (3) feedback monitoring, (4) investment in research, (5) climate response
- energy and CO2 -- (6) investment in efficiency, (7) investment in green technology, (8) governement rules
- regional development -- (9) campain for awareness, (10) securing food and water
- adaptation measures -- (11) public space, (12) water management, (13) use of natural resources
- international relations -- (14) CO2 emission trade, (15) European negotiations, (16) international convenants
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.
The result parameters of the climate simulation model are for the player visible
in the values for People, Profit and Planet, which may
be characterized as:
- People -- How is the policy judged by the people?
- Profit -- What is the influence on the (national) economy?
- Planet -- What are the effects for the environment?
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).
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.
To give an example of game play, we let the player start in 2007, the year the
IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change)
report was published.
In each subsequent round, the player may choose to undertake action.
For example, when the player decides to enforce restrictions on CO2 emissions,
s/he may choose option (1) in the climate star, which can be reached
through climate strategies.
The result will then be visible, after some period of (game) time,
in either one of the result parameters, People, Profit, and Planet.
|Fig 3. The Greenhouse Effect|
The climate simulation model
underlying Clima Futura is primarily based on
the Climber 2.0 model, which is used for scientific simulations of climate change,
based on the division between land and sea, the density of vegetation, sea temperature,
and the amount of CO2. See fig 3. Economic costs and benefits of climate policy options
are calculated by means of an integrated assessment model coupled to the climate model.
Additionally, an alternative model, the MERGE
model is used, which gives a flexible means to explore a wide range of contentious issues:
costs of abatement, damages from climate change, valuation and discounting. MERGE
contains submodels governing
domestic and international economy,
energy-related and non-energy emissions of greenhouse gases,
non-energy emissions of greenhouse gases,
as well as market and non-market damages due to global climate change.
As an aside, the choice of models
is in itself a controversial scientific issue, as testified
by J. D. Mahlman's
article on the
rethorics of climate change
science versus non-science,
discusssing why climate models are imperfect and why they are crucial anyway.
In summary, see fig. 4, the Clima Futura game combines the following elements:
- game cycle -- turns in subsequent rounds (G)
- simulation(s) -- based on climate model (W)
- exploration -- by means of interactive video (E)
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!
Let is be well-understood, though, that despite the pathos of the trailer,
which breathes doom and gloom, our actual intent is to provide
information about climate research (logos), as a means to
arrive at more responsible decision making, not exclusively driven by pathos
and (blind) ethos!
The game event description format -- scenario(s)
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
To enable collaborative design we developed a game event description format,
which standardizes the way game events are to be described, and for which we
also developed an online form, structured as outlined below:
game event description format
- name of event -- give a meaningful name
- event-id -- for administrators only
- type -- (generic/specific) game/model/video
- cause -- game play/simulation/exploration
- feedback/information -- give a logical description
- player actions -- indicate all (logical) player options
- description of visuals -- for feedback, information and player options
- additional information -- give a url with references to additional informatin and visuals
- relates to event(s) -- give id's or descriptions of related events
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:
- context -- general setting, situation
- problem -- event(s) to occur, problem to solve
- S-R situation(s) -- stimulus/response (one or more)
- climax -- action must be taken
- resolution -- find solution or result
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.
Towards a modular architecture -- participatory deployment
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.
|Fig 2. Clima Futura Architecture|
- climate model(s) - action script module(s)
- game play interaction - event-handler per game event
- video content module - video fragment(s) and interaction overlays
- minigame(s) - flash module(s) with actionscript interface
- Clima Futura - integration of modules 1-4, plus server-side ranking
- adapted versions -- educational, commercial
- multi-user version --with server-side support
In addition, we would like to develop a facility that allows players
not only 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.
For the actual production, we will use additional components, including
a relation browser,
and an earch component.
In particular, both physics and in-game building facilities seemed to have contributed
to a great extent to the popularity of Second Life, [Eliens et al. (2007)].
In creating digital dossiers for contenporary art, we have
deployed concept graphs, that is a relation browser, to give access
to highly-related rich media information about art in an immersive manner.
Finally, given the topic of Clima Futura, being able to visual models
of the surface of the earth seems to be more than appropriate.
It is interssting to note that our technology also allows for the
use of flash movies directly
by invoking the
youtube API as a web service,
which means that we could, in principle, build minigames around the evergrowing collection of
youtube, or similar providers.
Providing flexible access to collections of video(s) to support
arguments concerning controversial issues has been explored in
Vox Populi, [Vox].
The Vox Populi system distinguishes between the following types of argument(s):
- topic-centered -- common beliefs, use of logic, examples
- viewer-centered -- patriotisms, religious or romantic sentimentality
- speaker-centered -- the makers are intelligent, well-informed, sincere and trusthworthy
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,
epressing 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, [Participatory].
Conclusion(s) -- looking back
Now, at the time of writing, we are busy preparing the presentation of
Clima Futura for the jury of the scientific communication contest.
We decided to have three central presenters (anchors) and an expert-panel (choir),
that may comment on detailed scientific or technical issues. The presentation,
in which we will stress the multi-disciplinary approach,
covers the following topics, in the order of listing:
- philosophy -- pathos, ethos, logos
- trailer -- drama, apocalyptic, appeal to player
- climate star -- scientific issues & game play
- game development -- architecture and project plan
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, [Dormann et al. (2007)],
that may be taken as a guideline to avoid the common pitfall of serious games.
In brief, [Dormann et al. (2007)] distinguishes between three theories of humour, that each denote
a particular function of humour:
relief theory, which explains humour as a reduction of stress,
superiority theory, which asserts that humour has a social function,
as a means to enforce the norm of a group or culture,
and incongruity theory, which relates humour to the discovery
of hidden meanings.
We leave it to the imagination of the reader to establish in what way
the various types of humour may be put to effect in the climate issue!
We thank all (other) members of the Clima Futura Team:
Frans Berkhout, Peter van Bodegom, Merlijn Draaisma,
Alex Halsema, Thijs Louisse, Anne Martens, Karlien Meulenaars,
Elia Orru, Frans-Jan Parmentier, Pieter Pauw, Rob Schuddeboom,
Charlotte Spliethoff for their enhusiasm and effort,
and Paulis Klerk (Harlequin), and Suzanne Waldau (Ex`Machina), for there
suggestions and support in the realization of Clima Futura.
- [Humour] Dormann C., Barr P. and Biddle R. (2007),
- Humour Theory and Videogames: Laughter in the Slaughter,
In Proc. of the 2006 ACM SIGGRAPH symposium on Videogames
- [Serious] Eliens A. and Chang T. (2007),
- Let's be serious -- ICT is not a (simple) game,
In Proc. FUBUTEC 2007
- [VUSL] Eliens A., Feldberg F., Konijn E., Compter E.
- VU @ Second Life -- creating a (virtual) community of learners,
In Proc. EUROMEDIA 2007
- [Nature] Kabat P., van Vierssen W., Veraart J. Vellinga P.,
- Aerts J. (2005). Climate proofing the Netherlands,
Nature 438, pp. 283-284
- [Magic] Klabbers J.H.G. (2006),
- The Magic Circle: principles of Gaming and Simulation,
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