From the Arctic to Senegal, games help players get their hands on climate change

by Kyle Plantz | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 8 April 2015 15:15 GMT

Nuna, accompanied by her Arctic fox companion, uses her bola to break through the ice. Credit: E-LINE MEDIA

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As scientists and activists try to explain and spur action on climate change, games are showing promise

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – On the computer screen, there’s a white, cold world covered with snow and ice.

A young girl runs through the snow in clothes made of animal skins as she seeks out the cause of an unrelenting blizzard that has made her normal hunting routine difficult. An Arctic fox, as white as the snow around it, walks with the girl to guide and protect her.

Suddenly, the ice beneath her and the fox begins to shift and break apart. They run, jump over ledges, and climb mountains to escape impending doom. A large polar bear appears and chases them through the wintry tundra. Spirits in the sky help them escape.

The girl, Nuna, and her fox companion are the main characters of a recently released video game. It’s called “Kisima Ingitchuna”, but its English name is “Never Alone”. It’s one of the first video games based on an indigenous culture that also tackles how the community deals with the effects of climate change.

As scientists and activists look for new ways to explain and spur action on climate change, games are becoming one promising avenue. Besides reaching new audiences, some of the games give users a first-hand feel of the risks of climate change – and some of the solutions.

Working with the Cook Inlet Tribal Council, Upper One Games, a subsidiary of E-Line Media, created the Inuit game as a tribute to the Iñupiaq tribe in northern Alaska. Through it, the player completes puzzles and controls both Nuna and the fox to accomplish tasks.

The team based the video game on an Iñupiaq tale called “Kunuuksaayuka”, which relates the adventures of a boy who goes to save his community from a devastating blizzard. The game development team and representatives from the Iñupiaq community worked on the script together and came up with the outline for “Never Alone.”

“Our goal was to inspire curiosity in world culture and in these people,” said Sean Vesce, creative director for E-Line in Seattle. The team was not “overtly trying to focus it on climate change,” he said.

But “when we visited Alaska multiple times, that was a topic that kept coming up since their lifestyle is very much with the land and they are very sensitive to changes in the environment, with changing migration patterns of animals and even ice flow and ice thickness”, he said.

Through the video game, players can immerse themselves in the story and gain an interactive, hands-on way to learn about this native Alaskan tribe and how climate change affects it, Vesce said.

“Games are super unique in that they require reflexes and intellect, because it’s a very active medium,” he said. “They can be fun and at the same time you can be learning and not have it feel like a chore.”

Engagement is crucial for the success of any game. If a player can put down the controller at the end and feel moved by the experience, then the game has done its job, Vesce said.

THE POWER OF GAMES

Pablo Suarez, associate director for research and innovation with the Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre, has been playing games for years – and creating new ones to educate people about climate change and how to improve disaster preparedness.

“With climate change, we have the trade off of the now and later,” he said. Games “help us experience the long-term consequences of our short-term decisions in a fun and engaging way.”

He has created games for audiences around the world. In a village in Senegal, for example, Suarez used a card game to help coastal farmers trying to figure out how to deal with worsening storms.

Residents chose options for action from a deck of pre-printed cards – and the choices they made led to discussions among the community that in turn created 300 new option cards for the community.

“The power of games, if they are well designed and well facilitated, is that the players can learn about complex systems and understand them through their intellectual explorations and emotional experiences, and they can use their new knowledge to make better decisions,” he said.

Suarez said both games and interactive art about climate change can help people learn because “they are memorable experiences.”

“People remember vividly the emotions they went through while they were watching and participating in an activity,” he said. “They also remember the ideas that were presented and they can conceptualise the problem differently.”

(Reporting by Kyle Plantz; editing by Laurie Goering)

 

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