Friday, November 5, 2010

New Game on climate change

They've previously tackled alien invasions, gang violence in New York and how to raise a happily family, but this week computer games wrestle with an even more pressing issue: climate change. Arriving on PCs on Tuesday and Macs shortly, the British-made Fate of the World puts players at the helm of a future World Trade Organisation-style environmental body with a task of saving the world by cutting carbon emissions or damning it by letting soaring temperatures wreak havoc through floods, droughts and fires.The strategy game is already being hailed by gaming experts as a potential breakthrough for such social change titles, and welcomed by climate campaigners as a way of reaching new audiences.While traditional mainstream games have focused on action, sports and increasingly casual genres, Fate of the World features data from real-world climate models, anecdotes from the polar explorer Pen Hadow and input from a team of scientists and economists in the U.S. and U.K. It has been developed by Oxford-based games designers Red Redemption, whose previous browser-based climate game for the BBC has been played more than a million times since it was launched in 2006.Gobion Rowlands, chairman at Red Redemption and a board member of social gaming organisation Games for Change, said the game was inspired by his desire to make the subject more accessible and a drunken boast to Dr. Myles Allen, head of climate dynamics at Oxford University and a contributor to the last report by the U.N.'s climate science panel.
“My wife was working on Allen's project [a project to use the power of home PCs to process climate model data], when he took me out for dinner. We got quite drunk, and I bragged that we could make a computer game about anything. He challenged us to make one about climate change.”
Mr. Allen has provided the prediction models used in the game. “For far too long, climate policy has been developed by unelected technocrats in smoke-free conference centres or through talk show soundbites,” said Mr. Allen. “What I like about this game is that it allows people to experience, in an idealised world, of course, the kinds of decisions we are likely to confront, and makes it clear there are no easy answers: should we start mining methane clathrates [gas trapped in arctic ice], for example?”
Tom Chatfield, gaming expert and the author of Fun Inc: Why Games Are the 21st Century's Most Serious Business, said: “This could be the beginning of a flowering of issue—led gaming. But it will be judged on whether it's a good game, not on whether it's worthy or not.” He said that, although some mainstream titles — such as the Civilization franchise, which has sold more than six million copies — had touched on issues of sustainability and pollution before, most games with an overt social message often had a lower budget and gave a less polished experience.

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