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Playing Climate Games with Nature for Keeps

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So we recently released another GameTheNews title (with guest developer Ashley Gwinnell) entitled 'Climate Defense' (free and on Android and yes I used the US spelling). The seed of this game came from the fact that the Kyoto protocol recently expired with nothing to replace it. Basically CO2 emissions are going up and up and collectively not much is happening to bring them down. We'd like to think that reality works the way we'd imagine it should but it doesn't always. Nature does not care about our perceptions of reality; it just is:

"We're talking about a fight between human beings and physics. And physics is entirely uninterested in human timetables. Physics couldn't care less if precipitous action raises gas prices, or damages the coal industry in swing states. It could care less whether putting a price on carbon slowed the pace of development in China, or made agribusiness less profitable. ... It's implacable. It takes the carbon dioxide we produce and translates it into heat, which means into melting ice and rising oceans and gathering storms." (Bill McKibben)

The game is a simple 'tower defence' style puzzle/action game where you need to grow things to absorb CO2 before it gets into the upper atmosphere. That design then lead to me thinking about how in most games we tend to engineer the stats of the game to maximize the gameplay. Some stats will be accurate whereas others will not be. So for example in a shooting game the number of bullets per clip in a gun will be accurate but the number of times the player can be shot and keep going, won't be. So what would happen if we didn't maximise the gameplay? What if a game tried, as far as is possible, to deliver the unvarnished truth? Of course there is a problem with this statement in that by simulating reality in a game, what is created is already going to be less than real. However what I could do in the design process is to give the player two options for playing the game: real(er) or fun.

If you play for fun, you get just that, an enjoyable puzzle game where you can 'win'. if you play for real what you get is a version where I've done my best to recreate numbers that reflect reality. This version of the game is not very fun and the climate impacts soon mount up. In the fun version I've altered the stats to make the game more enjoyable to play and to can 'win' too. The challenge is to play both versions, compare them and see how you feel then. So enjoy (or don't) the free game of Climate Defense!