Climate Change Games

Jessica Creane

A look into the process of designing games about climate change with The National Parks Service.

15 replies on “Climate Change Games”

Thanks so much, Jessica. Your description of your process is wonderful, and really helpful to me to hear before our teams work this summer on communicating our research for the purpose of participatory inclusion in change efforts at the local level. One question (and I’m asking it entirely to help me think!): from your perspective as a designer, if these games are a success, what will they have done (for/with the participants’ and/or the spaces in which they were ideated or played)?

Hi Laura! Great question- I’ll do my best to answer concisely! The design goals for the games are twofold- one is to create experiences that balance structure and curation with meeting players where they’re at on their journey to understand and feel empowered to engage with climate change. The second is to invite players to consider a radical change in how we talk about climate change, from conversational structures to growth mindsets. Ideally, this will help players to meet each other where they’re at on their journey (fostering empathy around the many complex factors that got us to this point in time as individuals and society) and also plant seeds for how it might we can be playful in the face of uncertainty and fear and use that playfulness to think creatively about complex challenges that face us regarding climate change and community.

These games are amazing! I love the polyphonic conversation approach, in particular; it seems like it would work really well in classrooms. Were you inspired by NPS “ACE” strategies in creating these? If so, how do you understand those strategies as different from–or enhancing?–traditional pedagogical techniques of engaging students?
I’m asking, in part, as a longtime (former) NPS ranger, but also as a team member on a community conversation project that draws on ACE strategies. I’d love to compare notes with you!

Hi Jennifer! First of all- thank you for your service as a ranger! Where were you stationed?

I don’t have direct training in ACE but I’d bet good money the folks I worked with do! I utilized the strategy of Deep Listening going into interviews with folks at the park. It’s a way of structuring research to minimize the effect of personal biases when entering into a new community with the goal of collaborating with them based on what they express a need for, not what you, on the outside, think there’s a need for. It led to some fascinating conversations and I’d be delighted to compare notes and hear more about ACE!

I am so thankful for and inspired by your work, Jessica! And so glad to learn more of it here as a follow up to PPEH’s fall 2019 virtual storytelling event. I’ve been thinking about what “immersive games” mean and can do ever since, and am eager to use the climate change conversation game in the classroom in the fall. Thank you!

Hi April! The feeling is mutual- so glad to know you and would be delighted to chat more!

Delighted we had the opportunity to play every so briefly round one of the NPS-residency game. To articulate environmental fears and hopes as questions turns my thinking upside down in a fruitful way. Thank you for sharing the game in this venue! How do you define the unique capacities and constraints of play—and of conversational games in particular—to generate new environmental consciousness, stories, and action? (I’ve thought about this question a lot since being part of the Play the LA River project from 2012-2015.)

Hi Allison! It’s my pleasure- thank you for playing! This is such a lovely question and one I spend a lot of time thinking about as well. I’d be hesitant to set constraints on what play can do for us in this world because there’s still so much left to discover but I think some of the unique capacities are in shifting how we think about challenges and how open we are to crafting new systems of thought and action (which is essentially what we enter into when we play a game). One area that I hope play can have a significant impact on is on how we prepare for change without giving in to hopelessness. When we make fear-based decisions we often end up with the most apathetic and in-the-box answers to complex challenges, ignoring a whole set of tools that can help us to solve those complex challenges, and play is definitely one of those tools.

Great work, Jessica! At the Greenhouse we organized an environmental board game night at the beginning of this semester and there was lots of interest – both from our regular members and from our student community. Unfortunately, corona meant we had to cancel plans for our 2nd one that would have happened in May/June.
I just thought I’d share three games with environmental themes (I mean that in a general sense) that you & others might want to try if you don’t know them already:
Carbon City Zero – a really great card game that makes the players think about tradeoffs between industry, innovation, and climate change.
Parks – probably the most visually stunning game out there and it deals with national parks!
Skogen – another gorgeous game that asks the players to build ecosystems and think about the relationships between landscapes, plants & animals. It’s in Swedish but still worth looking at (there are some English reviews of it)
We played many more at the game night, including Wingspan, Climate Evolutions, and Reefs, as well.
I look forward to seeing your board game – hopefully we can get hold of a copy for the Greenhouse!

This is such a great initiative. It reminds me a bit of Marina Zurkow’s card game project, Investing in Futures, which I teach with sometimes as an exercise to help students limber their skills of futuring. Overall, games are so important for climate storying. It’s important to expand the emotional bandwidth of climate communication beyond fear and grief not because those aren’t important emotions to be feeling but because I think we’ll widen our audience by mixing in ludic opportunities.

Thanks Dominic! I love your turn of phrase- “limber their skills of futuring.” I completely agree- we are far more actionable when in a positive frame of mind and it’s important to train ourselves to find that balance of giving space to grief and fear without letting them override all other emotions in this conversation and I think play and games are a great way to do that.

Jessica, This is a very interesting project. I downloaded the games, and many of your strategies were stimulating. But (unlike Jenn) I wondered about polyphonic talking. Doesn’t that reinforce talking past one another (a problem we have plenty of practice with)? Or is that the point–that players learn that polyphonic talking, rather than listening, doesn’t lead to enlightenment or problem solving (and here I’m speaking out of experience as a polyphonic talker)? Or am I really missing the value?

Hi Marsha, great question. Talking past one another is absolutely the norm, even an expectation, in conversations around complex subject matter, whereas a true polyphonic *conversation* is incredibly challenging. It takes a lot of mental energy and active listening to find a rhythm of speech and hearing that allows folks to truly respond to each other in the moment, not just get on a track and ignore the rest of the group. At it’s best, polyphonic conversation next level active listening. I’ll be sure to make this as clear as possible in the guidelines!

Thanks for sharing your work, Jessica! I loved how quickly the game became experiential during the happy hour when you said “let’s play!” Suddenly I was in it. I had a zillion thoughts running through my mind, and I wanted to frame one of them as a question, but couldn’t find the right words. In the act of trying and in considering the other questions that were being thrown out there one by one, I quickly understood the value of re-framing everything as a question. It became clear that the construct of the game allows us to go deep really fast, without judgement and in a way that feels like fresh. It’s such a great tool for us in this moment!