Computer game puts the fate of the Earth in your hands

Living on Earth

Story from Living on Earth. Listen to audio above for full report.

In the coming decades, global leaders will deal with problems that will test our civilization: intense storms and droughts, famine and social upheaval. Time is running out.

But what if the fate of the world was in your hands, and you had the power to save the planet?

“The Fate of the World” is a new computer game that puts players in charge of the global effort to respond to the challenge of climate change. The goal: to confront the effects of global warming, save the planet, and have some serious fun in the process.

Watch a trailer for Fate of the World:

Ian Roberts played a pivotal role in determining the Fate of the World — he designed the game. Living on Earth host Bruce Gellerman spoke with Roberts about how playing computer games can teach us how to solve real-life problems. The following is a transcript of the interview:

ROBERTS: There’s no reason why you can’t make a good game about something that matters — something that, when you play the game and learn about what’s going on in it, you can take that away and have it inform your real life. Because when we play games, we get really good at beating a game. We get really good at that game and knowing it and understanding it. And if that game is based on reality, then that’s some knowledge that we can really do something with.

GELLERMAN: I heard that this game was developed on a drunken dare.

ROBERTS: (Laughs) Something of the sort. We met a climate scientist, Dr. Miles Allen, in a pub in Oxford. And he said, ‘I bet you could make a really great game about climate change.’ And ultimately we’re here thanks to that bet.

GELLERMAN: So the game is chock-filled with a lot of information — a lot of data. Is this real stuff?

ROBERTS: Yeah, it really is. We wanted, in a sense, to make a game that as well reflected what we could know about the world as it is. I don’t think there’s ever been a computer game that really had radiative forcing as a key concept that the players can play with: it’s like, “Yeah, I’m going to play this policy — it’s going to change my radiative forcing! So what’s that all about?” But the players are really, really interested in finding out more about it.

So the data about population, about GDP production, about resource needs — we actually put a scientifically peer reviewed climate model in the game to give our results in temperature rise. And we’ve tried to collect the best data that we could find to represent the world as we think it will be in 2020, which is when the game really starts.

The concept is that we start the player with the position that we don’t do anything really about climate change at all. So we fast-forward ten years in a world where very little has been done. And in response to climate change, the world has put together an organization to help regions manage policy and address funding for climate change projects and this is called the Global Environmental Organization. It’s something akin to the World Trade Organization, for example. And the player is put as President of this organization and gets to act as overseer to climate change policy around the world, good or bad.

Read the rest of this transcript on the Living on Earth website.


Hosted by Steve Curwood, “Living on Earth” is an award-winning environmental news program that delves into the leading issues affecting the world we inhabit. More about “Living on Earth.”

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