The world’s politicians have, so far, done a perfectly crap job of dealing with climate change. The bold promises of the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, which led to the creation of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), have yet to be fulfilled. Kyoto Protocol or no Kyoto Protocol, global carbon emissions keep on rising. The globe is getting steadily hotter. Species of animals and plants keep going extinct. The shift towards a cleaner, greener energy supply is happening far too slowly. And there’s little expectation that the UN climate change summit in Cancun at the end of the year will turn things around.
But maybe you can do a better job! That’s the challenge game designers Red Redemption are laying down. They’re coming out with a new PC game (with a Mac version to follow soon) called, not very subtly, Fate of the World. The global strategy game puts players in charge of a World Trade Organization-style global body that has the task responding to rapid climate change and pushing the world towards cleaner energy. Here’s the trailer:
This isn’t Red Redemption’s first foray into the world of what’s been called “socially conscious” gaming. (What’s that? Imagine the nihilistic, hedonistic joy that is Grand Theft Auto IV. Now imagine it’s opposite. There you go.) The Oxford-based company made an Internet browser-based game on climate change for the BBC in 2006, and it’s been played more than a million times since. Fate of the World, however, will be much more detailed, using data from real-world climate models, input from economists and from the polar explorer Pen Hadow. The climate prediction models come from Myles Allen, the head of climate dynamics at Oxford University. Allen also provided the inspiration for the game, as Gobion Rowlands, the chairman of Red Redemption, told the Guardian:
My wife was working on Allen’s Climateprediction.net 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.
So there you are—a game to save the world made because of a drunken bet. But Allen told the Guardian that the game could have real world benefits:
For far too long, climate policy has been developed by unelected technocrats in smoke-free conference centres or through talkshow soundbites. 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?
Ok, so it’s not exactly Red Dead Redemption, but Fate of the World could be a Civilization-style exercise in global management—though if the makers really want it to be accurate, they should force the players to sit through simulated overnight talk fests for the UNFCCC. I’ll try it out as soon as the game is out for the Mac. But I do wonder if the game will simply encourage players to think of the climate system as a massive simulation that can be precisely controlled by tweaking certain policies—that turning the knob on CO2 will enough to ensure a safe climate. The reality is likely to be a whole lot more complicated—especially if you have to grapple with simulated Tea Partiers.