Al Gore's tips for designers creating climate-related games

At New York's Soho House, former U.S. Vice President and Nobel Laureate Al Gore discussed how and why games are powerful tools for raising awareness on climate-related issues.
Written by Reena Jana, Contributor

NEW YORK--In a book-lined library on the fifth floor of New York's exclusive Soho House, former U.S. Vice President and Nobel Laureate Al Gore admitted to a group of game designers, ad-agency executives, and corporate innovation and design strategists that he is stuck on level 12 of "Angry Birds."

Speaking at a small, invite-only event titled "Gaming for Good" that was co-hosted by Gore's Climate Reality Project, a Web site and platform for events that discuss climate change, and the trend-watching consultancy PSFK, Gore admitted that he isn't an avid digital gamer. Yet the reason everyone was gathered in the room was to hear why Gore believes games might play a strategic role in inspiring more sustainable behavior among individuals--and, eventually, companies and governments.

"Games are fun. I am not saying this as an expert. But looking at the enormous amount of time people are spending playing games, I can see that social games for good represent a fantastic opportunity for encouraging change in political and social spaces," Gore said.

In November, for example, Rovio, the maker of "Angry Birds," announced that it had achieved 500 million worldwide game downloads of "Angry Birds," and that players around the globe collectively spend 300 million minutes playing it each day.


At the New York event, Gore also discussed some game-design strategies that could make notable impact, in the context of an open call earlier this year by the Climate Reality Project and PSFK for game designers and digital agencies to create a climate-themed game concept that could be supported and made real by Gore's organization.

Sixty agencies submitted proposals, and a short list of ten chosen by the Climate Reality Project were presented by their creators--some who had flown in from as far away as Milan, Italy, and Montreal, Canada--at Soho House.

Gore discussed five of the ten he believed held the most promise, in terms of practical production concerns and potential popularity. His points could also be seen as tips for game designers hoping to create successful climate-themed concepts.

Revealing his choices live in front of the audience, he highlighted a game concept called "Realitree," submitted by New York's Stark Design, which calls for a large public projection of a giant tree, whose health would be determined by players submitting news of their environmentally friendly actions via social media platforms such as Twitter. Branches would grow or leaves would dry up depending on players' participation.

"This is very interesting, the idea of digitally representing the local environment," Gore said.

"But a commitment to run it on renewable energy is really important. Maybe you could couple it with a continuous spinning class hooked up to generator," he said to laughs.

He pointed out a game called "Greensquare," by Brooklyn's Awkward Hug, which asks players to check-in to stores, restaurants, and other businesses via their mobile phones and rate these establishments' eco-conscious behavior. He said the concept had an appropriate "grassroots, bottom-up" approach to eco-awareness. And he mentioned "Climate Trail," by New York's Zemoga, based on the classic video game "Oregon Trail" but updates it to provide a sustainability-themed journey, which he said caught his eye and suggested would have built-in familiarity for gamers.

His final two picks were "Reality Drops" by Boston's Arnold Worldwide, which asks players to share climate-centered news online and earn points for doing so, and "Climate Reality Patrol," by New York's Parlor, which allows players to tag online comments and earn badges and other rewards.

"These have great potential to bring back the conversation [on climate realities] to the public square," he said. (More information on Gore's five picks can be found here.)


Gore also tactfully pointed out potential weaknesses in two of the shortlisted game concepts that proposed designing climate events such as floods or draughts in popular games such as "Farmville" and "Call of Duty."

"These concepts would raise awareness, but they would require big bucks, and the amount of programming work would be quite large. I'm not sure that's practical with the realities of marketplace today," Gore said of the game concepts "Climate Reality," by Wieden + Kennedy, and "Destination Reality: Farmville," by Arnold Worldwide. "But they are very imaginative," he acknowledged.

He made it clear that he wasn't "slighting" any of the games that he didn't choose to discuss, saying that it was important that all game designers seeking to create climate-related games should be encouraged to do so.

"The general design of this project offers the chance to combine fun and cooperating with others on solving a massive problem," he said. "So the possibility of getting a lot of people involved [is important.] These activities are fun--which makes them sustainable."

Image: Tom Raferty/Wikimedia Commons

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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