ADDING CLIMATE RISK
Climate change pressures and impacts are already making their way into a growing range of commercial videogames, Glasco said – giving some of the world’s estimated 3 billion videogamers almost tangible first-hand experience with them.
Floodland, a survival game set in a world drowned by climate change, launched last month, for example, and SimCity, a long-standing world-building game, added climate change impacts as long as a decade ago.
Martial Arts Tycoon, a game developed by Glasco’s private studio, lets players manage a martial arts gym, with training done in part on the roofs of Brazil’s infamous slum favelas.
As temperatures get hotter, the fighters being trained have a greater chance of heat exhaustion, hurting their agility. But investing in shade covers and giving fighters plenty of water limits the damage.
Heatwaves in the game are given names and ratings – the way hurricanes and tropical storms are currently named globally – a change Arsht-Rock hopes to bring about in the real world to improve awareness of fast-worsening extreme heat risks.
Glasco said the idea isn’t to build climate-change videogames, but to make climate change a reality in games in a way that builds awareness of the same changes happening in the external world.
“If a million people play this game and are introduced to the heatwave ranking system, once rankings are deployed on the news they’ll say, ‘Hey, I ought to stay inside,'” noted Glasco, a senior fellow at Arsht-Rock.
The Miami 2040 prototype game was put together on the cheap in under three months, but high-spec games can cost over $100,000, or millions for a commercial product, he said.
Still, Arsht-Rock thinks the technology’s ability to make climate change risks and opportunities powerfully real will drive investments in similar games by government bodies, businesses, nonprofits and others.
It has launched a gaming centre with the aim of creating its own games and helping other organisations expand the genre, as part of a broader push to drive effective climate policy and build resilience to impacts.
“We want every policymaker to try this,” said Upadhyaya at Arsht-Rock. Many people are now aware climate change risks are growing, “but this is a faster way of educating them”, she added.
Glasco said he’s beginning to wonder just how much power the new virtual reality games actually have.
The first time he showed the Miami 2040 game, on a trip to Washington D.C., Hurricane Ian slammed into his home in the Florida city of Orlando, forcing him to return to his soggy house by jet-ski through flooded streets.
A month and a half later, on the day he began exhibiting the videogame at COP27 in Egypt, another hurricane hit his home.
“It might be it’s a weather manipulation game,” he joked. “If it happens on more time I might have to throw it off my roof – and save Florida.”