January 20, 2016
UW-designed climate change games honored this week in Washington, D.C.
The inaugural Climate Game Jam challenged teams at 11 sites across the nation to design a game around the theme of climate adaptation — and to present the idea in a video within 48 hours.
Two University of Washington teams claimed top prizes in the fall competition, and both games will be on display Thursday, Jan. 21 for an event at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.
Climate Quest, a video game, won first place in the “college” category. It was designed by Dargan Frierson, a UW associate professor of atmospheric sciences, Zuoming Shi, a computer science and engineering doctoral student who is a member of the UW’s Center for Game Science, and Ben Peterson, a senior undergraduate in the Information School.
AdaptNation placed third in the “open” category. The board game was designed by Will Chen, a graduate student in aquatic and fishery sciences, Rob Thompson, a graduate student in computer science and engineering, and Seattle-based artist Rachel Lee.
Chen and Lee are in D.C. this week for two events at the natural history museum, where the public will have a first chance to play the games.
The two UW entries take very different approaches. Climate Quest is a 5- to 10-minute online video game that has players move cartoon characters to quickly address climate-related disasters around the country. (Frierson composed the accompanying 8-bit soundtrack.) It’s available as a free download for Mac or PC, and an app is in the works.
AdaptNation is a cooperative board game, in which three to six players each lead a fictional city. Each city faces different challenges as players work together to keep the whole nation afloat as conditions change from 2025 to 2055. It will be out soon.
Both UW entries were done through EarthGamesUW, a group started in early 2015 by Frierson and Josh Lawler, a UW associate professor of environmental and forest sciences. The group began working on student projects that combine climate science and gaming with members of departments across campus, including Computer Science & Engineering, Atmospheric Sciences and other units. Frierson and Lawler have been working with students in the UW’s Information School on senior- and graduate-level projects that involve building a video game.
“I think that interaction really helps for learning,” said Frierson, who grew up playing video games. “Especially for environmental issues, I think this has been an untapped avenue for inspiring and teaching people.”
When the UW group heard about the inaugural Climate Game Jam, it was a no-brainer to enter. The October weekend marathon event attracted a small core group that spent almost all of the second night wrapping up their entries. Sponsors of the contest included the White House’s Office of Science and Technology, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Smithsonian Institution.
Since the prizes were announced, “it’s done a good job in kick-starting interest on campus,” Frierson said.
The UW group meets Mondays afternoons. It’s is open to anyone who has a background in game design, or a willingness to learn. Roughly two dozen current members include UW students and faculty, as well as working professionals in the gaming industry. Lately the group has been perfecting the two games that are debuting this week. Next they will be working on applying for grants, organizing events, and devising more games that incorporate environmental issues — including two games that feature pikas.