The Impossible Will Take a Little While
[From Huffington Post]
AN INCONVENIENT VIDEO GAME
By Paul Rogat Loeb
Someone should make a video game of The Inconvenient Truth. The generation of most game-players will inherit global warming's escalating march, and many won't see any documentary, even an excellent one. Inconvenient Truth is, after all, a lecture and slide show, mixed with a strong personal story, some nice Matt Groening animation, and more humor and hope than you'd expect from a film on the subject.We need to get everyone we can into the theater seats, buying tickets for friends, colleagues, and neighbors, paying the way for those on the fence to at least give it a look. I'd love to see schools negotiate daytime matinees in normally empty weekday theaters, so their students can attend at radically discounted prices. But some--especially those swayed by the Bush administration's propaganda against science, thinking, and other "reality-based" pursuits--will still find it too much of a high-brow lecture.
Given that we need to reach more people, how about an Inconvenient Video Game, a Sim World where players learn about the issues surrounding global warming, choose paths of action to address it, and link to real-world external websites? The goal would be to navigate America (and help navigate the planet) through what it will take to emerge without disaster. Players could research the facts, make good or bad choices, and see the consequences of various actions taken. The game could even include some modeling of political advocacy, so players could take the role of ordinary citizens, since our efforts will ultimately decide whether America ever does really addresses one of the most complex and urgent crises in human history.
The game could build on Gore's existing movie, slide show, and website, adapting whatever elements were useful, but also making the process more interactive, more engaging for an audience for whom games are a prime language. Why not put people in the role of climate scientists assessing the evidence, governmental and corporate decision makers, citizens trying to keep our society from driving off a cliff? Why not let them try out different ways of acting?
There's actually one existing model called A Force More Powerful: The Game of Nonviolent Strategy Developed by The International Center on Nonviolent Conflict (ICNC) (from their book and PBS documentary of the same name), along with media firm York Zimmerman Inc. and game designers at BreakAway Ltd., the game explores strategies and tactics used successfully in ten historical nonviolent struggles to win freedom and secure human rights against dictators, occupiers, colonizers, and corrupt regimes. It's part simulation, part strategy game for scholars, activists, and anyone interested in alternative paths to change. I'm not a gamer, but I found it provocative and challenging. An Inconvenient Video Game could draw on its lessons.
I'd love to see a climate change game distributed and promoted for free as an internet download. The goal wouldn't be to make money--it never was with the film. It would be to draw in as many people as possible to grapple with the threat we now face, taking advantage of every possible medium. And by giving away the game online, and promoting it with viral marketing, it would have a chance to reach the widest possible audience.
There's a danger of course, that all people will do is play the video. But that exists any time we're sitting watching screens. If we wanted to get really creative, the program could even ask repeat users to log on with whatever they'd done that week to help address the issue. Our top game designers can now create and destroy complex virtual worlds, that entrance us in powerful ways. They could do the same to save the habitability of the world we actually inhabit.
Paul Rogat Loeb is the author of The Impossible Will Take a Little While: A Citizen's Guide to Hope in a Time of Fear, named the #3 political book of 2004 by the History Channel and the American Book Association, and winner of the Nautilus Award for best social change book of the year. His previous books include Soul of a Citizen: Living With Conviction in a Cynical Time. See www.paulloeb.org To receive his monthly articles email firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line: subscribe paulloeb-articles
[Also, I don't usually do this, but some of the comments from when this ran on Huffington Post were so interestesting, esp the ones from game designers, that I'm adding them here, first in the thread, and then adding some that people emailed to me.. You might also want to read the excellent New York Times article, Saving the World, One Game at a Time, which ran after my piece came out. Also Games For Change
A fine suggestion. The nature of software development suggests that such a game is already in the works.
Beyond the game you mention, the old SimEarth (with frighteningly bad graphics, and other things...) did an excellent job of showing the too hot/too cold oscillation that tends to happen if you try to dampen a runaway greenhouse effect--as well as what happened when you ignored it--usually, everything died.
Currently, Civilization 4 incorporates a very simple climate model that pretty much guarantees some mostly negative climate change effects once industrialism kicks in in a big way.
Lastly (and sorry I sound like an industry flack, I'm really just an excited nerd), Will Wright's upcoming ground breaker "Spore" promises to contain subversive science at several levels of game play--I suspect that the effects of runaway climate change in that game will be...interesting.
I hope something more spot on comes out as well though, but I gotta tell you that the majority of people who play video games aren't really that interested in realistic, detailed climate models, nor about saving the planet--unless there are aliens involved, of course.
"Gasoline, Much as ya want, ka-chunk, ka-chunk, ka-chunk": http://scorchone.blogspot.com/...
By: Necron99 on July 09, 2006 at 07:25pm
Thoughtful comment. I think a lot of these problems would be easier to address, if the culprits had tentacles and green fangs.
By: PaulLoeb on July 09, 2006 at 08:10pm
Attention headline writers and would-be wags: From now on, do not use "It's Not Easy Being Blank" or "The Year of Living Blanked-ly."
Put the word "Inconvenient" in every fucking thing you write, and you're good to go. Kudos, gents! You're the tops!
Thanks for your cooperation.
By: Thorn on July 09, 2006 at 08:46pm
Usually videogames need to be fun in order for people to play them. Unless you throw in hunting for endangered species...I see nothing fun in your concept.
By: reverend on July 09, 2006 at 09:10pm
I think this is a marvelous idea, and whoever creates the game would surely be able to "fun" it up. Actually it's more the challenge than anything that gets gamers going.
I'd buy the game in two seconds flat. Have you run this idea past Gore or somebody who could contact him for you?
By: hillcountryhappy on July 09, 2006 at 09:17pm
The old "game" SimEarth might be a good codebase/design to start devving such a game from...
By: sherifffruitfly on July 09, 2006 at 09:30pm
I do believe you're on to something Paul. Despite our society's outdated puritanical mores, one *can* have fun while working and learning!
I have taught Global Studies at the 9th grade level. Integrating technology into that curriculum was an awesome way to get kids involved in learning. In general, technology appeals to kids' visual and tactile senses. In turn, using a combination of visual, aural, and kinesthetic modes to convey information helps the human brain take it in, process, and store it effectively. More importantly, if information is processed properly, one can more easily find and retrieve it when necessary, in this case at "exam time".
What concerns me about kids accessing the internet, or using "government approved" software, is the tendency towards misinformation that is being perpetrated by the federal government. As a grad student in education I've seen how the current administration has defunded research capabilities and is funneling all information into one repository (I am referring to the ERIC database). The danger lies in what information we aren't being allowed to see.
As responsible educators, we must teach children how to evaluate and think critically about what they see, hear, and especially about what they are doing. These are skills they will need to order to become responsible, thinking, and feeling adults.
Oh, and "fun-loving"! It's harder to wage wars when you're having so much fun.
Happy Rock, OR
By: irishgawdess on July 09, 2006 at 09:54pm
I agree with the article, and Necron99 makes some good points.
It would be great if Electronic Arts (who now owns Maxis) would make the source code for SimEarth open source, so it could be updated to run on modern computers, enhanced to support the internet, and used to demonstrate the effects of global warming.
At the Long Now Foundation talk with Will Wright and Brian Eno, somebody in the audience (not me!) asked if EA would make the source code to some of Maxis's Sim games open source, so people could see how they work and modify the rules.
Audio of Long Now talk with Will Wright and Brian Eno:
But unfortunately the major obstacle to that is EA's bureaucracy and unwillingless to free up their intellectual property, even if it could save the world. I wrote a proposal that they make an old version of SimCity available for educational use, which I presented to the director of Maxis studios, but unfortunately it fell on deaf ears.
Educational Multi Player SimCity for Linux Proposal
Spore is totally amazing, and it will teach a lot of interesting stuff about science, and innoculate people against believing in bullshit like intelligent design.
Here's a review I wrote of Will Wright's "Spore" demo at the 2005 game developer's conference.
The Future of Content: What I learned about content from the Sims. ...and why it's driven me to procedural methods. ...And what I now plan to do with them.
(I worked with Will Wright on the original version of The Sims, and attended both talks referenced above.)
The reverend points out that games must involve hunting endangered species to be fun. The point is that HUMANS ARE AN ENDANGERED SPECIES, unless we do something about global warming. But maybe if the global warming simulation includes enough realistic violence, including lots of alchohol and tobacco, we could get the government to subsidize it.
Should the Government Treat Video Games like Alchohol and Tobacco?
By: SimFaux on July 09, 2006 at 10:21pm
The fun can be finding sources to disprove Al Gore's claims, and have a little icon of Gore in the corner get redder and redder until he starts yelling at you and breathing fire.
By: nethicus on July 09, 2006 at 11:26pm
Cool idea. There's actually a video game that simulates the Darfur crisis so I'd think that an "Inconvenient Sims" would be in the works too.
Case anyone wants to read about the Darfur game, here's a link to a story about it. Many more out there, I'm sure. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/5153694.stm?ls...
By: el on July 10, 2006 at 01:25am
Sounds like a job for Google Earth. GE already has Gore's ear (I'm not sure if he's still on their payroll) and they already offer free software (SketchUp 3-D modeling app - I highly recommend it) that works with the GE app.
By: illinoisan on July 10, 2006 at 10:26am
A Global Warming video game?
Call it Gore's Final Fantasy.
By: farts on July 10, 2006 at 10:52am
reverend, your cynicism is understandable, but regrettable.
"Fun" does not have to include shooting things. Haven't you ever played a card game, or a game of catch with a child, or Charades, or swung on a rope over a waterhole?
You might as well say that if a movie doesn't have blood and gore in it, it won't sell, or if a book doesn't have warfare in it, it won't be read. Sure, there are plenty of summer-blockbusters with all of the above, but there are also plenty of successes that entertain in deeper ways.
The only reason virtually all videogames design "fun" as death-dealing, or at the very least Malthusian, winner-take-all conflict, is developer laziness - it is easy to stick two players with guns in a room with one treasure chest.
Creating meaningful entertainment that makes you think is not impossible, as countless hit movies, books, and other media (and even the rare videogame like Myst or SimCity or Rollercoaster Tycoon - all hits) have proven.
By: rationalist on July 10, 2006 at 10:53am
Global warming is already a video game. It only exists on computer models.
By: louzer on July 10, 2006 at 12:31pm
Disaster: Day of Crisis. First-party Nintendo game coming out within a year I think. Not quite the same thing, but an interesting premise nontheless; you are a Secret Service guy going after terrorists, all the while surviving "Day After Tomorrow" style natural disasters and meyhem. I know, not the same thing, but the game is bound to tackle global warming somewhere in there...
By: skaboy52 on July 10, 2006 at 02:15pm
Nice to see all the thoughtful comments, including the possibility of existing proptotypes or adaptable models from people a lot more familiar with the gaming world than I am. (though I loved Myst when my stepson played it) And Arianna said she'd pass on the suggestion to Gore and to Laurie David, who produced the movie.
So maybe something will come of it, and we'll have a few more educational tools and a few more allies in working to turn this around.
By: PaulLoeb on July 10, 2006 at 02:16pm
Although it's a powerful idea, a realistic, engaging SimEarth-type game isn't going to attract much interest and wouldn't be worth the cost of development.
Rather, go with a stealth-based/tactical shooter game (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stealth-based_game) with a 3D graphics environment that lets players encounter the effects of global warming for themselves from a first-person perspective. Missions to flooded cities, refugee camps, and deforested wastelands would provide plenty of opportunity to learn about global warming while at the same time engaginig in challenging gameplay.
The year is 2056. The U.S. has *already cut its emissions and taken the lead in fighting global warming*, but some kind of eastern axis is wreaking such havoc on the environment that it's up to a crack team of U.S.-led special forces to go in and -- using stealth and low-impact, targeted ops -- disrupt the evil polluting industry enough to give the world's pro-environmental voices a chance to convince the citizens of the evil empire (and to some extent its leaders) of thier errors.
That the evil empire coincidentally behaves much as the U.S. did in the first quarter of the century will be accessible and understandable to even the most dim-witted gameplayer.
I volunteer to be the creative director for this video game. Why? Because it's going to take a lot more than the above framework to make a great game, and I have more than the above sitting inside my head. :-)
By: empiric on July 10, 2006 at 08:08pm
[ADDITIONAL EMAIL COMMENTS]
I recently read your article entitled "An Inconvienient Video Game" on the website truthout.org. I would like to draw your attention to the video game 'Alpha Centari' by the acclaimed Sid Meier. The game is an offshoot of his Civilization series and does indeed have global warming as a gameplay element. All the civilizations must limit carbon emissions or the gameplay terrain changes (plains to swamp, sea levels rise, etc.). This adversely impacts the cities of your civilization. The only option is to lobby the U.N. equivalent for a curb on carbon emissions. This game came out years ago.