Saving the city – a computer game to stimulate climate discussion

The year is 2047. In the past 30 years your city has been hit by 13 heatwaves, one major downpour and three smaller ones. The hospital has been built on low ground and there is a real risk it will be flooded if another downpour occurs. Your move.

Bild ur klimatdataspelet

The scenario has been taken from a computer game that the Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute (SMHI) and Linköping University are developing together. The climate adaptation game is an addition to the popular game of Minecraft, which can best be described as “digital Lego” in which you build a world using building bricks.

“We have built three worlds: the city, the coastal town, and the river town. All of them feel the effects of climate change. It’s up to the players to work out how they want to meet these challenges, how much they are prepared to spend, and what measures to give the highest priority,” says Lotta Andersson who works at the Swedish National Knowledge Centre for Climate Change Adaptation at SMHI, and is adjunct professor at Linköping University.Tina Neset, researcher at LiU. Photo credit: David Einar

Gaming at school?

Lotta Andersson and Tina Neset, senior lecturer at Linköping University, have been toying with the idea of a climate-focused computer game for years. So when SMHI started to discuss how to broaden its work with societal adaptation to climate change, Lotta Andersson started to think about how to make the game a reality.

“We asked ourselves who were the best people to approach with the idea, and realised that this was young people. And what do young people do? They play games!” says Lotta Andersson.

Her work previously had been mainly focused on municipalities and how they can adapt to the coming climate changes, but young people have been identified as an equally important target group. The effects of climate change are going to become more and more evident during their lifetime. This is why the game has been developed such that it can be used in schools.

“Non-frivolous gaming can be a resource in education and learning. The Swedish national curriculum contains a provision that pupils are to be given the tools needed to understand sustainable development: social, economic and ecological. This is where the game comes in,” says Tina Neset.

She points out that the game has been designed not only to give pupils knowledge about climate change. By playing the game in school, they get to work in a group and reach decisions together. Should they go for a cheaper solution for the hospital, using mobile flood protection? Or is it better to invest in more extensive measures? The game has been designed to teach pupils to take an overall view and see phenomena in a larger context. They should also develop commitment and an ability to act.


Securing towns against climate challenges

This summer the US and Puerto Rico were hit by three major hurricanes, wreaking havoc. Upper secondary teacher Ola Uhrqvist discussed the destruction that happened in Texas and Florida, and its causes, with the pupils at Folkungaskolan in Linköping. They had the climate computer game to help them.Ola Uhrqvist använder klimatdataspelet i undervisningen.Upper secondary teacher Ola Uhrqvist played the game with his pupils.
Photo: David Einar 

“The game fitted into the discussion extremely well. We discussed how to secure towns against climate change, and the pupils used the game to get to grips with practical aspects. It was useful for them to be given a certain amount of money in the game, and have to make it stretch to different purposes,” says Ola Uhrqvist.

He took his doctoral degree at LiU and has carried out commissioned research for SMHI. When it was time for young people to test the computer game, Ola was the person whom Lotta Andersson contacted.

Ola Uhrqvist’s classes saw the game played on a large screen, and played it in small groups. Some of them took roles in the business world: others were tenants, members of a pensioners’ interest group, or environmental activists.

“They got really involved. They took their roles seriously, did extensive preparation, and formed alliances as the game progressed,” he recalls.

Any difficulties associated with using the game in education will not come from the pupils, Ola Uhrqvist believes, but from the schools.

“The climate issue is not in focus in schools as much as it was a few years ago, and schools haven’t discovered the whole field of climate adaptation yet. Another point is that they idea of using computer games in school may create a feeling of insecurity in some teachers,” he says.

It’s a game – but it’s also real

It’s not just schools that haven’t discovered climate adaptation yet: only slow progress in the field is being made in Sweden’s municipalities. Even if a municipality has become aware of the matter, clear political support is often lacking.So Lotta Andersson and Tina Neset see local politicians as potential players. Politicians in Norrköping, Finspång and Kungsör have been selected as test subjects, and will play the game under the supervision of upper secondary pupils in the municipality.

“It’s been very easy to enthuse young people when we demonstrate the game. We’re hoping that their enthusiasm can spread to the adults,” says Tina Neset.

The politicians are going to use the game as role play, and it is hoped that they will be able to see things from each others’ perspectives.

“The game could be used to get a discussion going. Of course – it’s just a game. But it’s also real. It’s now that we have the opportunity to take many important decisions,” says Lotta Andersson.

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