Research published last week in the journal PLoS One examined the effects of World Climate Simulation, a role-playing game of the UN climate talks. The video game found that 81 percent of participants showed an increased desire to combat climate change despite political beliefs. The game’s ability to bridge gaps across the political spectrum and engage those who are less concerned about the need for climate action is a major benchmark in propelling the environment to the forefront of national and international policy making.

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The research group examined the virtual advocates’ beliefs about climate change, emotional responses to its effects and intent to improve climate-change-inducing behaviors. In total, 2,000 participants — from eight different countries, four continents and various age groups from middle school students to CEOs — were selected for the assessment. The analysis concluded that participants exhibited both a greater sense of urgency as well as hope in combating climate change, alongside a desire to understand more about climate science and the impact of climate change.

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“It was this increased sense of urgency, not knowledge, that was key to sparking motivation to act,” said Juliette Rooney Varga, lead researcher of University of Massachusetts’s Lowell Climate Change Initiative. “The big question for climate change communication is: how can we build the knowledge and emotions that drive informed action without real-life experience which, in the case of climate change, will only come too late?”

Co-author Andrew Jones of Climate Interactive provided “three key ingredients” in response: “information grounded in solid science, an experience that helps people feel for themselves on their own terms and social interaction arising from conversation with their peers.”

Developed nations within the game pledge monetary support to developing nations through the Green Climate Fund, a fund designed to cut emissions and help countries adapt to the change. The real-life climate policy computer model C-ROADS then receives the players’ choices and gives immediate feedback on how the decisions will ultimately impact the environment. C-ROADS has been used to support the real UN climate negotiations as well, as it is an effective simulator of expected outcomes.

“Research shows that showing people research doesn’t work,” said John Sterman, co-author of the study and professor at MIT’s Sloan School of Management. “World Climate works because it enables people to express their own views, explore their own proposals and thus learn for themselves what the likely impacts will be.” The players’ first negotiations usually backslide when they see the future outcomes on their health, prosperity and welfare. The next rounds of negotiation using C-ROADS are generally much more aggressive in achieving emission cuts after players see how climate change impacts their own lives.

The game is now being used as an official resource for schools in France, Germany and South Korea. The social interactions fostered by World Climate Simulation are proving a valuable resource in achieving a global movement to advocate for climate action. The game is also showing that education is a key component in successfully implementing climate policy within government.


Image via Glenn Carstens-Peters