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Green Economics

Can a video game help us adapt to climate change?

A new video game attempts to shock young people out of ecological apathy.

By Matthew E. KahnGuest blogger / September 22, 2010

A new video game, 'Fate of the World,' presents a scary future to encourage young people to take action to fight global climate change. The company released 'Climate Challenge' in 2007.

Illustration / Red Redemption, Ltd. / www.fateoftheworld.com

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The power of video games as a climate change adaptation tool is a brand new idea for me. But, if this game makes future scary scenarios more salient and helps teenagers to focus on it --- then I like it. While I haven't thought about this before, this falls under the broad example of "human ingenuity" helping us to adapt to climate change. Here is an email I just received;

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"World's leading environmental game maker Red Redemption has created "Fate of the World" - new climate challenge game for PC's and Apple from in association with Oxford University climate experts with really scary climate scenarios - game is being pitched to top distribution houses on the West Coast this week following its presentation at New York Climate Week- Chairman Gobion Rowlands will talk to Gaming Magazines and Blogs in one-on-one phone interviews - Phone Stuart Rowlands 310 850-1088 to set time

Red Redemption created award winning "Climate Challenge" for the BBC in 2008 played by more than 970,000.

http://albion.red-redemption.com/~gobion/FOTW_Trailer.wmv :

Now, I'm not going to play this game -- and I don't know who it is targeted for but recall what Malcolm X said; "by any means necessary". If this is what it takes to wake up complacent youth about scenarios we could face if we aren't pro-active, then I am supportive.

The irony here (which I discuss in Climatopolis) is the anticipation of "gloom and doom" helps us to continue to "live long and prosper".

UPDATE: This NY Times article explores this general point from a different standpoint. As discussed in this article, some nerds at the Northwestern Kellogg School have created a software program that shows a survey participant what he/she will look like in the future when this person turns age 68. This randomly assigned prompt giving you a glimpse of "who you will be" nudges people to save more than the control group. Now a skeptic might ask whether this cheap talk reflects the reality;

Can seeing a representation of what you’ll look like later in life persuade you to save more for retirement? Some recent studies say yes.

"Hal Ersner-Hershfield of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and fellow researchers created images of college-age participants that showed how they looked as they aged.

They then put the participants in a virtual reality environment, showed them either an image of what they looked like now or of what they might look like as they aged, then asked them questions about retirement allocation. Participants who saw the aged image of themselves allocated twice as much to retirement as people who saw their current appearance, the researchers found.

“Our hunch is that exposure to one’s future self is creating somewhat of an empathic response,” similar to the feelings of protectiveness one might feel when seeing an aged parent, said Professor Ersner-Hershfield. "

Now, I can't believe that the survey participants were making binding commitments but this is still mildly interesting.

What is the link to video games? In both the video game experience and in this Kellogg aging experiment, people get a glimpse of the future and become more aware of their life in the future in different circumstances than they face today. Facing this "cold water" changes their behavior today and this eases their adaptation to their future reality (i.e climate change and needing $ to enjoy stable consumption while retired).

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