Climate change videogame aims to help communities plan for the future

June 18, 2014

A new videogame developed by scientists at UBC hopes to make climate change planning a fun and engaging activity for local communities and residents.

“The Future Delta 2.0 videogame will, for the first time, enable real-time exploration and querying of local climate change scenarios in the player’s own backyard, addressing issues such as carbon footprint at personal, neighbourhood and regional scales; sea-level rise; food shortage; environmental refugees; neighbourhood energy strategies; and community-led climate solutions,” said Dr. Stephen Sheppard, Director, CALP and Professor, Forest Resources Management, UBC Faculty of Forestry.

The hope is that the videogame will engage sectors of the population, such as youth, who may not otherwise be interested in climate change. By creating a fun yet educational way for them to become involved, the goal is to narrow the gap between science and action around climate change.

“There is a real need for more powerful tools to engage local youth and other hard-to-reach sectors of the public, if climate change effects are to be understood and mitigated. The videogame enables the player to experience the choices and decisions that are involved in making Delta an attractive and resilient low-carbon community,” said Sheppard.

The videogame is being developed by the Collaborative for Advanced Landscape Planning (CALP) at UBC Vancouver and the Centre for Culture & Technology (CCT) at UBC Okanagan. Titled ‘Future Delta 2.0’, the interactive, educational and compelling videogame is also a partnership with the Delta School District. Recognizing that experimenting with such an innovative research approach would be a valuable educational tool that would enhance student and teacher understanding of climate change causes, impacts and solutions, the Delta School District was eager to become involved with the project.

“Our District Vision is to be a leading district for innovative teaching and learner success. What better way to reach this Vision than by becoming involved with cutting edge science and technology that has real life implications and meaning for our students? Future Delta 2.0 is a perfect fit for the type of learning we are embracing and supporting in our schools,” said Dianne Turner, Superintendent, Delta School District.

The project invited participation from teachers and students from four schools – Delta Secondary, Delview Secondary, Seaquam Secondary, and North Delta Secondary – involved and interested in a variety of disciplines, such as Science, Geography, Social Sciences, Computer Science (Programming and Gaming), Urban Design and Architecture, Graphic Arts, Environmental Sciences, and Sustainability. About 30 students and six teachers from grades 9-12 agreed to volunteer their time, knowledge and skills to help the project in its co-design phase. The interested participants attended meetings led by UBC at their respective schools and participated in 2-3 focus group sessions over April and May 2014, to provide feedback and suggestions on game prototypes, design, structure and content. The students provided feedback on the technical capabilities, re-playability, storyline and scoring mechanisms of the game; whereas the teachers helped with inputs on whether/how the game meets their curriculum/teaching goals, and if the game is a useful tool for community engagement. Through their participation, the Delta School District has not only facilitated scientific testing of an innovative learning tool, but also made way for potential benefits to schools in other districts in the future, while strengthening both school and community support for local action on climate change solutions.

Future Delta 2.0 is a five-year research project funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. UBC researchers hope that the game experience will mobilize discussions around the realities of climate change, as well as stimulate action on possible adaptation and mitigation solutions. The project explores how simulated future scenarios in the residents’ own neighbourhood may act as motivation for behavioural change and civic engagement. The project plans to personalize climate change solutions and communicate those less tangible longer-term impacts of how our actions today, impacts the quality of life tomorrow.

With the initial co-design phase now complete, UBC will develop the game this summer, modifying and improving it, based on student and teacher feedback. Starting in the fall of 2014, a playable version of the videogame will be tested in a select group of secondary schools in Delta through a few pilot courses over the academic year (2014-15). The videogame will be evaluated as a proof-of-concept learning tool and its efficacy in informing students of concepts related to climate change and civic action, while helping teachers meet their curriculum needs. In parallel, demonstrations, exhibitions of the game and evaluation through qualitative questionnaires will take place in Delta and other communities across the Lower Mainland, to increase community access and share early findings.