Can games help us understand the impact of climate change?

On the computer screen, there’s a white world of snow and ice in which a young female Inuit hunter in clothes made of animal skins is battling an unrelenting blizzard.

Suddenly the ice under her and her companion, an Arctic fox, starts to break, making them run, jump ledges, and climb mountains, chased by a polar bear and aided by spirits.

The girl, Nuna, and the fox are characters in video game “Kisima Ingitchuna”, or “Never Alone” in English, which is described as the first commercial video game based on a U.S. indigenous culture to tackle how to deal with climate change.

As scientists and activists look for new ways to explain and spur action on climate change, games are becoming a new avenue, reaching new audiences as well as giving users a first-hand feel of the risks of climate change – and some of the solutions.

“Games are super unique in that they require reflexes and intellect, because it’s a very active medium,” said Sean Vesce, creative director for E-Line Media in Seattle that launched “Kisima Ingitchuna” with Cook Inlet Tribal Council in late 2014.

“They can be fun and at the same time you can be learning and not have it feel like a chore.”

The game was created in collaboration with nearly 40 Alaska Native elders, storytellers and community members and was based on a tale from the Inuit Inupiaq people about the adventures of a boy who goes to save his community from a deadly blizzard.

“Our goal was to inspire curiosity in world culture and in these people,” said Vesce.

He said the team did not set out to focus on climate change but this topic kept coming up during visits to Alaska.

“Their lifestyle is very much with the land and they are very sensitive to changes in the environment, with changing migration patterns of animals and even ice flow and ice thickness,” he said.

Through the video game, players can gain an interactive, hands-on way to learn about this native Alaskan tribe and how climate change affects it, Vesce said.

Pablo Suarez, associate director for research and innovation with the Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre, creates games to educate people about climate change and how to improve disaster preparedness.

“(Games) help us experience the long-term consequences of our short-term decisions in a fun and engaging way,” he said.

He has created games for audiences around the world, such as a card game designed to help coastal farmers in Senegal figure out how to deal with worsening storms.

Residents chose options for action from a deck of cards and the choices they made led to discussions among the community that in turn created 300 new option cards for the community.

“People remember vividly the emotions they went through while they were watching and participating in an activity,” said Suarez. “They also remember the ideas that were presented and they can conceptualise the problem differently.”

This article is published in collaboration with the Thomson Reuters Foundation Publication does not imply endorsement of views by the World Economic Forum.

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Author: Kyle Plantz is a contributing writer for the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Image: Splinters of ice peel off from one of the sides of the Perito Moreno glacier in a process of a unexpected rupture during the southern hemisphere’s winter months, near the city of El Calafate in the Patagonian province of Santa Cruz. REUTERS/Andres Forza.

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