Game Review: Thoreau-ly Tranquil

By Lars Olsen

Walden, a Game undertakes the seemingly impossible task of converting American philosopher Henry David Thoreau’s most popular piece of literature into a video game. Nevertheless, the result is a surprisingly thoughtful experience focused on achieving work-life balance. You would be hard-pressed to find a more peaceful, reflective survival game available.

The game is a first-person simulation of the social experiment that Thoreau captured in his famous book, Walden. Beginning in the summer of 1845, the game loosely follows the timeline of his first year living in the woods at Walden Pond. The player undertakes their own journey of “living deliberately” in these woods near the town of Concord, Massachusetts, in a landscape modeled after reality, right down to the flora and fauna.

On this journey, players are in full control of their actions and the resulting consequences. You can play Walden like a classic survival game – fishing, mending clothes, and chopping wood all day – but lack of rest and reflection will cause your character to lose inspiration, silencing the birds and draining color from the woods. Alternatively, you may play the game like a virtual stroll through the woods – listening to bird calls and identifying plants – but you will soon starve and freeze. The key to success is finding a balance between work and meditation, just as Thoreau did.

We live in a society where “busy” is equated with “successful”, but Walden allows you to rethink what is truly important in life. This gentle pace challenges the player to find satisfaction through introspection and simple pleasures. We have been well trained by survival games to constantly search for the next task and finish as much as possible before sun-down. In Walden, no monsters come in the night, leaving you with plenty of time for a stroll around the pond. This format takes some getting used to, but it is an excellent reminder to slow down in the real world too.

The themes posed by Walden may be more important than ever for a generation of Millennials that have grown up with smartphones in their pockets. The game is also likely a more inviting medium to explore for a younger audience than the novel, so it makes the story more accessible than ever. Along with this accessibility, Walden has strong educational potential for players of all ages. Playing upon Thoreau’s values of environmentalism and self-reliance, the game can revitalize these same ideas that have been discussed in classrooms for over a century.  

Walden brings to life the Walden Woods and makes Thoreau’s story available to everyone. It immerses players in these tranquil woods, and advocates for a slower pace of life. Given Thoreau’s scorn for technological advances speeding up life, I wonder how he would react to his experiment being condensed into a 6-hour video game. Nonetheless, Walden provides an opportunity for everyone to take a trip to the woods and consider the pace of life.

Summary
Gameplay/Fun: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Educational: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Scientific Rigor: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Accessibility: Ages 8+
Platform: itch.io – Windows and MacOS – $18.45

Infrared Escape updated!

There’s a whole new atmosphere in Infrared Escape version 2.0!  We’ve completely overhauled the gameplay and design, and it’s even more fun now!  The level select is now a timeline, showing the sources and amount of pollution you’ll have to dodge.

IMG_1498.PNGWe’ve also added a large amount of unlockable science facts about the greenhouse effect and solutions to climate change.  Try to collect them all!

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Infrared Escape is now available on iPad as well!  Download it here for Android and iPhone/iPad.
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EarthGames team members Samuel Dassler, Amara Kitnikone, Sara Brostrom, and Rikki Parent all worked hard on the new version.  Please download, share, rate, and review the new version!  We’d appreciate your comments on the game as well.

New Game Release and Nature Article

EarthGames has been hard at work developing games this summer, and we have two exciting announcements!

EarthGames, Professor Dargan Frierson, and Professor Josh Lawler were mentioned in an article published in Nature on July 19th! The article is about scientists who develop board games, card games and digital games that teach young and old users about science concepts.

To coincide with this article, EarthGames released Erode Runner on 7/19 for iPad, iPhone, and Android phones and tablets. During this game, the player takes on the role of an Arctic fox struggling to avoid Arctic coastal erosion and other obstacles while simultaneously saving lost baby foxes. Throughout the game, players gain access to information about the environmental, social and economic impacts of coastal erosion in the Arctic.

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We have many games in development right now. Be on the lookout for updates to Infrared Escape, and new games about pikas, rain on snow events, and hurricanes!  We can’t wait to share these with you.

If you’d like to support our efforts, check out the donation page to see how you can help. Your donations are greatly needed to help us keep our educational outreach specialist and our lead game designer working on our projects for longer.  Thanks and enjoy your summer!

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Eco, Shelter 2, and Walden win awards at inaugural EarthGames on Tap

By Sara Breslow, Center for Creative Conservation

Three earth-friendly video games won awards at the Center for Creative Conservation’s inaugural EarthGames on Tap event, which took place May 18, 2017 in Seattle. Twelve stunning “earthgames” were entered into the games showcase. A panel of three judges carefully evaluated the games based on their potential to have an environmental impact and the quality of their game play. In the judges’ competition, Shelter 2 won first place and Walden won second place. In addition, audience members voted for their favorite game, and Eco won the people’s choice award. Congratulations! We hope EarthGames on Tap inspires more video games that are good for people and the planet, and we hope to see all of the participating developers, and more, at our next event.

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Game Review: Fate of the World – Tipping Point

By Lars Olsen

The end is near! Earth is facing rapidly increasing global temperatures, human overpopulation, natural disasters, and much more. In Fate of the World (FotW), it is your mission to save the planet from impending doom through a series of strategic decisions. You must guide civilization safely into the future while balancing environmental, social, and political strife. This climate change simulation game provides a convincing and elaborate look at the future of humanity.

In the introduction of FotW at the 2020 Climate Summit, the Global Environmental Organization (GEO) is formed because individual nations can no longer be entrusted with environmental protection. As the president of the GEO, you must make tough decisions in a time of economic uncertainty and civil unrest. The game consists of several missions with various objectives that include limiting global warming, increasing GDP, or simply surviving. Your only tools for fighting the apocalypse are cards, which do things like expand renewable energy, instill a one child policy, or ban the use of coal across a region. You can determine which cards are beneficial to your mission by tracking an extensive web of depressing data. Success will only come to those who persevere, which helps players learn through trial and error.

Fate of the World provides an intensely complex model on the most challenging global issues of the 21st century: climate change, population growth, famine, poverty, politics, etc. This complexity is portrayed through unfiltered data sets on global emissions, population size, fossil fuel production, deforestation, GDP, food production, and everything in between. Such intricate data enables you to delve deep into strategizing for each region, which builds tension as every decision is a compromise and no strategy is perfect. For example, you may be forced to ban fossil fuels to slow climate change, but in exchange for destroying the fragile economy of developing regions. Ethical dilemmas and tough decisions inform players of the nuances of both the threats of and potential solutions for climate change. The emphasis on data and real world technologies demonstrates the benefits of evidence-based science in a changing world.

Despite the game’s wealth of data, FotW lacks simple cause and effect relationships to give the player feedback on their actions. This flaw may detract from the learning experience, but perhaps the developers intended their game to be cryptic in order to demonstrate how complicated these issues are. The sheer amount of numbers to sort through each turn is honestly overwhelming, so it would take a dedicated player to uncover every secret of the simulation. Unfortunately, the emphasis on quantitative analysis could easily be a turnoff for a casual gamer or younger player.

Fate of the World is more simulation than video game. It is cruel and provides a bleak outlook on global issues, yet it has enormous potential for educating about climate change and offers a challenging puzzle for everyone. Perhaps the best takeaway from FotW is its focus on portraying the interconnectedness of human activity around the world. There may not be a perfect solution for climate change, but we can survive with a little bit of compromise and a whole lot of data analysis.

Summary
Gameplay/Fun: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Educational: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Scientific Rigor: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Accessibility: Ages 13+
Platform: Steam ($19)

Calling Northwest Game Devs!

At Earthgames, we’re always asking the question: Can games change the world?  And we’re inviting you to help us find the answer!

Solving environmental problems and playing games may not seem compatible, but perhaps they can be.  To find out, we’re planning a fun and inspiring evening called EarthGames “On Tap” at ImpactHub Seattle on Thursday, May 18 from 6 – 9PM. This event will bring together both UW researchers and local video game developers to spark collaborations on new games for change – specifically, video games that are good for people and the planet.

This creative and highly collaborative event is a first of its kind in Puget Sound and will leverage the interdisciplinary connections of the College of the Environment. It will consist of talks by devs and researchers working toward environmental, educational, and social change.   We are also inviting devs from the region to submit games for consideration to be showcased at the  event!   All showcased games will be evaluated by a panel of expert judges who will be awarding valuable prizes.      

We are currently curating a selection of 8-10 games who take inspiration from environmental themes or whose aim is to expand audience awareness for environmental issues.   If interested, please email earthgamesuw@gmail.com with links to your game description, a trailer or play through video, and short bio about your studio and yourself.  

Submission deadline is April 18th, 2017.

Game Review: WARNING – LAMP ADVISED!

By Lars Olsen

In the year 2971, humans launch a ship into space in the hope of preserving their species. Global climate change has disrupted ecosystems and sea levels are rising. This ship returns to Earth thousands of years in the future to find a planet entirely submerged in water. Humans are extinct, but the aquatic flora and fauna have flourished. As the last human, it is up to you and your trusty submarine to explore the ocean’s depths and unravel the mystery behind the disappearance of humans.

From the moment you hit the water you are immersed in a new world that combines enormous subaquatic life with futuristic human technology. The sea seems peaceful at first, until you are equipped with a harpoon gun and are forced to fight a colossal worm trying to eat you. Designed by YCJY, The Aquatic Adventure of the Last Human (AALH) will challenge your reflexes, ingenuity, and perseverance as you combat unique sea creatures and solve puzzles in the open underwater world.

AALH follows the basic Metroidvania template to create a beautiful, 2-D sidescroller with fantastic atmosphere, electronic music that amps up boss fights, and a dire warning about climate change. The entrancing, sprite-like graphics look hand-drawn and are bursting with personality. This is a brutally difficult game, so you will die frequently, but this makes your victories much more rewarding. AALH also has some graphic content, so I would not recommend it for young audiences.

The entire story is told silently through the scenery and forgotten journal notes called holo-tapes. Holo-tapes provide extra information remaining from the last civilizations, but you must piece together the subtle clues to see what happened. One billboard reads, “Water levels are expected to rise by 200 meters in coming years.” A holo-tape alludes to the relocation of coastal refugees. The environment is teeming with life and algae-covered infrastructure, including marine current turbines and solar panels. SPOILER ALERT: Piecing this together, you discover that humans could not end their oil dependency in time and sea levels rose much higher than expected so they were forced to live underwater while searching for other habitable planets. Only at the end of the game do you discover the true reason for human’s demise – population growth.  

AALH delivers a competitively fun game based on important global issues. However, this game is clearly focused on gameplay rather than climate change communication; the game would be a poor classroom teaching tool. That said, AALH still has value as an introduction of the potential consequences of climate change to a casual gamer with less exposure to the topic. Climate change and sea level rise are very real threats to the future of human existence. AALH allows you to explore a post-apocalyptic world in a somber, yet vicious story where you are forced to shred through leviathans, but for what purpose if humanity is already doomed? Perhaps this is just a commentary on humans creating their own monsters. Personally, I find climate change to be more frightening than monsters. All in all, AALH is a fun game with a cautionary tale about our future.

Summary
Gameplay/Fun: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Educational: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Scientific Rigor: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Accessibility: Ages 13+
Platform: Steam ($10)