Announcing Infrared Escape!

EarthGames is proud to announce our newest game, Infrared Escape!  It’s an action-skill-science game (maybe the first of its kind!), that teaches about the greenhouse effect.  You play the role of an infrared light beam, trying to make it out to space.  Along the way you have to dodge pesky greenhouse gases by tapping left or right.

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Each collision with a greenhouse gases causes your beam to lose some energy.  If you keep grazing the greenhouse gases, it’s game over.  This is a game that you will be replaying many times before you successfully make it to space!

Each journey through the air is divided into levels — each one an actual layer of the atmosphere.  A fun fact about the planet is presented between levels.

Making it through the Earth’s atmosphere and into space is a great accomplishment!  It means you’re ray has done its part to cool down the Earth and offset global warming.

The easiest mode is a future where we quickly transition to alternative energy and sustainable living, so there aren’t as many greenhouse gases to dodge.  The harder difficulty modes of the game correspond with a more polluted future.  Only the most skilled player can escape to space in this mode, since greenhouse gases are so tightly packed in the air.  Light-speed reaction times will be needed to conquer the most difficult mode.

Infrared Escape was designed by UW graduate and EarthGames alum Ben Peterson.  It will be available for download soon for phones, tablets, and computers.  infrared escape title.png

Game Review: Upgrading to Renewable Energy

Create and design your own eco-friendly city in Plan It Green (PiG): The Big Switch!

Presented in 2013 by National Geographic, General Electric, and the Center for Science, PiG is a flash-based city-building game that puts you in control of your town’s future. Players must make difficult decisions in order to balance resources and create an energy-efficient metropolis.

PiG is the environmentalist’s version of SimCity, a simulated city-design game. The player uses resources to design buildings and infrastructure in an effort to create a sustainable and green urban environment. Playing as the mayor of your fictional city, you must balance your income and expenditures of hearts, gold, goods, energy, and population while maintaining the environment. As you develop your city and complete missions, you will gain experience and unlock more efficient and eco-friendly structures. The game also features an arcade game that helps you generate resources, and an array of short videos by G.E. (~3 minutes) about positive environmental innovations.  

The educational potential of PiG is enormous because it highlights modern green innovations and demonstrates the potential impacts in a meaningful way to children. PiG also captures the complexities of energy management and gives players the opportunity to navigate these challenges for themselves. You get to decide how to spend your money and where to place buildings. Educational games often use the SimCity format because it provides opportunities for higher-level learning through critical thinking and problem solving. PiG elaborates on this model with multiplayer support to promote collaboration amongst players and potentially students in a classroom setting.

There are some fantastic features in PiG, but the game has a fatal flaw: the pace of the gameplay is excruciatingly slow because you are often waiting for your resources to recharge. This leaves the player with very little to do for extended periods of time, which is quite boring, and detracts from the educational potential. At least you have plenty of time to watch their videos!   

This game is quite scientifically rigorous, and includes a lot of information on modern energy infrastructure. Each building option includes information about the costs, requirements, and results which allows players to make informed decisions for their city. In addition to the informative gameplay, their videos provide supplemental stories on innovations like solar roadways. All of this information is at a middle school comprehension level, so I wouldn’t recommend PiG for a younger audience.

Plan it Green is similar to several other SimCity-style games, but it stands out by incorporating modern renewable energy infrastructure and providing a sleek user interface. The well-made videos quickly deliver some fantastic stories. After a long session, you may become frustrated by the pace of the game, but you will certainly be proud of your city once you start making the big switch to renewable energy.

Summary
Gameplay/Fun: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Educational: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Scientific Rigor: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Accessibility: Ages 10-14
Platform: Web browser (flash)

Game Review: When thunder roars, go indoors!

Alert! Alert! A hurricane warning has just been issued for your area. What do you do?! Severe weather events are scary for people of all ages, especially if they aren’t prepared. This is why PLAN!T NOW partnered with NOAA, NEA and the National Weather Service to present the Young Meteorologist Program (YMP), a “Severe Weather Preparedness Adventure!” This game provides a less-threatening method to learn about extreme weather and how to stay safe. There is growing evidence that climate change has been increasing the frequency and intensity of severe weather (especially hurricanes and winter storms), so now more than ever it is important for people of all ages to know what to do in case of a disaster.

This is a roll-and-move type video game which takes you through challenges based on five types of severe weather: hurricanes, lightning, floods, tornadoes, and winter storms. With a “bird’s-eye-view” of the game board, you play as Owlie, a talking screech owl. You are guided through the challenges with help from three senior meteorologists — one of which is a condor named Gird. Each roll takes you to a tile with a scripted event or mini game. Owlie learns about emergency protocols and procedures through quick games and tips in each challenge. These games include word searches, memory games, point & click games, and more. Most are relatively easy, but they help to keep the player entertained throughout the program. Completing these various tasks earns you a “Young Meteorologist Certificate.” Personally, I will be framing mine for my bedroom.

This game has enormous educational potential by providing the player with specific information for each type of severe weather. For example, the time of year and regions hurricanes are most likely to occur in, how to avoid lightning, where to go in case of a flood, etc. For a game that takes less than an hour to complete, it packs in a remarkable amount of information. By sparking discussions, this knowledge has the potential to make families more equipped for emergencies. Traditional methods for preparing for severe weather can often be intimidating to children, and video games offer a more-accessible education.

While the game is educational and entertaining, it has several limitations. The mini games are brief and much of the time is spent listening to the scientists address severe weather. The main game, including the dice rolls, are scripted which creates a lack in competitiveness and unpredictability. For this reason, I would recommend the game more for younger children.

The scientific material provided by the YMP is quite thorough in ensuring people stay safe from weather. The game explores the underlying causes for severe weather in addition to emergency procedures. Complex topics like pressure systems are often explained first with a high-level vocabulary by one scientist before the others help a younger audience to understand.

The YMP is a fun and safe way for kids to learn about the dangers posed by severe weather. It also provides them with the tools to ensure their safety and feel in control during emergencies. Although it is more of a tutorial than a standard video game, I believe it is the best way to teach kids about something so significant.

Summary
Gameplay/Fun: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Educational: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Scientific Rigor: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Accessibility: Ages 6-13
Platform: Web browser

Game Review: Tying down heavy objects has never been more fun!

Disaster is coming and it’s up to you to prepare your town’s defenses! ‘Stop Disasters!’ is a disaster simulation game made by the United Nations and the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR) in collaboration with game developer Playerthree. Released in 2007, this flash game provides a fun platform for learning about natural disasters and preventative measures that can save lives.

Similar to the gameplay of ‘SimCity’, players in ‘Stop Disasters!’ must develop and upgrade tiles to effect change. However, instead of creating an economically-thriving city, players are responsible for protecting their community from one of 5 natural disasters: a tsunami in a coastal village of southeast Asia, a hurricane on a Caribbean island, a wildfire in the arid plains of central Australia, an earthquake in the eastern Mediterranean, and a flood in a European valley. In each of these scenarios, players must develop sufficient housing, educate the community about evacuation plans, and protect vital infrastructure. Oh, and did I mention that players have a limited amount of money to accomplish all these tasks and only 10-20 minutes before disaster strikes? Success will come from proper strategy and planning.

Educational games frequently oversaturate the player with facts, but ‘Stop Disasters!’ does a good job of teaching through the gameplay rather than text. It is also fairly easy to pick up and play without a tutorial, but challenging enough to be fun. This is a single-player game, but students could collaborate in a classroom setting to share strategies and ideas.

Effective in-game strategies also translate into effective methods for preventing real-world disasters. The game does a good job of highlighting the importance of simple safety measures like education, tying down heavy objects, and planting trees. The mission of the game states, “If we teach them from an early age about the risks posed by natural hazards, children will have a better chance to save their lives during disasters.” This game makes a serious topic more approachable and understandable to children who might be turned off by conventional teaching methods.

Video games are such effective educational tools in part because they are so good at keeping young people engaged with their immersion in a new environment. ‘Stop Disasters!’ does a good job of immersing the player with its sounds and graphics which are bright, colorful, and inviting. Each scenario feels unique and exciting. I also appreciate that the game is available in 5 languages as this helps it reach a wider audience.

Unfortunately, the game is now a bit outdated and could use more attention to detail. The controls are simple yet frustratingly slow and awkward, there are miscellaneous bugs, and the natural disaster at the end lacks in calamity. One major drawback to the game is its lack of feedback for your choices. The brief overview of results omits specific details for your game so it is impossible to know which of your decisions were most effective; this limits the educational potential of the game.

Despite its flaws, ‘Stop Disasters!’ is a game worth playing and sharing with children due to its potential to save lives. Climate change is increasing the frequency and intensity of many types of natural disasters around the world, so it is important for people to be aware and prepared for these dangers now more than ever. Overall, this game makes for one of the best ways to teach children about the risks of natural hazards, and what they can do to stay safe.  

Summary
Gameplay/Fun: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Educational: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Scientific Rigor: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Accessibility: Ages 9-16
Platform: Web browser (Flash)

Game Review: Drill Baby, Drill! A Review of Oiligarchy

Oiligarchy is a flash game from 2008 delivering a satirical commentary on the influence of the oil industry in the United States. Although it may feel uncomfortable for an environmentalist to role play as the fossil fuel industry, the developers justify this choice by saying, “power structures can be understood more clearly if represented from a privileged position.” By playing as the bad guy, you must alter your morality to be successful. In doing so, the player acquires a better understanding of the flaws in imperialism and capitalism.  

The game begins in 1946 and follows a somewhat historically accurate timeline of oil production and environmentalism in the U.S. as documented by The Petroleum Times. Your goal is to maximize oil production and profitability while navigating through politics, war, and environmental issues. There are five regions, each with a distinct scenario: holding off indigenous peoples’ environmental revolts in Venezuela, dealing with peak oil in Texas, developing on a wildlife refuge in Alaska, corrupting the Nigerian government, and fighting the inevitable war on terror in Iraq. By throwing money at the winning party during election years, you can convince your friends in Washington D.C. to enact policies and perform secret operations that benefit Big Oil. Some of these are borderline conspiracy theories. For example, funding terrorist operations in Iraq to reinvigorate patriotic unity and distract citizens from the oil crisis.

The gameplay is point & click and turn-based – you decide where to place your oil wells and when to move on to the next year. One of the main mechanics of the game is based on M. King Hubbert’s Peak Oil Theory, the idea that oil production in a region slows down exponentially once half of the stores have been depleted. As your domestic reservoirs diminish, production slows and you must depend on foreign oil. This will have dire environmental and humanitarian repercussions, which the oil industry ignores.

Oiligarchy oversimplifies many aspects of government and environmentalism, but it IS just a flash game. Taken with a grain of salt, the dark humor of Oiligarchy presents a brutal critique of money’s influence in politics, our addiction to oil, and the history behind it all. The game has some violence and should certainly not be used as primary political or environmental education, but it could spark intellectual discussions among an older audience (ages 16+). With bright graphics and creative sound along with its commentary, Oiligarchy makes for an enjoyable 2-hour session.

The game does a good job of simplifying supply & demand, oil economy, political lobbying, and imperialism. The topic of environmental harm is touched on lightly, but it is not integral to the gameplay because it is not the focus of the oil industry. The underlying science behind the game mechanics is more complex than it appears. The developers thoroughly explain their decisions in a Postmortem, found here (http://www.molleindustria.org/oiligarchy-postmortem/#8).

You will likely raise your eyebrows frequently while playing Oiligarchy, but don’t dismiss the game altogether for its skepticism. Its over-the-top criticism of the oil industry and U.S. politicians may seem harsh to some, but others may find it well-placed. All controversy aside, perhaps the best aspect of Oiligarchy is its moral disorientation which presents the player with difficult decisions.

Summary
Gameplay/Fun: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Educational: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Scientific Rigor: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Accessibility: Ages 16+
Platform: Web browser (Flash)

Game Review: BioHarmonious – A Tale of Two Planets

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. The Manufactured Planet is inhabited by humans that have overexploited their natural resources. It is a dystopia for environmentalists, filled with industry and choked with smog. The scientists living on this dismal planet discover their mistakes and realize that they are also bringing sickness to their beautiful neighbor, the Natural Planet. Both planets are in grave danger until scientists create the process of “bioharmony” to integrate nature with technology. If you strategically implement this technology, you will become “BioHarmonious” with the Natural Planet.

BioHarmonious was the first electronic game released by Art Works For Change and was also funded by the AT&T Foundation. It was released in 2013 at “Nature’s Toolbox”, an exhibition on biodiversity, art, and invention. While scientific or factual evidence tends to dominate educational games, art provides a unique opportunity to appeal to players’ empathy. In this way, artistic games like BioHarmonious can be a much more compelling way to teach about human impacts on the natural world.  

By focusing on a balance between the manufactured and natural worlds, this game can be a great introduction to the challenges posed by environmental stress.  The mechanics of the game are also quite simple and accessible to young children, only consisting of clicking and dragging objects between the planets in order to balance their health. The goal is to upgrade every manufactured building with a natural item in order to reduce environmental stress. BioHarmonious demonstrates a clear dichotomy between humans and the environment, but shows that the two are not necessarily diametrically opposed. In fact, taking inspiration from nature can provide benefits for both humans and the environment.

This game has good story, themes, music, and art design for an educational game. Moreover, BioHarmonious is ridiculously easy and only delivers 6 minutes of gameplay. We would recommend it as a great way to engage younger children in environmental problems, but not for older students. One major problem with the game is its lack of concern for damage to the Natural Planet; removing specimens has no effect on its health. BioHarmonious’ themes and strategic depth would be bolstered by more thoroughly implemented tradeoffs in gameplay.

BioHarmonious is a simple strategy game that excels as an artistic tool representing the need for balance with nature. The game focuses on the positive aspects of sustainable design and innovation. As a point of caution, it is dangerous to assume that technology can solve every environmental problem. Sometimes only by reducing human impact can we create change. In any case, the game provides players with hope for Earth; that we might learn from nature and innovate ourselves out of disaster while creating a healthy and sustainable world.

Summary
Gameplay/Fun: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Educational: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Scientific Rigor: ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Accessibility: Ages 6-13
Platform: Web browser (not Google Chrome)

Game Review: Now Entering ElectroCity

Congratulations, you have just been elected the mayor of ElectroCity! The fate of this city’s development is up to you, but “don’t let the power get to your head.”

In this flash-based game, you are tasked with creating a bustling metropolis from a small town in the countryside. You begin the game with few resources and endless possibilities. You can log every forest to make room for coal power plants that create abundant electricity, create campgrounds and amusement parks that attract new citizens, or focus on creating national parks and planting forests to decrease your environmental impact. Continue reading

Announcing EcoTrivia: Save the Animals!

Free downloads now available for MacPCiPhone/iPad and Android!

We’re proud to announce our newest game, EcoTrivia: Save the Animals!  In this game you are led by animal ambassadors through four different ecosystems: a toucan in the rainforest, a polar bear in the Arctic, a clownfish in a coral reef, and a pika in the mountains.  In each area you have to answer trivia questions to protect the animals from climate change and habitat destruction.

EcoTrivia: Save the Animals! was made by Rashmi Sharma, Rittwika Rudra, and Courtney Harris for their Information School MSIM capstone project, in collaboration with Dargan Frierson.  Erica Escajeda provided questions for the polar bear section, and many members of EarthGamesUW helped with testing.

The game has already won a best design award from the UW Information School! EcoTrivia: Save the Animals! is freely available for MacPC, iOS and Android!