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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 1st, 2017.

Game Review: WARNING – LAMP ADVISED!

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)

Game Review: Never Alone’s “Kunuuksaayuka” – A journey through an Iñupiaq folk legend

Never Alone, by Upper One Games, is an incredibly engaging experience that blends ancient storytelling techniques with modern digital media to create an emotional saga that is something special. As a tribute to the Iñupiaq tribespeople of Northern Alaska, this game is a simple puzzle-platformer which features 24 short video documentaries about various aspects of the Iñupiaq culture, which are unlocked throughout the game.  This is much more than a typical video game as it calls upon personal insights into culturally significant folk legends to deliver a powerhouse of a historical fiction story.  

You play as a little girl named Nuna and an Arctic fox (optional co-op mode) who follow the storyline of the Iñupiaq folktale “Kunuuksaayuka” to solve the mystery behind an abnormal blizzard where myths become very real threats. This functional relationship presents a metaphor for the connection between humans and the environment for Native people. Nuna and Fox work creatively together using unique talents and abilities to solve puzzles throughout the game. As you embark on this adventure, you will reclaim fragments of the Iñupiaq culture through evocative videos that elicit powerful emotions through the themes of community, storytelling, and a connection between humans and nature.

The Iñupiaq tribe, like most other Native tribes, greatly value community, respect for nature, and storytelling. All of these aspects of their culture are apparent through the plot and videos in the game. Unfortunately, many tribes face the loss of their culture to American culture and a generational disconnect, so the Iñupiaq tribe resorted to game design to save a lifestyle from melting away along with the ice that they live upon. By sharing environmental issues through a video game, the developers are appealing to the emotions and personal connections of its audience to inspire positive change.

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In one of the documentary clips, the tribe shares their concept of Sila. They explain that Sila is everything beyond the Nuna (the Earth); the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the animals we eat. Never Alone demonstrates a crucial connection between people and Sila through the helpful spirits that you can control to help solve puzzles. Native people have great respect and understanding for nature, so climate change has become a very serious threat to them. Citing changes in bird migrations and precipitation regimes, the tribe noticed a changing climate even before scientists fully understood the phenomenon. Some of the videos touch directly on the evidence they have observed for climate change, as well as how it impacts their way of life. This game provides an inspiring platform for learning about climate change through new perspectives.

Never Alone creates a shining example for how games can convey the emotional side of environmental issues by sharing personal stories. It seamlessly ties together the history of Alaska Natives, a poignant folk legend, and the threats of climate change using modern media. It is a beautiful, sad, and hopeful tale about a little girl and a fox that serves as a historical relic. A quote by Baba Dioum comes to mind, “In the end we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught.” This game has opened my eyes to a culture that I knew nothing about, and inspired me to fight climate change just as I am sure it will inspire countless others.

Summary
Gameplay/Fun: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Educational: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Scientific Rigor: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Accessibility: 1-2 players, Ages 10+
Platform: Steam

Announcing Infrared Escape!

EarthGames is proud to announce Infrared Escape, a game that combines frantic arcade fun with… learning about the greenhouse effect!? You have to try it to believe it!

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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.

Each collision with a greenhouse gas causes your beam to lose some energy. If you keep grazing the gases, it’s game over.

Your 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 your ray has done its part to cool down the Earth and offset global warming.

The easiest mode is the pre-industrial past, so there aren’t as many greenhouse gases to dodge. The hardest difficulty corresponds with a much more polluted future. Light-speed reaction times will be needed to conquer this mode, since greenhouse gases are so tightly packed in the air.

Infrared Escape was designed and built by EarthGames alum Ben Peterson and Professor Dargan Frierson. Make sure to crank the volume on Dargan’s pulsing electronic dance soundtrack!

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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