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)

Project Sustain

Recently we had the pleasure of meeting the Project Sustain team from Tesla STEM High School, and they’re now attending our regular EarthGames UW meetings. They have developed a fantastic game that is very much consistent with the mission of EarthGames. It’s described in the following guest blog post from Caeli MacLennan. We’re excited to welcome Project Sustain to the EarthGames family – you should definitely check out their game!

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Project Sustain began with a few ambitious students from the Tesla STEM High School who joined together to tackle the barrier between children and climate change education. Traditional educational methods, such as textbooks, fail to take advantage of the fact that kids retain the most information at an early age where most are unable read. Project Sustain is designed to utilize that early period: games provide the perfect medium for the young learner because they are interactive, fun, and easy to understand. With a different, immersive method of education, not only do we teach young people the science and impacts of climate change but also to problem-solve and independently seek answers outside of the classroom.

So how exactly does the curriculum work? Geared towards the Next Generation Science Standards, our curriculum is divided into two main components: an interactive city-management computer game for elementary school students, and a political-based card game for middle schoolers. In both, students are immersed into governing a simulation city or country and are given the opportunity to fully examine different types of energy production, transportation, and the effects of pollution on the happiness and economic security of their citizens. Early testing revealed that both games are capable of teaching students up to 40% of the existing Washington State curriculum for their grade level in a single day. Also, the visual learning each game presented allowed kids in the first grade to understand middle school concepts. Our games and the data we collected won our team third place at the WSU Imagine Tomorrow competition in which over 140 teams had entered.

This year, we have expanded our project to be implemented over a month-long period into 16 different classrooms, allowing over 320 students easy access to our curriculum within their school day. Our curriculum is easily obtainable and costs only a laptop and the electricity to power it, or for the card game, simply paper! Currently, we are working to expand the game even further to cover additional topics, such as agricultural management, different biomes, and aquaponics.

Project Sustain continues to expand across the district: with our educational games, we can change behavior in both our local community and across the state to significantly lower their negative environmental impacts. The children of today are the decision-makers of the future, and our goal is to ensure that they have the education and the motivation to reverse the effects of climate change and create a sustainable society.

To download the latest version of our games, view our curriculum, and see pictures of our project in action, visit http://www.projectsustainblog.blogspot.com

Game Jam

NOAA and partners announced another climate game jam for April 15-24. Of course, we here at the University of Washington will be hosting again! It will be on campus on the weekend of April 22-24. Further details about the UW Game Jam will be posted later. 

For more information, check out: http://climategamejam.org/