Rethinking Environmental Education: EarthGames in the Press

For many, education and video games are not things that seem to go hand in hand. Sure, games can have educational aspects or themes, but how could video games possibly be used to teach subjects as complicated as climate change? Yet at the same time, it cannot be denied that gaming connects with people, and effectively captures our interest, with an estimated 2.5 billion gamers worldwide. EarthGames is on a mission to provide the best of both worlds in terms of learning about complex, sometimes near intangible environmental topics in a fun, simple way, through video games. 

Making climate science accessible and engaging is key to addressing the climate crisis, and EarthGames is proud to help contribute to this need. The interdisciplinary work of EarthGames has also caught the eyes of others and is featured in some of these recent press articles. 

EarthGames and Deal: A Green New Election were recently featured in Western Digital as an example of how games can not only raise awareness of climate related topics, but also spur positive social action. 

Additionally, as both a form of interactive art and storytelling, games can prove particularly useful at making complex realities more understandable. The award-winning game, Climate Quest has been featured recently in Science News for Students and Artists and Climate Change, for doing just that: making climate science accessible, interesting, and eye-opening. As explained in both articles, Climate Quest allows players to experience aspects of climate change that perhaps don’t directly affect most of us or seem like distant threats, highlighting the potential video games have to better connect with players.

EarthGames was also featured in Current Affairs to discuss the gamification of education, and how video games can help us to understand climate change in a way that perhaps a textbook falls short. While EarthGames helps to educate on the issue of climate change, many of the games also have an optimistic ending. As explained in the Current Affairs article, facing the challenging realities of the climate crisis means it can take players many times before they succeed. Yet, there is a way to win, helping players retain hope and realize that as daunting as global environmental problems are, they do have solutions.

These are just a few of EarthGames’ recent press appearances, for more check out the Press page!

Bringing Gaming to the Classroom: New EarthGames Teacher’s Guides!

Educational games are far from new, and many of us are probably familiar with playing games like The Oregon Trail in our childhood classrooms. However, educational gaming has changed greatly since the nostalgic days (and misadventures) of clicking through the journey of mid-19th century emigrants on digital ox-drawn covered wagons.  

EarthGames is making it even easier to integrate educational gaming in the classroom, with our free to download climate and ecology centered games and corresponding resources for teachers. We are happy to announce that we now have new Teacher’s Guides for Life of Pika, A Caribou’s Tale, and Infrared Escape

These Teacher’s Guides provide educators with an educational overview, and the Next Generation Science Standards for each game. From experiencing the journey of a caribou facing the odds against climate change, to the mission of an infrared light beam avoiding greenhouse gases as it escapes the atmosphere, students will be exposed to a variety of valuable climate and ecology centered topics in a fun, engaging way!

All of the new EarthGames Teacher’s Guides can be viewed here: 

Additionally, information on all of these games, as well as the other wide variety of climate-centered games EarthGames has to offer can be found on this page

2020 Games for Our Future/IndieCade Climate Jam Recap

From games about bats facing habitat destruction, climate revolutions, wildfire management, and finicky fornicating pandas on the mission to ensure the survival of their species — the 2020 Games for Our Future (GFOF) Game Jam had it all. This year’s event in collaboration with IndieCade, allowed game jammers from across the country (and planet!) to create games focused on the theme of ‘Community, Nature, and Resilience in the Face of Global Crises’, in honor of the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. The event from April 17th – 23rd drew over 150 game jammers who submitted a total of 49 diverse games, all centered around pressing environmental issues, in just 5 short days. 

This was the 3rd Annual GFOF Game Jam, and despite last minute adjustments due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, shifting the event online allowed for many slightly unexpected benefits. The Game Jam had research mentors and speakers virtually participate from across the world, including keynote speaker, Dr. Elizabeth LaPensée, Assistant Professor at Michigan State University, and award-winning writer, artist, and Indigenous game designer. 

Dr. LaPensée provided an insightful talk centered around Indigenous ways of knowing, and how we can better address our collective actions for the future. In her talk, Dr. LaPensée described how despite the climate crisis we are all living in, “There is hope. How, then, can we look to those who came before us to help inform our actions right now with hope for the future?”. Through her own involvement in developing games, Dr. LaPensée explains her experience witnessing a rapidly changing climate, and the Indigenous ideology carried throughout the games she creates, such as reciprocity, balance, and traditional ecological knowledge, while retaining optimism for the future. 

Dr. LaPensée’s keynote presentation is available to watch here, along with all of the other great research mentor talks, discussing matters such as the intersection of queergaming and the environment, building emotional connections with the non-human world, and much more. 

With the inspiration and guidance from the event’s research mentors, both beginners and long-time game jammers were able to create a wide variety of games in a fast paced, yet positive, encouraging, and accepting environment. Game jammers across the world produced a GFOF Game Jam record of 49 total submissions, in a broad range of genres including adventure, simulation, strategy games, and more! 

Check out and play the submissions here!

Below are all of the award winners of the Game Jam: 

Additionally, none of this would have been possible without all of the community members involved with GFOF, the IndieCade team, and the dedication of our research mentors: 

  • Dr. Elizabeth LaPensée, Michigan State University
  • Dr. Jennifer Atkinson, University of Washington
  • Dr. Sara Jo Breslow, University of Washington
  • Dr. Elizabeth Chang, University of California, Santa Barbara
  • Dr. Edmond Chang, Ohio University
  • Crispin Freeman, anime and video game voice actor
  • Dr. Dargan Frierson, University of Washington
  • Dr. Elif Sürer, Middle East Technical University
  • Graham Zimmerman, alpinist, filmmaker, and climate activist

As well as the event’s other sponsors including: 

Niantic, Riot Forge, Global Game Jam, Seattle Indies, AIE, Indie Game Collective, IGDA Victoria, The University of Texas, and Pacific Science Center 

You’re invited… to Destination Wedding 2070!

Our new project, an interactive improvised storytelling role-playing game called Destination Wedding 2070 kicks off tomorrow!  Join us as we marry family disasters with the climate crisis!  You can play along by blogging as a character, or just follow along with what everyone’s writing on reddit.  Check out the main site for all the details!  This netprov runs from Nov 3-11, 2019.

Destination Wedding 2070 is an attempt to make data about climate change more comprehensible. Although climatologists have strong models of the decades to come, they typically report it via graphs and charts.  DW70 goes beyond visualization by bringing the data to life in data dramatization as participants experience the effects in a speculative future scenario.


The data for this data dramatization netprov has been brought to you by EarthGames and was based on simulations from the CanESM5 model under SSP585, a high emissions scenario that represents substantial increases in fossil fuel use in the coming decades.  Climate model data is usually presented in terms of averages, but each simulation creates weather across the globe. The forecasts from each city are adapted from particular Saturdays in 2070. The maps show the model data across the globe for max/min temperature, precipitation and humidity, and city forecasts are taken from the nearest gridbox or from a heuristic downscaling approach.

dehli daytime highWe made forecasts for 5 sublime wedding locations: Issaquah, Washington (near Seattle); Neemrana Fort Palace, India (near Dehli); Mar del Plata, Argentina; The Bund, Shanghai, China and Key Biscayne, (Miami) Florida, USA.  Each site faces a unique climate catastrophe as a backdrop.  

The creators of Destination Wedding 2070 are Samara Hayley Steele, Mark Marino, Rob Wittig, and Dargan Frierson.  Joining us are a team of storytellers, which you can be a part of!  The improvisational narrative of the weddings will head in all kinds of unexpected directions as netprov participants read and respond to each others diary entries using the improv principle of “yes, and…”!



New article on EarthGames lead designer Andrew McDonald!

Andrew’s on the front page of!!  Read about the great work he did on mosquito/NET this summer in this article by Douglas Esser.

Have you tried out his new version of mosquito/NET yet?  Read about the project here, and download for free for iOS and Android.  The new app is not just about mosquitoes.  It allows you to track sightings of animals, insects, and birds as well, as well as experiencing some fun new gamification methods.

Deal: A Green New Election

It’s almost Election Day, and your ballot initiative is clinging to a narrow lead in the polls. Voters are concerned about effects on jobs and cost of living, and the press is waiting for answers about difficult policy questions. An angry fossil fuel CEO has contacted you with a proposal that sounds an awful lot like a threat. And do I smell smoke??

In honor of this historic day of climate action, we’re proud to release our newest game, Deal: A Green New Election!  It’s available for free for iPhone/iPad and Android (Google Play).  You can play it on your phone on the way to the climate strike!  Although mobile is the preferred platform, we’ve also created a version that you can play in your browser.

We here at EarthGames are so inspired by the movement building around the Green New Deal.  In this game, you’re part of a team trying to pass a ballot initiative which will be voted on directly by the the voters in your state.

The Green New Deal would mobilize the workforce to build clean energy and resilient infrastructure, while addressing environmental justice and income inequality along the way.  But do you have the passion and skill to get your initiative passed?

Over the 15 week campaign (which can be played through in just 5-10 minutes), you’ll

  • Make decisions about what voters to target and messaging
  • Meet cool characters based on real-world climate activists
  • Respond to difficult interview questions
  • Witness fossil fuel infrastructure disasters
  • Encounter angry CEOs
  • Learn about environmental justice
  • Probably face some pretty harsh opposition
  • And much more…

When making this game, we were inspired by real-life heroes of the Green New Deal, and hope you’re inspired to join their organizations, like the Sunrise Movement, Zero Hour, and  A list of some of our Green New Deal heroes is on this page  — we hope you’ll listen to their speeches and read their words about the Green New Deal!


The team who made Deal: A Green New Election includes:

Dargan Frierson
Jasmine Leung
Arman Kazi
Sisir Kadiveti
Rikki Parent
Erik Huang
Judy Twedt
Andrew McDonald

Thanks to all the play testers and climate activists we worked with as well!

The Green New Deal and Climate Politics: Flourish Dev Blog #3

The recent launch of the Green New Deal resolution marks a turning point in the politics of climate change in America.  The plan is stunning in its ambition, putting us on a course towards a low-emissions, climate-resilient future with a massive 10 year mobilization of the nation’s resources.  It also recognizes that such rapid changes would come with large societal costs, if safeguards aren’t put in place.  You might think such an ambitious policy would lack public support, but it’s quite the opposite: polls have shown approval ratings above 80%.

The issue of climate change is more in the public eye in America than ever before.  So with this update, we’ll change direction from describing the climate engine to talk a little about Flourish’s political engine: the equations and data behind public opinion in the game.  The engine is fully predictive: it evolves in time, changing in reaction to player choices, random events, and climate.  It also determines the actions that you’re able to take in your country.  If your constituency doesn’t believe in global warming, they won’t allow you to make bold strides to solving the problem.  We think the engine can help predict reactions to the Green New Deal and other climate policies as well.

The engine is heavily based on a series of studies by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication called “Global Warming’s 6 Americas.”  These studies suggest that Americans can be usefully separated into 6 different groups in terms of their beliefs about climate action.  We summarize characteristics of the 6 groups below.

  • Alarmed: who both accept the scientific consensus about human-caused global warming, and are already taking action to address the problem.
  • Concerned: who accept the scientific consensus but have not yet started taking action themselves.

Note that alarmed and concerned now make up 59% of the country.  Concern about global warming has risen substantially in recent years.   These two categories made up only 43% of the public in 2013.


  • Cautious: who lean towards accepting the science but don’t think it’s an urgent problem to address.
  • Disengaged: who haven’t thought much about climate change, perhaps because they have bigger problems, because they don’t know about it, or because they don’t think about politics.
  • Doubtful: who often believe that recent climate changes are natural and we’re already doing enough to solve the problem.
  • Dismissive: who believe that climate change is a hoax, and actively try to convince others of their views.

Which of the 6 categories are you?  Although I might wager that if you’re reading this you’re “alarmed,” you can take a 4 question quiz to find out.  Here’s my result:


Who wants to be known as Alarmed though??  We’re trying to rebrand this group as “Woke”!

When the first 6 Americas study was released in 2009, I was most struck by how small the dismissive group is.  Their intense interest in promulgating their views means they’re seen disproportionally in public debate, in comment sections of news articles, etc.  But this group simply does not make up much of the public.  Further, research has suggested that the dismissive group are unlikely to ever change their minds.  So dismissives tend not to be worth your time to debate (unless others are listening)!

In Flourish, in every region, whether player- or AI-controlled, we keep track of the fraction of the population that falls into each of the 6 groups.  The initial partitioning into these categories is based on polling data, from the Yale group or extrapolated from international surveys about climate change awareness and threat perception.

In order to calculate the public approval of a given climate action, we keep track of approval rates of each group individually, then add up the totals given the fraction of the population in each group.

Should you be considered that our political engine for the world is based on a set of studies about the US??  We sure are!  We think about conscious biases like these, and the many unconscious biases that must be present in the game on a daily basis.  Our (perhaps meager) justification for 6 Americas as the basis of a worldwide system is that we don’t take the categories too literally in their interpretation.  For instance, while “disengaged” in the US might be associated with those who are not politically engaged, in many countries it would represent people who have immediate concerns that are significantly greater than climate change, e.g., war, hunger, poverty.  Also, it’s just a starting point.  Further complexity can always be built in to correct biases.

Can the Flourish political engine help us understand policies like the Green New Deal and their likelihood of success?  The current high approval rating is doubtlessly due to the fact that it has aspects that appeal to groups who aren’t very concerned with climate, like job guarantees.  Tying climate to economic stimulus makes Green New Deal-style legislation much more likely to have lasting success as compared to initiatives that simply put a price on carbon.

In order for any climate policy to be enacted, however, it has to go through a virtual wringer of opposition from special interests who want it to fail.  These groups are extremely well-funded and powerful, and have been remarkably successful (undefeated?) in the past.  The 2018 Green New Deal-like ballot initiative in Washington state ended up attracting over $31 million in out-of-state oil money to oppose the initiative (over $10 per vote cast!).  Given the huge support rate, the onslaught of opposition attacks from outlets such as Fox News over the last few weeks are not surprising.  Those agents are doing their best to chip away at the 80% who now want a Green New Deal, and are likely succeeding to some extent.

To represent how public opinion responds to attacks like these in a game, we need to think about how public opinion can change.  We use a mathematical technique called Markov chains to describe how the 6 groups evolve in response to events like disinformation campaigns.  This system will be described in the next blog entry.

If you’re feeling “alarmed” and want to support our efforts to build Flourish, you can donate to the EarthGames Support Fund.  Donations right now would go to supporting Andrew McDonald to be a paid undergraduate research assistant on the project.  You can read about Andrew’s prior experiences developing augmented reality games with EarthGames here and here.

Flourish dev blog #2: Global methane emissions

In the last post we wrote about carbon dioxide, the #1 cause of global warming.  But methane, the #2 contributor, is not exactly negligible.  It’s caused 20% of global warming so far.  Each molecule is much more important than CO2: around 30 times as much if considered on a 100 year timescale.

Methane concentrations (as measured in ice cores and direct measurement) have also skyrocketed since preindustrial times:


Compare methane with carbon dioxide, which has risen by 45% since preindustrial times.  Methane reached a 45% larger level than its preindustrial concentration back in the 1920s!  There’s now over 2.5 times the methane in the air than in preindustrial times.  Methane has much smaller concentration than CO2 — 2 ppm vs 400 ppm.

There was some indication recently that concentrations were leveling off, but CH4 is back on the rise since 2006:


Natural gas is mostly methane, and so is swamp gas, which is produced in wetlands by tiny microorganisms called methanogens.  Methanogens work well in warm, wet, low-oxygen environments, so wetlands or flooded rice patties are big sources.  So are the bellies of cows, sheep, and goats — and even termites!  Methane is a big reason why beef has such a high carbon footprint.

There’s a lot of methane locked up in permafrost and ice in the Arctic, and there’s also huge amounts of frozen organic material that’s ripe for decomposition by methanogens.  Certain Arctic lakes have methane bubbling to the top, where they can be lit on fire!  There’s concern about these sources releasing or creating more methane as the climate warms, leading to an amplifying feedback that causes even more warming.  Scientists are closely monitoring methane emissions in the Arctic, and worldwide, to identify potential surprises.

However, it’s quite difficult to estimate with precision how much methane comes from different sources.  Estimates from the individual sources on the ground don’t add up to the atmospheric increase/sinks.  Different groups provide their own estimates of the sources, three of which are shown below (GAINS-ECLIPSE5a and EDGARv4.2EXT from the Global Methane Project spreadsheet and CEDS).


Why would methane concentrations have stabilized starting in 2000, and accelerated in 2006, if there were no matching trends in the anthropogenic emissions?  Scientists are still arguing about that one, but it could be that natural wetland sources have changed, that concentration of the hydroxyl radical (the main way methane breaks down) in the atmosphere has changed, or that we haven’t accounted all the sources well enough.

About those anthropogenic sources.  Leaking coal mines, natural gas wells, and pipelines contribute a tremendous amount to methane emissions, and have risen sharply since the early 2000s (data from CEDS):


For example, the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility in Los Angeles began spewing tons of methane (watch infrared video footage here) and other chemicals in October 2015.  Local residents began suffering from headaches, nose bleeds, and other illnesses, and eventually thousands of families were forced to evacuate.  The leak wasn’t capped until February 2016, by which time over 100,000 tons of methane had leaked.

There is little government oversight on these wells, and industry self-regulation is not exactly stellar.  Check out this article for descriptions of some of the utter failures of risk management in the industry.  SoCalGas recently agreed to a $119M settlement, which will go to offsetting methane emissions across the state, a long-term health study of affected residents, and environmental justice-related projects, among other projects.

Imagine 1500 Aliso Canyon blowouts each year.  That’s the best estimate of fugitive methane leakage from coal, oil, and natural gas facilities across the world.  Could we be doing a better job at detecting leaks?  The Environmental Defense Fund plans to launch their own satellite called MethaneSAT for much-needed oversight on fugitive fossil fuel emissions.

The waste category includes methane released from landfills and water treatment.  Note this source has more than doubled since 1970.  There are ways to mitigate these, e.g., capturing biogas from landfills or installing methane digesters to water treatment facilities.  And we shouldn’t forget (gasp!) creating less waste.

Rice is typically grown in flooded fields, which create anoxic conditions that methanogens love.  There are well-known methods to reduce these emissions and grow more efficiently at the same time.

Finally, animal agriculture is another major source of methane, specifically ruminants that have multiple stomachs for digestion.  Cows, goats, and sheep all burp out large amounts of methane in their digestive system.  There simply wouldn’t be nearly as many cattle on the planet if it wasn’t for our appetite for beef.  When combined with the inherent inefficiency of animals as a calorie source (it takes 30 pounds of feed to create 1 pound of beef, per the USDA), the meat industry has an extremely high carbon footprint.

Are we shifting towards less meat intensive diets?  Definitely not — as the world becomes more rich, more and more people are demanding more meat in their diet.  Projections suggest that satisfying the demand for more meat is the main challenge for feeding the world in future decades, not rising populations.

The future doesn’t have to be like these projections though.  That’s why we’re making Flourish.  If you want to support our efforts to build this game, you can donate to the EarthGames Support Fund.  Donations right now would go hiring a paid student research assistant.

Flourish dev blog #1: Global carbon emissions

Hi everyone,

We’ve moved development of Flourish temporarily into python, so I thought it might be a good time to summarize some of the equations and data sources that we’re using, as we code them into the new language.

First topic: data sources for historical carbon emissions, at a global scale.  All the code (Jupyter notebook) and data used to make these figures are available here.

If this is a game about the future, why do we need to know about the past?  First, the player starts from a realistic depiction of the world today.  We need to know the most recent pollution data as accurately as possible because that’s what the player will be setting out to reduce.  Second, trends in pollution can help us understand potential futures.  The direction a particular country or sector is heading is useful information for where it might end up.

Global Carbon Project has fantastic data about CO2 emissions in all countries of the world.  We used Global Carbon Budget 2018 data, which has emissions up until 2017.  Historical data goes back to 1751 for fossil fuels and industry, and 1850 for land use changes.


Land use change was a bigger contributor to CO2 emissions than fossil fuels up until 1950.  Fossil fuels and industry carbon emissions have quintupled since then; land use emissions are similar.

Breakdown into individual fossil fuels, cement and flaring:


2017 emissions were 3.98 GtC (coal), 3.45 GtC (oil), 1.97 GtC (gas), 0.4 GtC (cement) and 0.068 GtC (flaring).

There’s a plot on the GCP site that shows the full carbon cycle, along with reservoir sizes, including coal, oil and gas reserves:


There are uncertainties in this data of course, but if you take the numbers at face value, they can be used to estimate the number of years left of each fossil fuel, if emissions were to stay the same as today.  This calculation suggests there is between 110-135 years of coal, 50-80 years of oil, and 195-575 years of gas.  Or calulating with the sum of the three fossil reserves, the minimum estimate of 1005 GtC could sustain 10 GtC/yr emissions for 100 more years, the maximum could sustain current emissions for 200 years.  Ugh…

Airborne fraction is defined as the amount of CO2 that sticks around in the air, instead of going into the ocean or land.  The atmospheric increase is noisy!  Any rate of change is noisy if estimated from imperfect time series data (the time derivative increases variability at short time scales).  Much of the variability is real though; during strong El Nino events, increases in forest fires lead to more carbon released into the atmosphere and a higher airborne fraction.


The large variability of the land sink in particular can be seen in this GCP plot (note that it’s measured in GtCO2 instead of GtC)


The game takes all the carbon emissions from across the world, and then uses a carbon cycle model to decide how much goes into the ocean (where it causes acidification…), into the land, or into the atmosphere.  Parameterizing the land sink is more difficult than the ocean component of the carbon cycle model; we’ll discuss both in a future post.

In the next post we’ll move on to methane, then other greenhouse gases including nitrous oxide and halocarbons, and other radiative forcings.  Then we’ll zoom into country- and regional-scale breakdowns.

Want to support the development of Flourish?  You can donate to the EarthGames Support Fund.  Donations right now would go to support a paid undergraduate research assistant.

Life of Pika is now available!

Download Life of Pika now on the App Store (iPhones and iPads) or Google Play (Android phones and tablets).  It’s free!


Our mountain home is getting so hot! It’s becoming harder and harder to gather food and stay away from predators. You’ll need to be quick to help your little pikas make it through all the levels of Life of Pika!

Life of Pika is a runner game by EarthGames in which players direct a pika (a real animal that is threatened by climate change) to collect food as they dodge predators and avoid overheating.

In addition to a full single-player campaign with a compelling story (illustrated by Ben Celsi), there is a split-screen two player mode. After you complete the story, perform challenges in infinite mode to collect all the unlockable content.

Teachers! If you are interested in using Life of Pika in your classroom, check out our useful teacher’s guide!

EarthGames is an award-winning group of developers, students, and faculty at University of Washington. This is our 11th game and maybe our best yet! Thanks to all our crowdfunding campaign supporters who made this game a reality.