How a videogame could help communities avert disaster
It is 2030 and rising ocean levels are threatening to flood low-lying Metro Vancouver neighborhoods.
Welcome to Future Delta, a new videogame created by UBC researchers to help the citizens of Delta, B.C. reduce their carbon footprint and prepare for climate change, including major flooding risks related to global warming.
In November and December, the researchers will begin presenting a prototype game to schools, city staff, gaming experts and community groups. They want to gather ideas to help make a 2.0 version of the game entertaining and engaging enough to inspire learning and action.
The project is led by UBC Prof. Stephen Sheppard, an expert on visualizing climate change and director of UBC’s Collaborative for Advanced Landscape Planning (CALP). Sheppard says it will be the world’s first videogame to immerse citizen-players in an interactive, virtual version of their own real-life city, allowing them to explore future possibilities using the best available scientific data on the regional climate.
“Videogames can help to inspire and engage people on important issues, if they are compelling enough,” says Sheppard, whose dramatic computer-based visualization of local flooding risks and potential solutions immediately turned heads at Delta City Hall. “We want to reach folks who don’t typically participate in city-planning processes —young people and others who are concerned about climate change but don’t know how to engage, or are too busy to attend open houses.”
Players take the role of the mayor of Future Delta, racing to stave off flooding before the city runs out of energy. Players must reduce the city’s carbon footprint and manage resources by investing in clean energy (solar, wind, geothermal), creating denser, greener neighborhoods, growing food locally, and expanding public transit, electric vehicles and bike lanes. To prepare for rising oceans, players can build floating homes and raise dykes.
“For communities to take action on climate change, citizens need to be on board,” says Sheppard, adding the video is part of a series of CALP computer-based visualizations that has produced low-carbon converts across B.C., including North Vancouver, West Vancouver, and Kimberley. “For this to happen, greater understanding of trade-offs and climate-friendly practices is needed.”
UBC Prof. Aleksandra Dulic, a digital media expert making Sheppard’s visualizations interactive, says the project shows the vital role the arts can play in communicating science. “Scientists are great at making discoveries, but not always good at communicating their findings in inspiring ways—particularly for something as big and complex as climate change,” says Dulic, director of the Centre for Culture and Technology on UBC’s Okanagan campus. “This is where other disciplines, from artists to psychologists, can help to communicate science in more meaningful and inspiring ways.”
Sheppard and Dulic expect the videogame to be available in 2014, thanks to funding from SSHRC. They expect the game to dramatically improve with design help from the schools and Island stakeholders this winter. “We’ve created an interactive, virtual representation of Delta, with a series of science-based climate scenarios,” says Sheppard, who calls Delta a Canadian leader in climate change adaptation. “Our next focus will be the game elements—the story, the rewards—making it as fun and interactive as possible. We are excited to hear people’s ideas, especially from high school students.”
Play an early version of the game and learn more at: futuredelta.ok.ubc.ca. Project collaborators include Sheffield University’s Olaf Schroth and Simon Fraser University’s Steve DiPaola.