Saving the planet is no easy task, which is why gamers are now tackling climate change in the virtual world, with in-depth simulations of city-building, natural disasters, and green agriculture. These games are fun, challenging, and informative.
One popular online game, FreeRice, allows you to not only test your vocab knowledge but also produces real food for real people.
The concept is simple: choose a quiz topic – anything from English vocabulary to famous paintings – and for every question you get right the World Food Programme will donate ten grains of rice to help fight world hunger. The game began as the brainchild of John Breen in 2007. On its launch day, Freerice donated 830 grains of rice; since then, it has donated 90 billion. Some more numbers: it takes about 19, 200 grains of rice to feed one adult for a day, or 400 grams. Since October 15, 2010, when Freerice 2.0 went live, players have donated enough rice to feed 4.3 million people for a day.
The English vocabulary game is incredibly addictive, not to mention challenging. I made it to level 46 out of 60 before I started to fall apart on words like “pibroch” (for the record, that’s “a set of martial or mournful variations for the Scottish Highland bagpipe,” according to Merriam-Webster).
If you’ve ever dreamed of a giant PC strategy game that simulates the effects of climate change over the next two centuries – well, you’re in luck. FATE OF THE WORLD, from eco-aware game developer Red Redemption, does just that. A sequel to BBC CLIMATE CHALLENGE, which won the Best European Green IT Award in 2008, the game puts you in control of a world in peril. As head of the Global Environmental Organization, you call the shots. Choose missions, build strategies, cope with consequences. It’s a fast-paced, intellectually-engaging alternative to games like WORLD OF WARCRAFT and FINAL FANTASY – perfect for any gamer who cares about the planet.
ECOTOPIA, created by Talkie with support from Conservation International, is designed for all the Facebook users who balk at the frivolousness of Farmville. Players complete missions to build sustainable cities, learning about environmental awareness along the way, and are rewarded for real-life acts of conservation. “Talkie’s new game will empower users to get excited about protecting nature and making environmentally-smart decisions in their everyday life,” says Peter Seligmann, Chairman, CEO and Founder of Conservation International. Start building your own green city here.
Wanna be an urban planner? In CITYONE, from IBM, you get to tackle all of the problems facing cities today, from overcrowding to pollution, in a complex simulation that forces players to manage a bustling economy while greening the environment. Banking, retail, energy, water – you have to juggle it all. The game, says IBM, is “meant to be a conversation starter about the future: what are the catalysts for change and how can investments today prepare businesses for what is to come tomorrow.”
For a game created in 1990, SimEarth has a focus on energy usage that is surprisingly ahead of its time – that is, until you realize the game was created with the help of James Lovelock, the environmentalist and futurist whose Gaia hypothesis argues that all organisms and their surroundings on Earth have evolved as a single living system. How does the game work? Players manipulate Earth’s temperature, atmosphere, and other physical features, then observe as various creatures evolve. It gets quite detailed, too, which is great for people savvy about climate science. You can toggle with atmospheric gases and the rate of continental drift, for example, up to several decimal places. No wonder it’s often called one of the most ambitious, challenging games ever designed.