Creating Games to Combat Climate Change

Gili Freedman, Max Seidman, Ross Virginia and Mary Flanagan

Extended Abstract

Although climate change is increasingly seen as an imminent global threat, there is a lack of research on how people’s behaviors and attitudes can be altered to improve the environment (Swim et al., 2010; van der Linden, Maibach, & Leiserowitz, 2015). The present paper provides two examples of how games can be used as interventions to foster environmentally sustainable attitudes and behaviors. As part of a project on games to combat climate change, a research lab in the Northeast developed a climate-themed digital game and a climate-themed party card game and tested how they impact subsequent attitudes and behaviors. Both games show promise for game designers and psychologists interested in harnessing the power of games to improve the environment by increasing sustainable attitudes and behaviors. The digital game, currently titled Dragon Dad, involves a set of mini games, some of which focus on climate-change themes (e.g., recycling, bicycling). Throughout the game, the goal is to complete each task as quickly and accurately as possible. The design of the game intersects well with the Theory of Planned Behavior, a psychological theory, which predicts behavioral outcomes based on attitudes, norms, a sense of control, and intentions (Ajzen, 1991). Specifically, the Theory of Planned Behavior states that a given behavior is more likely to occur if one has an intention to do that behavior. Furthermore, intentions occur when one has a positive attitude toward the behavior, when others support the behavior, and when one feels that he or she has the ability to enact the behavior (i.e., a sense of behavioral control). One of the difficulties of influencing people to behave more sustainably comes from the last piece: does the person feel that they have the ability to enact the behavior (Gifford, 2011)? Games can be especially useful in providing players a sense of agency (Polman, Orobio de Castro, & van Aken, 2008), which can help overcome the feeling that one may not have the ability to enact the behavior. Therefore, we hypothesized that as players interacted with the game, they would feel a greater sense of control over their environment, which would then lead to a greater willingness to behave sustainably.

The party game, currently titled Cops Arrest Manatees, is an unofficial expansion to the hit card game Cards Against Humanity. In the game, a judge reads a black fill-in-the-blank card out loud and each player anonymously provides a white card from his or her deck as an answer to the fill-in-the-blank. The judge decides which card is best, and that player wins the round. In subsequent rounds, the judge rotates. In creating Cops Arrest Manatees, we added climate-change themed cards to the decks. For example, one white card created for the game is “Ed Begley Jr., on a power-generating exercycle”. Based on previous research indicating that off-color humor can motivate prosocial thoughts and feelings (Kaufman & Flanagan, 2016), we hypothesized that joking about climate change through Cops Arrest Manatees could increase willingness to engage in sustainable behaviors such as recycling and donating to environmental charities. Taken together, our current work on climate change games indicates that there is both a great need and a great opportunity for game designers to create games that can meaningfully impact environmental behaviors. The present paper provides not only descriptions of how two games impacted environmentally sustainable attitudes and behaviors but also provides a roadmap for game designers interested in working with psychologists to combat the threat of climate change using all available resources.