NORMAN – University of Oklahoma students took top honors in a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration game competition aimed at climate education. Their reward: bragging rights and a two-day showcase in January at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.
The all-student team – composed of David Gagne and Tim Spupinie, meteorology; Andrea Balfour, computer science; and Sarah Garfinkle, geography – will introduce the game to families and museum visitors. While in the Washington, D.C., the group will have the opportunity to meet with government officials and attend some climate discussions.
“It is exciting to realize that we can promote climate studies and being a responsible climate citizen in a fun and interactive way,” Gagne said. “Right now we are hearing about the U.N. Climate Talks and the proposed policies that will affect us globally. This game brings that concept to life through play and demonstrating how our collective actions affect climate outcomes.”
The OU students’ game, “Climate Conquerors,” is resource-building game like “Settlers of Catan” or “Carcassone.” In the game, players create a country, build cities, search for alternative energy sources, and deal with climate-related disasters such as floods and wildfires. The player who reduces their country’s carbon footprint the most wins the game.
“Our strategy was to create a situation where players would choose to partner to reduce the impact of human activity on the climate. They could see how competing interests would affect the outcome of climate change and what was possible by working together,” Balfour said.
Balfour said developing the game was an intense and fast-paced process. As a computer science student, Balfour has helped create online games that took months of coding to get to play mode. “This was definitely different scale than other games where I had been involved,” Balfour said. “We conceptualized, designed and launched a board game in one weekend.”
NOAA held a national competition for gamers hoping to find ways to get students interested in climate studies. The games could be online, tabletop or any direction the students felt would help make educational climate information accessible to a range of audiences. More than 400 participants developed 30 games for the competition.
Computer science professor Amy McGovern, who sponsored the group, said this is the first time OU has participated in the game jam competition. “The students worked across majors to create a game that would appeal to a wide variety of audiences,” McGovern said. “Developing this game in addition to coursework and research demonstrates a commitment to climate education.”
For more information about this event, visit climategamejam.org.
Photo: David Gagne, Sarah-Garfinkle and Tim-Supinie