Developed by Red Redemption and funded by the BBC, the Flash-based Climate Challenge is a thoroughly researched, compelling resource-management sim. As the "President of the European Nations" you must radically reduce your people's carbon emissions over the course of a century, while remaining popular enough to stay in office.
Sound dry? It's not. Climate Change is as fast-paced and challenging as it is thought-provoking and open-ended, and the excellent tutorial and in-game help make picking it up a breeze. The game lasts ten turns, each spanning a decade between 2000 and 2100. A turn consists of selecting up to 5 policy cards, each of which will use up or add certain resources; 'Import Food', for instance, will add food but cost euros and energy while emitting CO2. 'Require Energy Efficient Appliances' will cost euros but add energy and reduce CO2. Pursuing certain policies can unlock further cards such as space travel or planting large forest growth. As in Will Wright's Sim City, disasters can strike, draining your resources unexpectedly and forcing you to choose between a very expensive, unpopular policy or an expensive, very unpopular policy.
Periodically, you will meet with other world leaders at the Climate Change Summit and vote on setting new global emissions limits. If they don't feel that Europe is doing enough, they will be less inclined to reduce their own emissions and you will have to subsidize them, an expensive way to buy votes. Your long-term goal is to reduce your CO2 emissions to the target levels agreed upon by the global community, but you must also keep your electorate happy. Every policy has an approval rating and, if enough citizens are unhappy with your performance, you will be booted from office, ending the game. Between turns, a newspaper page provides feedback on your progress and public opinion, another appealing Sim City reference.
Climate Change is without a doubt one of the most successful serious games I've come across yet. While obviously not a crash course on the hard science behind climate change, Red Redemption has certainly met their stated goals, being to:
- give an understanding of some of the causes of climate change, particularly those related to carbon dioxide emissions.
- give players an awareness of some of the policy options available to governments.
- give a sense of the challenges facing international climate change negotiators.
Climate Change accomplishes all of the above while remaining sufficiently game-like to be fun and avoiding the pitfalls of over-simplification, condescension and boredom that plague many similar efforts.
A wealth of additional information is available here for those interested in digging a little deeper into the science behind the game, and an interview with Red Redemption has recently been published over at Gamasutra.