Though the educational potential of video games is well known, games have been integrated into formal education with varying degrees of success. Often students, especially those who are gamers, find the more “educational” games to be unstimulating or designed poorly. Still, educators and researchers are trying to fit games that impart important lessons into traditional schooling. One of these is a game called Climate Change Narrative Game Education, or CHANGE.
CHANGE is a game intended for high school Marine Science courses, which covers the effects of human-driven climate change on everything from oceans to geology and different populations of animals. The game is grounded in real scientific data predicting the effects of global climate change on communities on the Gulf coast of Florida. Though many of CHANGE’s individual sections are straight-up lectures that would likely bore normal readers of APGN to tears, its last section, Human Impact, gives students the opportunity to craft their own strategies for preparing Florida communities for the consequences of climate change in a web-based game with elements of role-playing, text-based narratives and simulations.
CHANGE is unlikely to be a sleeper hit on Steam anytime soon, but it does represent something that gamers should recognize. At this point, the evidence suggesting the existence of man-made climate change is undeniable, and climate change has dire consequences for the human race if ignored. Video games are easily one of the most engaging and sophisticated media experiences ever conceived. A game that adeptly conveyed the seriousness of climate change to its audience with the polish of a professional game development studio would be a great way to incite action on the issue. CHANGE is the prototype for such a game.
But even a fledgling program like CHANGE has been subjected to criticism by those who believe climate change is not man-made, or that it doesn’t even exist. These individuals are often either invested in the fossil fuel industry, dismissive of the scientific community, slavishly devoted to cutting government spending (and, therefore, any federal action on climate change), or all three. One of these individuals is Rand Paul, a Republican Senator from Kentucky and Presidential candidate, who targeted a grant to CHANGE from the National Science Foundation as spending waste.
The report makes its disdain for climate change education quite clear. Off the bat, CHANGE is immediately described as “a video game aimed at indoctrinating kids into the climate change way of thinking.” A sarcastic tone is employed all the way through, placing phrases like “scientifically realistic” and “save the world” in scare quotes, as if to mock the game’s veracity. Bizarrely, Paul’s report questions whether accurately predicting the effects of climate change 110 years into the future is really possible, since “accurately predicting just 30 years in the future proved pretty hard” for fictional characters Doc Brown and Marty McFly in the Back to the Future trilogy (it is possible).
As Chairman of the Subcommittee on Federal Spending Oversight, Senator Paul is within his right to question where federal money is going, but that doesn’t mean we have to like it. Games like CHANGE, which improve the quality of educational games, need more attention and more funding, not less. That should be something every gamer can get behind.