Serious Games for Climate Change Adaptation

Climate change is already affecting communities and livelihoods around the world through increased temperatures, prolonged droughts, violent storms, and other extremes. 

These impacts are expected to increase over time. In Aotearoa New Zealand, where we have more than 18,000 kilometers of coastline, planning for and adapting to the effects of sea level rise are increasingly urgent concerns. Today there are a range of adaptation responses available to address climate change (e.g. hard structures, soft engineering options, relocation). However, there are multiple possible combinations of adaptation options to consider over time, often referred to in climate change literature as ‘pathways’. Choosing among a range of pathways is likely to be complicated by strong values, vested interests, and unequal burdens, and therefore can lead to hotly contested adaptation discussions.  

Serious games for climate change adaptation

Serious games (SGs) are games or simulations that are used for purposes beyond entertainment. They are increasingly recognized for their potential to facilitate exploration and learning associated with complex and highly contested decisions.

Adaptive Futures – The game

Adaptive Futures is a 'serious game' designed to introduce players to community-level decision-making and climate change adaptation. The research used to produce the game was conducted jointly through NIWA Taihoro Nukurangi and Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research, and funded by the Natural Hazards Research Platform. The game is programmed using the Twine platform, which combines visual and in-built coding elements with CSS and Javascript to write non-linear 'stories'. The project is published to HTML and hosted on a remote server.

The objective of the game is to protect the Seaview community from the adverse effects of climate change. Doing this will require the player to take actions to adapt to these effects, and their ability to take action depends on support from the community. Maintaining that support means that the player will need to build trust with community members, who experience the effects of climate change differently depending on their own values and location within the coastal space. Therefore, the game requires the player to balance the wishes of the community with the need to mitigate the immediate and long-term effects of climate change.

Different adaptation strategies can be employed which will mitigate the effects of sea-level rise and storm intensity on the community. These include renourishing beaches, building seawalls, and relocating segments of the community. Each of these strategies are described in the game so players can make informed decisions about the actions they can take. Each of these actions requires sufficient funds, and selecting some options may constrain the player's capacity to use other options.

The game is populated by non-player characters (NPCs), each with a location, back story, interests, and values. As the game progresses, NPCs will react to adaptation strategies. The attitude of each NPC is determined by their attitude matrix (see side bar), defined by two variables: trust and satisfaction. The actions of the player will affect an NPC's trust, while the local conditions experienced by the NPC will affect his/her satisfaction.

Ready to play? 

Please follow this link to play: https://adaptivefutures.github.io/seriousgames/game.html

Remember:

  • You are a decision maker for a New Zealand coastal community
  • SLR is causing inundation and coastal erosion
  • The pace of change is unknown
  • You must work with the community to enable adaptation
  • Decisions are made in 10-year blocks
  • Decisions have physical, social and economic consequences

NIWA Contacts

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Environmental Social Scientist
Page last updated: 
12 September 2019
Coastal cliffs at Oamaru (2007). [Murray Hicks]
Floodwaters surround farmhouses (2007), [Alan Blacklock]
A unique non-player character ‘attitude matrix’ guides character responses to changing conditions and adaptation strategies.
Research subject: Climate changeNatural hazards