It’s 2040 in Miami, and a powerful hurricane has swept through the lower town. You stand alone under dark, eerie skies, chest-high waves lapping around you. An abandoned car floats nearby, one of the few visible objects in the body of water.
A bullet-shaped robot then hovers in view, prompting you to grab a computer hard drive from the car. Once you insert the reader into the robot, you are out of the harrowing scenario and back to safety.
The scene is from an immersive virtual reality game developed for the Adrienne Arsht-Rockefeller Foundation’s Resilience Center as part of growing efforts to give policy makers a visceral sense of what their decisions on climate change are today. today could mean in the future, for better or for worse.
“People don’t realize what their city will look like in 2040 if they don’t implement climate solutions,” said Nidhi Upadhyaya, deputy director of the US-based center. But by using virtual reality, “we can make them see what’s going to happen.”
Climate experts have long struggled to help people see and emotionally grasp likely futures as the planet heats up, both dystopian and potentially positive – clean, cheap energy, thriving economies, healthy nature and people that might be possible with a rapid change from fossil fuels.
But virtual reality — especially games that put controllers in the hands of users, allowing them to make decisions and see the consequences — is changing that.
“Virtual reality is a very powerful medium – especially if it’s your first time experiencing it,” said Chance Glasco, the game’s producer Arsht-Rock and one of those who pitched it. during the UN COP27 climate talks. in Egypt last month.
“It’s amazing what he can do – it feels like you’ve been teleported to another destination,” said the animator, who once helped develop a line of best-selling commercial video games.
At COP27, those who tried the experiment ranged from a delegation of Indian government officials – who told Ms Upadhyaya that they see virtual reality games as a great potential tool for training their teams – to a Bedouin goat herder sheikh, transfixed at being instantly transported to the United States.
“I am in America! I always wanted to go to America! he exclaimed, controllers in hand, as he cruised through scenes that included a futuristic Miami with solar panel street blinds, electric cars and a Mobil electric vehicle charging station.
The pressures and impacts of climate change are already making their way into a growing range of commercial video games, Mr Glasco said – giving some of the world’s estimated 3 billion video gamers an almost tangible first-hand experience with them.
For example, Floodland, a survival game set in a world drowned by climate change, launched last month, and SimCity, a long-running world-building game, added the impacts of climate change a decade ago. .
Martial Arts Tycoon, a game developed by Mr. Glasco’s private studio, sees players run a martial arts gym, with training done in part on the rooftops of Brazil’s infamous slum favelas.
As temperatures rise, trained fighters are at greater risk of heat exhaustion, which impairs their agility. But investing in shade blankets and giving combatants plenty of water limits the damage.
Heat waves in the game are given names and ratings – the way hurricanes and tropical storms are currently named around the world – a change Arsht-Rock hopes to bring to the real world to improve awareness of rapidly escalating extreme heat hazards.
Mr Glasco said the idea is not to make video games about climate change, but to make climate change a reality in games in a way that raises awareness of the same changes happening in the outside world. .
“If a million people play this game and are introduced to the heat wave ranking system, once the rankings roll out on the news, they’ll be like, ‘Hey, I should stay inside,'” said noted Mr. Glasco, senior researcher at Arsht. -Rock.
The Miami 2040 prototype game was assembled cheaply in less than three months, but high-spec games can cost upwards of $100,000, or millions for a commercial product, he said.
Still, Arsht-Rock thinks the technology’s ability to realize the risks and opportunities of climate change will spur investment in similar games by government agencies, corporations, nonprofits and others.
He launched a games center with the aim of creating his own games and helping other organizations develop the genre, as part of a broader drive to drive effective climate policy and build resilience to impacts .
“We want every decision maker to try this,” said Ms Upadhyaya of Arsht-Rock. Many people are now aware that the risks of climate change are increasing, “but this is a faster way to educate them”, she added.
Mr Glasco said he was starting to wonder how powerful new VR games really were.
The first time he showed the Miami 2040 game, while on a trip to Washington D.C., Hurricane Ian hit his home in the city of Orlando, Florida, forcing him to return to his sodden home in jet-ski through the flooded streets.
A month and a half later, the day he started exhibiting the video game at COP27 in Egypt, another hurricane hit his house.
“Maybe it’s a weather manipulation game,” he joked. “If that happens one more time, I might have to throw him off my roof – and save Florida.”
This story was reported by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
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