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Games that Matter - Changing Behaviour

Game mechanics can change how people think and behave across a range of sectors such as sustainability, healthcare, and education, among many others. Learn about the science behind helping people learn and evolve, to create a better world for themselves and the communities in which they live.

You have been entrusted with an extraordinary responsibility – the mantle of the Global Minister for Future Generations. In this pivotal role, your decisions and actions hold the power to shape the destiny of our planet, steering us away from the brink of climate catastrophe.

Now, make a choice:

Coal makes up three-quarters of the CO2 produced by electricity. Will you:

  1. Let the market take its course and coal demand will fall?
  2. Stop all new coal plants globally and close those in wealthy countries?
  3. Phase out coal plants in wealthy countries over 10 to 20 years?

You have 100 Effort points to spend and 34.2 gigatons of carbon dioxide to reduce in the series of three rounds. The primary goal is unequivocal: to achieve a substantial reduction in energy-related carbon dioxide emissions, currently estimated at 36 billion tons per year, and ultimately reach net zero emissions by the year 2050.

The questions revolve around the four primary sectors responsible for energy-related CO2 emissions: electricity, transportation, buildings, and industry. The answers provided have a direct impact on both emissions and global temperatures, making them crucial in addressing the challenges associated with climate change.

Welcome to the Climate Game, a game that puts you in the driver’s seat to make choices that can lead us to a future where emissions are reduced to net zero, and global temperatures remain below the critical threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Developed by the collaboration between Infosys and the Financial Times, the Climate Game is a call to action, an invitation to embark on a transformative journey that goes beyond the virtual realm. It empowers us to think critically, question the status quo, and evaluate our own behaviors and habits to establish sustainable practices. By navigating this intellectually immersive experience, we gain the insights and perspectives necessary to become agents of change in the real world.

The whole idea of the game was to do something that really underlined the importance of decision making in the longer term. Alan Smith, Financial Times

Alan Smith, head of visual and data journalism at the Financial Times, describes the Climate Game as a unique challenge for readers, urging them to take on the responsibility of making decisions that lead to net zero emissions by 2050. He emphasizes that the game goes beyond a regular news story and requires active engagement from the reader. Smith states, "It's not like a regular news story; it's actually something that the reader has to lean forward and take control of." The game's objective is to convey the importance of understanding the long-term consequences of decisions related to climate change.

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While not all of us will become global leaders in reality, the lessons we glean from this game can fuel our quest for meaningful change in our individual lives. The knowledge gained within this gamified realm equips us to ask the right questions, make informed decisions, and become catalysts for transformation in our everyday actions.

It's (climate change goal) also achievable, and gives the right message, because the message we really want to give people is yes, this is a tremendous challenge, probably the biggest challenge the world faces. But it is a challenge that is feasible… It gives you a framework for how to do that. Ralph Gehrig, WongDoody

"If we generalize, I guess everything that takes place in the human world is because of human behavior. All the phenomena we see are a result of how people have grown and behave. We can affect people and improve the world through their decisions and paths they choose," says Jussi Kajala, CEO of 3DBear, an edtech company that delves into AR and VR learning.

Identifying the game as ‘serious play’, Kajala says, “There are four types of fun – hard fun, serious fun, easy fun, and people fun. Hard fun involves points, badges, and leaderboards. It is human characteristics that drives towards wanting to be successful, an opportunity for challenging yourself is what you're after. It's meaningful play, which affects how you think, feel, and behave, and make impact in the game.”

Behind the game

By incorporating scientific modelling from the International Energy Agency (IEA), the Climate Game vividly demonstrates the impact of players' choices on climate outcomes. Smith explains that the game prompts players with questions about actions needed in the present and future decades. Based on the decisions made, the game uses the IEA's scientific modeling to illustrate the potential future scenarios to emphasize the significance of long-term decision making and highlight the role of individual choices in shaping the planet's health.

“And at first you lose, of course, and it's actually designed that it's quite hard to win, because that is how it is in real life as well. It's a really tough problem, and the game reflects the complexities and the hard choices we all will have to make,” says Ralph Gehrig, chief experience officer at WongDoody.

From determining which policies to implement to supporting specific technologies, the game tracks the consequences of these choices. It allows users to monitor the cumulative impact of their decisions, including social policies, on climate change. The design of the game emphasizes the significance of making early decisions, particularly when facing challenging choices.

The whole notion of the game really is about you know, the impetus to action, like how quickly we need to start acting as a society in order to really reverse climate change in time... Because ultimately, we want to drive behavioral change. Ralph Gehrig, WongDoody

This approach, Gehrig explains, proves beneficial in the long run as the impact is amplified over time. “Our objective is for players to engage with the game, gaining a deeper understanding of the urgency surrounding significant decisions at both the corporate and national policy levels. Moreover, the aim is to highlight the importance of individual actions in our daily lives,” he says. Simple changes such as transitioning to electric vehicles or reducing meat consumption, for instance, contribute to the cumulative effect of carbon emissions and climate change.

“I think another really crucial aspect is we wanted to give people a sense of hope. We wanted to give them the feeling, yes, this is something we can fix,” Gehrig says. “It is very tough but a positive message ultimately, that it is feasible to reverse climate change, and you're putting our planet in good order, in a way again. I'm really proud in the level of depth and really authoritative content that we were able to craft into an engaging experience.”

The engaging experience has already captivated over 650,000 players. Impressively, 56% of those who started playing with a character completed the entire game, spending a minimum of 15 minutes immersed in the experience.

Conditions that enable individual and collective actions

Inclusive governance

Diverse knowledges and values

Finance and innovation

Integration across sectors and time scales

Ecosystem stewardship

Synergies between climate and development actions

Behavioural change supported by policy, infrastructure and socio-cultural factors

Source: IPCC AR6 Synthesis Report

Why Gamification?

Kajala believes that gamification is a way to influence human behavior positively. He explains that traditional teaching methods like reading books or listening to lectures are passive and don't trigger strong neurochemical reactions in the brain. Gamification, on the other hand, leverages the release of dopamine when players achieve something in games, making them feel good and motivating them to continue. It engages learners and allows them to have an active role in their education.

The wonderful thing about simulations and games-based learning is yes, it's an environment that they can fail safely, and recover and keep re-practicing until they gain mastery. They can keep coming back into this low-stakes environments and practice again and again. Sarah Toms, IMD

He draws examples from "Sinuhe, the Egyptian" to demonstrate how human behavior has remained the same throughout history, despite technological advancements. Kajala emphasizes that although there have been improvements in areas such as medicine and living conditions, there are still environmental factors and reasons that can help shape people into better individuals.

Sarah Toms, Chief Learning Innovation Officer at IMD, reckons that to begin with, it is crucial to grasp the broad spectrum of differentiations and definitions within the gaming industry. Let's break it down systematically.

Imagine a Venn diagram with "learning" at the top and intersecting areas representing games, simulations, and learning, she says. Simulations are primarily designed to facilitate skill development and refinement. An excellent illustration of this is found in the medical field, where neurosurgeons can practice performing brain surgery through simulations. This practice has been proven to minimize errors significantly when they transition to conducting real-life surgeries. By incorporating simulations into their training, surgeons can enhance their proficiency and reduce risks in the operating room.

“What you have in gamification, is you have this, this kind of tapping into using, for example, points and achievements, and leaderboards, and progress visualizations, and community interaction. These are all the elements that make up gamification,” she explains.

When you can see these cause-effect relationships, that will bring the behavior change. Nobody wants to lose 2 million euros, nobody wants to produce 50 tons of carbon dioxide emissions. So, if we just disseminate this experience to as many people as possible, I think it will certainly bring behavioral change. Jussi Kajala, 3DBear

An expert in the lane of ‘learning’, Toms constantly looks for ways to tap into and enhance human cognitive capabilities: How do we make learning more memorable? How do we make knowledge acquisition skills acquisition transference? How do we make it easier for learners to take what they're learning in classroom settings in their age educational environments and build skills and understanding and knowledge that is transferable into the real world.

“We have this concept called the knowledge effect. So, we're building off the knowledge that the learner already has and scaffold them into more higher-level ways of thinking about different subject areas – we're shepherding them to a more complex and more advanced topic in areas that they may already know,” Toms says. “The wonderful thing about simulations and games-based learning is it's an environment where they can fail safely and recover and keep re-practicing until they gain mastery. They can keep coming back into these low-stakes environments to practice again and again”.

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The Eventual Goal

Smith notes that the Financial Times appeals to a wide range of readers beyond the traditional finance and business sectors. He highlights the game's relevance for decision makers across various fields, from CEOs considering carbon neutrality for their companies to young individuals seeking to comprehend the changing world around them. Climate change is a topic that resonates with everyone, and the game aims to provide valuable insights for a diverse demographic.

“One of the things we have come to know from those who have used it is how it has led people away from their perception towards the reality of where we are in terms of climate change. That's a big thing with climate change – everybody has their own preconceptions about where we are on the climate change journey, so it's great to be able to educate along the way, without feeling preachy,” he says.

It's a game with a very important message, which is to understand the long-term consequences of decisions that we have to make now about climate. Alan Smith, Financial Times

While corporations and governments traditionally come to mind, the perspective on decision-makers is broader. In today's world, everyone is required to make choices that shape their lives. This encompasses a wide range of individuals, from young professionals navigating their careers.

Referencing the TV series "Star Trek," Kajala highlights the importance of ethics and moral decision-making progress in envisioning a better future for humankind. He believes that the choices made by individuals collectively can determine the path humanity takes, and gamification plays a crucial role in shaping people's perspectives and emotions, ultimately leading to a better future.

“The technology has evolved, but still has the ethics, the moral decision-making progress. We cannot be certain that the future humankind will take, but the point is, it's up to us. And that's why, gamification is important, because if we can change the way people see and feel things, it can lead to a better future,” Kajala concludes.

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