An inconvenient video game
[ opinion - july 06 ]AN INCONVENIENT VIDEO GAME
Paul Rogat Loeb
Someone should make a video game of The Inconvenient Truth. The generation of most game-players will inherit global warming's escalating march, and many won't see any documentary, even an excellent one. Inconvenient Truth is, after all, a lecture and slide show, mixed with a strong personal story, some nice Matt Groening animation, and more humor and hope than you'd expect from a film on the subject. We need to get everyone we can into the theater seats, buying tickets for friends, colleagues and neighbors, paying the way for those on the fence to at least give it a look. I'd love to see schools negotiate daytime matinees in normally empty weekday theaters, so their students can attend at radically discounted prices. But some - especially those swayed by the Bush administration's propaganda against science, thinking, and other "reality-based" pursuits - will still find it too much of a high-brow lecture.
Given that we need to reach more people, how about an Inconvenient Video Game, a Sim World where players learn about the issues surrounding global warming, choose paths of action to address it, and link to real-world external websites? The goal would be to navigate America (and help navigate the planet) through what it will take to emerge without disaster. Players could research the facts, make good or bad choices, and see the consequences of various actions taken. The game could even include some modeling of political advocacy, so players could take the role of ordinary citizens, since our efforts will ultimately decide whether America ever does really addresses one of the most complex and urgent crises in human history.
The game could build on Gore's existing movie, slide show and website, adapting whatever elements were useful, but also making the process more interactive, more engaging for an audience for whom games are a prime language. Why not put people in the role of climate scientists assessing the evidence, governmental and corporate decision makers, citizens trying to keep our society from driving off a cliff? Why not let them try out different ways of acting?
There's actually one existing model called A Force More Powerful: The Game of Nonviolent Strategy Developed by The International Center on Nonviolent Conflict (ICNC) (from their book and PBS documentary of the same name), along with media firm York Zimmerman Inc and game designers at BreakAway Ltd. The game explores strategies and tactics used successfully in 10 historical nonviolent struggles to win freedom and secure human rights against dictators, occupiers, colonizers, and corrupt regimes. It's part simulation, part strategy game for scholars, activists, and anyone interested in alternative paths to change. I'm not a gamer, but I found it provocative and challenging. An Inconvenient Video Game could draw on its lessons.
I'd love to see a climate change game distributed and promoted for free as an internet download. The goal wouldn't be to make money - it never was with the film. It would be to draw in as many people as possible to grapple with the threat we now face, taking advantage of every possible medium. And by giving away the game online, and promoting it with viral marketing, it would have a chance to reach the widest possible audience.
There's a danger of course, that all people will do is play the video. But that exists any time we're sitting watching screens. If we wanted to get really creative, the program could even ask repeat users to log on with whatever they'd done that week to help address the issue. Our top game designers can now create and destroy complex virtual worlds, that entrance us in powerful ways. They could do the same to save the habitability of the world we actually inhabit.