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Simulations and role-play for deep learning about climate change 

Research Team: Juliette Rooney-Varga (UMass Lowell CCI), Andrew P. Jones (Climate Interactive), Ellie Johnston (Climate Interactive), Kenneth Rath (SageFox Consulting Group LLC), Jared Nease (UMass Lowell CCI), Beth Sawin (Climate Interactive), and John Sterman (MIT Sloan School), 

With funding from the National Science Foundation and in collaboration with Climate Interactive, the MIT System Dynamics Group, and SageFox Consulting Group LLC, we are developing and researching the learning impacts of simulation-based role-playing games for climate change education. 

Simulation-based role-playing games are active learning experiences in which participants take on a role, make decisions, and explore the implications of their decisions on the physical world through a computer simulation.  This approach is ideal for learning about coupled human-natural systems, such as climate change, in which both the social aspects of decision-making and the physical-technical system (e.g., the energy and climate systems) are complex.  Role-play enables people to learn about the social dynamics of decision-making, while an interactive computer simulation yields insights into the impacts those decisions have on complex physical-technical systems.

Our climate policy decision-support simulation, C-ROADS (Climate Rapid Overview and Decision Support, developed by Climate Interactive, MIT Sloan and UMass Lowell Climate Change Initiative), is used within the highest levels of government, the United Nations, the private sector, and NGOs, as well as by citizens and students around the world.  A simulation that builds on C-ROADS and focuses on energy policy, En-ROADS, is undergoing external review and is expected to be released by 2016.  Both C-ROADS and En-ROADS are designed to make the best available science accessible to non-experts in a way that is interactive and relevant. 

Our climate change simulation game, the World Climate Exercise, puts participants in the shoes of delegates to the UN climate negotiations and challenges them to create an international climate deal that successfully avoids dangerous interference with the climate system.  As part of the World Climate Project, we are bringing this tool to students, citizens, and decision-makers across the US and the world.  To date, thousands have experienced World Climate across more than 60 cities in five continents.  The game has been covered in media outlets including Science magazine and the Washington Post

We are in the early stages of analyzing data and reporting on our findings from research that used pre- and post-surveys, qualitative analysis of participants’ reflections, and focus groups to understand what people learn from World Climate.  So far, several key findings are:

  • World Climate is highly memorable.  89% of the survey respondents remembered World Climate, as well as the key insights they gained from it, one to four years later.
  • World Climate delivers key systems thinking insights – from the complexity and inter-relatedness of the climate system and human decision-making, to the behavior of the atmospheric stock of carbon dioxide in response to emissions.
  • World Climate is education for action.  85% (of 35) respondents said that their World Climate experience increased their motivation to take action on climate change (out of those who were not already highly motivated).

We are also developing a simulation game called “World Energy,” which puts participants in the roles of key economic and energy sector leaders and challenges them to create a global transition to a low-carbon economy.  Framed by the En-ROADS simulation, we expect World Energy to be released in 2016.