What mobile gaming can do for climate action

Nicole Possin

As EDF’s creative director, Nicole oversees communications projects that support and extend our environmental work.
Published May 15, 2015 in ClimatePartnerships

The challenge of averting climate catastrophe is hardly a matter of fun and games, even if solving big environmental challenges requires us to reach hearts and minds.

Such engagement doesn’t always come easy for science-based, facts-loving environmentalists.

So when prominent game development company Zig Zag Zoom came to us to collaborate on a game with a climate change premise - and offering an opportunity to integrate clean energy themes to boot -  we jumped at the chance.

The exploding medium of mobile gaming offers a huge megaphone with immense reach. Just consider this:

  • The global game market is now worth $25 billion and expected to grow to $40 billion by 2017.
  • The United States alone counts 219 million mobile game users.
  • The average American spends 2 hours and 40 minutes daily on a mobile device; 45 minutes of that time playing games.
  • Games are the No. 1 revenue-generator and time spent on smartphones.
  • The gaming audience goes beyond youth: Growing markets include adults aged 35-65.
  • Mobile was the only media type to grow in total U.S. consumer minutes spent between 2012 and 2014.

So why is the rational, science-based organization I work for involved with something like this? Because if addictively entertaining games are where millions of people are spending their time, we want to be there, too, inviting them to learn about and engage with our issues – on their terms.

In Towering Oceans, gamers find themselves living on boats after climate change causes a dramatic rise in sea levels. (Note: It’s happening in the real world, too.) Game players build their boat into a self-contained mini-community, as players pick up other characters and create an efficient ship.

If addictively entertaining games are where millions of people are spending their time, we want to be there, too.

It’s not new for non-profits to create game-like experiences. There are many examples of “edutainment” games. The problem is, issue-based experiences centered around facts and figures often only speak to those already poised to listen.

To extend our reach, we need to partner with gaming experts who know their own audiences better than we do - and who have experience connecting meaningfully.

Zig Zag Zoom, a company founded by former Disney Interactive executives, artists, game designers and programmers; opened the door. 

One of the company’s new mobile games, Tree Story, promotes actual tree plantings. Its sister app in Korea already boasts 1 million loyal users whose play has resulted in nearly 500,000 real trees planted in 73 forests across 10 countries.

Users of Towering Oceans, now available on the iTunes App Store, have also responded with enthusiasm. They like the myriad of ways they can outfit their ships and its residents through multiple levels, and the game’s sophisticated 3D graphics and detailed customization.

And let’s not forget they can fuel their boat engine with recycled material and upgrade it to run on sustainable power, earning points in the process.

Will these users grow into an army of environmental supporters in the mobile universe? We hope so.

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