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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Global Warming Games

Air Date: Week of

Who says global warming can't be fun? The "Xbox 360 Games for Change Challenge" asks college students in 100 countries to come up with their best video games based upon the theme of global warming. Host Bruce Gellerman speaks with Suzanne Seggerman of Games for Change about using games to help solve our most complex social problems.


GELLERMAN: It’s Living on Earth. I’m Bruce Gellerman. Video games are serious business.

[MUSIC: Anonymous “DOOM3 Game Preview & Music Theme” from ‘DOOM3 Video Game’ (Id Software – 2006)]

GELLERMAN: Americans spend over seven billion dollars a year on digital games. Most games like this one, DOOM3, offer death and destruction as entertainment. But a non-profit organization believes gamers can have serious fun while addressing serious social problems.

Over the past four years Games for Change has developed games about race and poverty, war and elections. Now, the company is hoping to develop games that can tackle perhaps the biggest issue of our time, global climate change. Games for Change is teaming up with Microsoft, makers of the Xbox, to launch a worldwide competition for college students. It’s called the "Xbox 360 Games for Change Challenge," and it’s offering hefty cash prizes and other goodies for the best video games based on the theme of global warming.

Suzanne Seggerman is the co-founder of Games for Change. We interrupted her fun and games while on vacation in Michigan. Suzanne, I apologize but thanks for joining us.

SEGGERMAN: Great to be here.

GELLERMAN: I was looking online and it says that this is a competition that’s billed as a serious game initiative. And it sounds like an oxymoron.

SEGGERMAN: Yeah, I can understand why people think that. I think games have been seen as only having content that is juvenile or trivial. And actually games are simply a young medium. It’s taken a while for them to quote-un-quote grow up. These games, the games for change, have real world impact in mind. Hopefully, these games encourage players to take action in the real world around the most pressing issues of our day.

GELLERMAN: Well, how can you use a game to address a complex societal issue?

SEGGERMAN: Well, in fact games are fantastic for exploring complex issues. I think they’re better than film or TV where you really are just a consumer of information. They’re good for allowing a player to put themselves in a role, in a perspective that they can’t otherwise have access to. And they’re really great for letting people interact with various systems and different variables. And what could be more complex than the environment?

GELLERMAN: My kids have a game called SimCity and they really enjoy it and I have to say that I really enjoy it. You get to simulate the entire environment. But it has nothing to do with global warming.

SEGGERMAN: Well, it’s interesting that you brought up SimCity because I think in some ways, SimCity is the earliest game for change. Though, that wasn’t what Will Wright intended when he made it. He has since talked to me and told me that SimCity has spawned hundreds and hundreds of urban planners for instance. People really took to that game and it did have a positive impact in the world by inspiring a whole generation of urban planners. Think about how this next generation of kids could be inspired to be environmentalists and humanitarians. You know I’d like to see also, a thousand little game seeds planted. Not all the games are going to get prizes and not even that many are going to get recognized. But think of this new generation of game-makers and game innovators we’re reaching. All these kids who’ve perhaps never even considered the impact of the environment are going to be getting knee deep in environmental issues. That’s really exciting. You know kids really respond to this medium of video games in a way they don’t to a newspaper or a heavy documentary. And I think that’s the key. It’s that we’re reaching them on their own turf.

GELLERMAN: So, do you envision games for example that might have somebody managing an airline’s foot print or dealing with rising temperatures in a corn field in the Midwest?

SEGGERMAN: Absolutely. Bruce are you going to sign up for the contest? I hope so. Those are great ideas.

GELLERMAN: (laughing) Do you have an idea that you might submit?

SEGGERMAN: Oh, I’m a judge. I’m not allowed. You know it’s going to be exciting because I like to see games about the environment go across the spectrum. On the one hand, we could have really playful games about any number of subject matter. And on the other, you could get very serious about the complex nature of these interrelated systems about the environment.

GELLERMAN: And this is a worldwide competition. How many people do you think might compete in the contest?

SEGGERMAN: We’re aiming to reach 100,000 students with the opportunity to participate.

GELLERMAN: What does the winner get?

SEGGERMAN: There are a number of prizes, cash prizes. The first prize winner gets $25,000 towards an educational scholarship. The second prize is 15 (thousand) and the third prize is 10 (thousand). But the prize I think is most exciting is that, the winning team gets to show their prize to the Microsoft game management team and have that game possibly go up against all the games on the XBox live, which is an audience of six million players. There’s also a chance for the winning team to become interns on the Microsoft game team. That’s another really invaluable opportunity.

GELLERMAN: Well, Suzanne, I want to thank you very much.

SEGGERMAN: Thank you so much for having me. It was great to talk.

GELLERMAN: Suzanne Seggerman is the co-founder of Games for Change. The “Xbox 360 Games for Change Challenge” starts in August. You can find a link to Games for Change on our web site, LOE dot org.

[MUSIC: Anonymous “Burger Time (Death Ditty)” from ‘Burger Time Video Game’ (Data East Corporation – 1982)]



Games for Change

Xbox 360 Challenge


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