Computer game developed in Glasgow played at UN climate summit

14 December 2018

Delegates at this month's key United Nations COP24 global climate-change negotiations in Poland were invited to play a computer game developed by students from Glasgow Caledonian University.

COP24 is the informal name for the 24th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

The game, Earth Remembers, models various scenarios of climate change "tipping points" and impacts on the earth, from the manageable to the catastrophic. Although an entertaining game, the software realistically challenges players with climate scenarios and government budget decisions that can have positive or negative results for the planet.

The game sees 30 players controlling ten negotiation alliances, who are to decide how large a commitment they should make to climate mitigation, green technology and the international climate fund. The players' decisions simulate the next few decades and demonstrate the effects of their choices on global temperatures and tipping points.

Earth Remembers has already been successfully trialled at a UN climate change convention in Bonn, Germany earlier this year. It helped negotiators understand climate events and evaluate policies to mitigate the worst climate change outcomes.

The third-year GCU students developed the game along with scientists from Purdue University in the United States and with support from Utrecht University.

The game focuses on climate thresholds which dramatically change the planet in a way that cannot be reversed once crossed.

David Farrell, a computer gaming lecturer at GCU and one of the researchers who took the game to Bonn earlier this year, said the computer game's impact on national climate negotiators was remarkable. He said: "The models used in the game are the same as those used by UN climate scientists. At one point, while playing the game, there was a moment when some of the national negotiators triggered the tipping point when the West Antarctic ice sheet starts to melt, potentially raising sea levels by two metres. There was an audible gasp in the room as they realised what was happening because of their decisions.

"By seeing what happens in the game, the players witness the impact of decisions for themselves. Earth Remembers takes the numbers off a spreadsheet and makes it a living experience."

Hamid Homatash, a GCU lecturer and co-designer of the game, said: "Next for us is to demonstrate Earth Remembers for scientists and policy specialists in Washington DC in a few days' time. We are also hoping to develop further enhancements to the game. This is where the potential of applied games lies: in mixing together the scientific and the artistic; the rational and the emotional. Do this well and you have the potential to create meaningful change – and maybe even help avert disaster in the process."

Student Dylan Nichol was lead programmer on the project. He said: "Working on Earth Remembers has definitely been one of the most challenging yet rewarding experiences I have ever faced. This experience has totally redefined my passion for software development and I now feel ready to tackle whatever may lie ahead."

The full GCU student team is: Design: Alasdair Reavey, Cara Henney; Art: Jess O'Neill, Marie Jeantet, Ross Young; Programming: Dylan Nichol, Jamie Milne.