An Alternate Reality Game to Help Mitigate Global Climate change
Humans have been having a dramatic impact on the global climate for centuries, but it was not until recently that the true effects of man were realized and documented.”The ‘greenhouse effect’ is not an idea which is new to science. It has merely become more easily detectable in our time as temperatures have risen and scientists have devised more sophisticated ways to measure and forecast atmospheric process” (Johansen, 2002, p.2).Due to the consumption of fossil fuels and other greenhouse gas producing activities, the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have risen over the past 250 years, and more rapidly in the past 50 years (Houghton, 1997).
Alternate reality games (ARGs) are a new genre of digitally-enabled gaming that spreads the “game board” into the real world. They are most commonly used to promote other media products, such as the highly successful Dark Knight game used to promote the 2008 Batman film, or “I Love Bees,” a game deployed on web sites, pay phones, mobile devices and the real world to promote the video game Halo for the xBox. These games can instigate thousands or millions of players to engage in large-scale group actions as part of a social gaming experience.
Terra Viva is an alternate reality game designed to motivate players to take real world action to stop global climate change. According to climatologists change has to be made now, and on a large scale, to stop coming global climate disaster. Both traditional and digital media are being used every day to evangelize this cause, but these methods lack the motivational boost provided by presenting the problem as a game. Some alternate reality games, such as World Without Oil and Superstruct (both produced by the Institute for the Future) have been used to engage players in a discussion about these issues, but to-date no ARG has been used to propagate real world actions to help actually resolve the problem.
The Internet has been used effectively in a viral fashion to mobilize activists in the past, through organizations such as MoveOn.org and Barak Obama’s highly successful election campaign, but it is traditionally used to “preach to the choir” of existing activists. By using gameplay focused on making real world changes, Terra Viva seeks to reach out to a new audience of savvy technology-users by getting them to turn their problem-solving skills to solving actual, rather than hypothetical or imaginary, problems. Alternate reality games have been able to make activists and evangelists out of players for fictional causes. This same gameplay approach will be utilized for a serious cause. Terra Viva hopes to show that games can motivate players to make changes in a way that is both serious and fun at the same time.
Terra Viva is set in the year 2009, but the game characters have used the Internet to tunnel back in time from 2100. In 2100 the effects of global warming have devastated the earth. The earth has already passed the point of no return. The game characters have discovered technology allowing them to travel to the past, but only via electronic media. Because these characters from the future cannot physically travel into the present, they need players from the present-day to help them rewrite their own history and avert the disasters they are experiencing. Along the way, players will discover that these future characters are their own descendents, creating a sense of emotional attachment and empathy to the characters and their cause. Working in secret, under the guise of “The Society for a Better Past,” they reach out via existing social networking sites, mobile phones, YouTube, and other media to create a community of activists who can save humanity from itself and ensure a better future for generations to come.
The main gameplay of Terra Viva revolves around the completion of missions. Players are given specific missions which, when completed in large numbers, can make a significant difference. These are deployed through social networks via facebook, mobile text IMs, YouTube and other means. The player community itself tracks successful missions as completion of each mission must be documented by a minimal number of other players in the game. Players earn points for completing documented missions, sharing missions with others, and verifying others completion of missions. Feedback within the game’s narrative let’s them know when they’ve succeeded in averting a disaster, or how far they have left to go in order to do so.
When players’ reach a certain level in the game, new “levels” will open up to allow them to start creating and deploying their own missions. These will also be ranked and vetted by other players. At the same time, their connection to the game characters will be revealed to be more complex: you might find out that one of the characters is your great-great grand daughter, a nephew or cousin. This creates a strong sense of connection of empathy to the characters and also expresses the core idea of the game, which is that failure to act today is at the expense of future generations.
Sara Raasch, Lead Designer/Project Manager (Fall-Spring 2009)
Michael Downing, Writing/Video Production (Fall-Spring 2009)
Siddarth Gupta, Video Production (Fall-Spring 2009)
Ray Vichot, Writing (Fall-Spring 2009)
Celia Pearce, Executive Producer