Can a video game save the world?


Written by Tshepo Mokoena
Photos and illustrations by Red Redemption
14 Monday 14th March 2011

A TED lecture by Jane McGonigal opens up a new route to exploring exactly what this game hopes to achieve. To start with, it's obviously not the first of its kind. BBC Climate Challenge and the Global Warming Interactive before it have tried to harness the obsessive determination displayed in strong gamers and use it for 'the greater good'.

This raises a few questions: "how is this meant to solve anything?", "how will we translate virtual reality into policy changes?" and "well, will gamers save the world or what?". Well, let's explore.

Fate of the World seems to be toeing the line between groping for ways to combat climate change and letting gamers play God, with often darkly comedic results. Strategising as head of the Global Environmental Oganisation you get to make choices to tackle everything from peak oil and crazy cyclones to overpopulation.

There's even a Dr Apocalypse gameplay option where your goal becomes obliterating the planet as fast as possible. Hmmm. And this is meant to lead the climate warrior revolution?

Trying to turn a complex problem from a virtual puzzle into real-life change is the clearest stumbling block for FotW as a social movement tool. And while McGonigal's argument on Malcolm Gladwell's '10,000 hours of practice' rule rings true it doesn't really do enough to convince me.

In the game itself, the player runs a massive, largely dictatorial agency that only reacts to the little people when it's annoyed them. As individuals in the real world then, it's hard to translate agency in gameplay to the sorts of positive developments that would propel grassroots campaigns to the policymaking fore.

Oxford-based Red Redemption (not the Red Dead Redemption guys) have a pretty and interesting game on offer here. They themselves aren't purporting to changing the world, but the hordes of agencies and NGOs backing the game (Oxfam, Friends of the World, Greenpeace and the WWF amongst them) may just be hoping for more.

Fate of the World
is available for purchase now on both PC and Mac, for £9.99.

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