January 24, 2020

The Climate Trail – making a game of the climate apocalypse

Posted by Laura Guertin

I first heard about this game back in October 2019, when articles and reviews were published by Gizmodo and the developer was interviewed on TV. The recent post by Yale Climate Connections (January 14, 2020) reminded me that I wanted to share my experience of having students play The Climate Trail.

I was teaching an introductory-level climate science course last semester, and a conference opportunity came up for me that would require I miss one day of classes. I decided to have students play The Climate Trail and write up a review of the game for an assignment. I’ll share some student thoughts about their experiences, but first, some more explanation for those that haven’t downloaded and played this free game available for multiple platforms.

Picture that you are a climate refugee, with you and a handful of others surviving a climate apocalypse. The goal is for you to get from Atlanta to Canada, while making sure you have enough food and water along the way. And then there are storms and heat waves that interrupt your journey. You may also have a team member that gets injured that slows down your progress. This video clip is a short look into the game interface:

So what did my students tell me about their journey on The Climate Trail? Several students recognized the similarity to The Oregon Trail, which they had played in high school. Downloading the game was not a problem, with some deciding to play on their phones versus desktop/laptop computers. No one expressed any frustration about the game controls or a lack of understanding on how to play. Not all of the students made it to Canada on the first try, although many did. Several students found the music an appropriate tone yet annoying after awhile and finally muted their speakers. Some students made specific comments about how “depressing” the game was to play.

This point is the most interesting and valuable feedback for me – students appreciated the science presented at the beginning and the end of the game, and they wished there was more scientific information shared throughout the game. They felt there was a disconnect between learning-playing-learning. This is something for future game developers to think about…

Overall, the game received great reviews by the students. And with one of my students graduating this past December and moving to Atlanta for his job, students joked with him that they would see him on the Climate Trail! (let’s hope it is a joke…) I would encourage any instructor to take their students on The Climate Trail and see what type of classroom discussions it could spark.