GLAMi nomination: Utah Climate Challenge

nominated by: Becky Menlove, Natural History Museum of Utah, USA
institution: Natural History Museum of Utah
category: Exhibition Media or Experience
nhmu.utah.edu; preloaded.com

Utah Climate Challenge is an onsite multiplayer game installed in the Natural History Museum of Utah. The game invites visitors to work together to design a future they hope for, as they tackle the challenges of climate change and its myriad impacts. Players make choices about how best to provide energy, food, and fun to a growing population while adapting to or mitigating the impacts of the changing climate. Many of our players have noted that the game is all about finding a balance.

The importance of working together for a shared future is at the heart of the experience. The game has been designed to encourage collaboration and to remind players that collective impact is a reality, and collaboration is essential when dealing with global issues like climate change. Along with powerful co-play and its benefits, the game illustrates cause and effect and encourages thoughtful decision making. The overall objective of the game is to investigate what it might take to create a healthy and sustainable future in the game world and ultimately to effect genuine behavior change out in the real world. The game’s content is based on a variety of real-world data sets to bring authenticity to the experience.

A vibrant panorama representing Utah draws visitors into the Utah Futures Gallery, a dedicated space for the game. An asynchronous, round-based multiplayer format was created to address the challenges of group dynamics in a busy museum environment. A large projection screen is controlled by five terminals where players can join at any time for a limited number of rounds. The projected “world” is both a spectacle for observers and a crucial feedback device for players.

As play begins, visitors strategize on their own screens, and soon find value in reaching out to others for help achieving their goals. After each round, players stop to see their results, assess, and play another round. Soon players are working hard to produce enough food, energy, and fun, mitigating pollution levels, urban sprawl, impacts on natural resources, and the rate of climate change.

Every decision adds up to larger consequences in the jointly created world. Have you produced enough food, energy, and fun? What can you do about particulate pollution and greenhouse gasses? How are your choices impacting the rate of climate change? Sometimes a choice will help to ameliorate earlier impacts; and sometimes, in “fun/failure” fashion, choices made will bring on terrible consequences such as wildfire, drought, or dust storms that wreak havoc on the world. At the end of six rounds, players earn badges based on their play styles. From Eco Warrior to Energy Baron, the badges provide an overview of the and hints about the real world meaning of choices made.

Over 47,986 players have already logged in at the Museum to play Utah Climate Challenge; 40-55% of players play through all six rounds, with an average stay time of 8.5 minutes, a remarkable hold time in a lively museum setting. Watch a play-through animation of the game here: