School of Computing PhD student Mahsuum Daiiani is seeking your help to understand how video games can engage people around climate change and environmental issues.
Mahsuum’s research will use a mixed-method approach —that combines surveys, game play of existing environment-themed game(s), and interviews —to explore how and to what extent the immersive capacity of video games can positively change views about climate change and environmental issues.
With millions of video game players around the world, the video game industry has become a multi-billion-dollar industry. There are now numerous genres and sub genres from shooter and survivor games to puzzlers and party games, with each one offering a different experience.
One of the most popular types of games is role-playing games or RPGs that allow you to take on a role and interact with a fictional setting to explore a series of possibilities. This genre often has elaborate story plots, allowing players to take on characters within a fantastical world to complete quests. Mahsuum sees these types of video games as being very powerful and persuasive tools. “It gives players the opportunity to immerse themselves into alternative worlds simply by simulating unique situations and allowing users to not only see but feel the consequences of certain actions”.
Role-playing games are fundamentally about making the right choices to reach a desired outcome, whether that be opting to use a high-powered, fully automatic weapon to rid the world of zombies, or retrieving magical crystals to save a forest. Though both scenarios are positioned within a fantasy world, the potential for video games to transform how we think about real-world issues, particularly in relation to the environment is immense.
Organisations like UNESCO recognise the potential for video games to promote peace and sustainability, and for the past few years they’ve invested in challenging game changers to develop games as tools for social and emotional learning. But while there is a growing appetite to use video games to help advance understanding around social and environmental issues, our understanding of how game design motivates players to effect change is lacking.
“There has been a growing interest in videogames as a potential change-maker in areas like health-related behaviours or environmental views”, says Mahsuum. “But there is still a substantial gap in understanding how game design features work in motivating the player and which game elements have a more defining say in this process. Also, the role-playing genre, which is a focus of my research, has been hugely neglected in this area.”
Mahsuum hopes that her research will improve our understanding of how creative approaches such as video games can provide an interactive, creative, and more effective way to advance environmental and ecological dialogue.
“Climate change is a multifaceted, complex issue that sometimes doesn’t seem pressing and engaging enough in our everyday routine”, says Mahsuum. “I think the complexity and urgency of the issue calls for innovative actions. Videos games have the potential to become that creative tool researchers and policymakers are looking for to engage the public with the issue”.