Global Change Games | Programs That Pop

A team at North Carolina State University Libraries has created the Global Change Games series to help engage students with global change topics.

screen shot of Bee Simulator game at NCSUThe North Carolina (NC) State University Libraries supports gaming in a variety of ways, including dedicated spaces, a game collection, and game-related programming such as Raiders of the Lost Arcade, a series highlighting games that challenge stereotypes about gamers and promote experiential learning, empathy building, and storytelling.

The Global Change Games team, consisting of Libraries staff Karen Ciccone (lead librarian for public science), Claire Cahoon (Libraries fellow), Colin Nickels (experiential learning services librarian), and Alex Valencia (student success librarian), created the Global Change Games series to build on the experiences of students who had taken the NC State University summer course for first-year and transfer students, Wicked Problems, Wolfpack Solutions: Global Change. Of course, global change is affecting everyone, and we hoped that other members of the NC State University community—as well as members of the general public—would be interested in seeing how games can be used to explore this complex topic.

The idea to create a game-based series was first suggested by the University Libraries’ Director of Programs and Outreach Marian Fragola as a means of further engaging students with global change topics. I was surprised to discover that there are many video games that deal with the theme of climate change. We hoped that giving students opportunities to play these games would provide an entertaining way for them to explore and reflect on topics related to climate change, and spark conversations about some of the challenging environmental problems we collectively face.

Given the ongoing constraints on in-person events due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we decided to use the Twitch platform. Twitch is a browser-based livestreaming platform used for small-scale broadcasting. It combines live video with an interactive chat that allows viewers to send messages directly to the streamers in real time. Twitch streams are available to anyone regardless of NC State University affiliation and don't require downloading or signing up to watch, although you do need a free account to send comments. Our Twitch channel was started in fall 2020 to provide some level of access to hands-on learning spaces during the pandemic, and it now regularly livestreams highlights of interesting spaces, equipment, and people from the Libraries. The Global Change Games series was a natural fit. We planned a series of monthly events in which Libraries staff and special guests would livestream gameplay and discuss how climate change games can help us understand and grapple with the kinds of everyday problems that rapid global change is causing.



For our first event, Libraries staff member Colin Keenan teamed up with Colin Brammer, a bee expert at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, to play Bee Simulator, a game that lets you pilot a honeybee around an environment patterned after New York City’s Central Park. Gameplay involves collecting nectar for your hive and contending with humans and other insects, but you also learn about the life cycle and hive organization of bees, as well as the crucial roles they play in our ecosystem. Keenan and Brammer chatted about bees while Keenan played the game, and viewers commented and asked questions through the chat. The museum included this stream in its schedule of events for BugFest: Plan Bee!, and we later made the recording available on our website.

We found that including a subject matter expert to answer scientific questions and comment on the gameplay led to a lively and interesting conversation, so we decided to invite subject matter experts to join our other streams as well.

Our second event featured Never Alone: Foxtales , a game developed in collaboration with the Iñupiaq, an Alaska Native people. Players experience a gorgeously animated world from the point of view of a little girl named Nuna, who is traveling with her Arctic fox. Documentary clips embedded in the game touch directly on evidence of climate change that members of the Alaska Native community have observed, as well as how it impacts their way of life. We invited the game’s author, Iñupiaq poet Ishmael Angaluuk Hope, to comment on the game. NC State University student Meghan Tankersley played the game, and Libraries staff member and poet Chris Tonelli moderated the conversation, which ranged from how nature is portrayed within the game as a super-powerful yet ambivalent force, to games as a storytelling medium and the importance of literature (and games) as a way to, in Hope’s words, “take you beyond what you think you know and understand.” As with the first event, we made the recording available so it can be viewed and reused asynchronously.

In our upcoming event featuring Beyond Blue, NC State University graduate student Selene Schmittling and marine mammal expert Vicky Thayer will play a game that invites you to imagine the future of the oceans through playing the part of a marine scientist named Mirai. In our final event for the semester, featuring Civilization VI: The Gathering Storm, Libraries staff member Shaun Bennett and energy policy expert Christopher Galik will discuss the energy choices we face and how the game explores the effects of energy choices on the course of civilizations.

The series will return in spring 2022 with a role-playing game about the effects of extreme heat in North Carolina. For this event we teamed up with Max Cawley, Program Manager for Public Engagement with Science at the North Carolina Museum of Life & Science. Cawley designs “serious games”—games that take advantage of the intrinsically motivating mechanics of gameplay to increase players’ knowledge and emotional connections to content. We will invite a few members of the NC State University community to play the game with Max on Twitch and talk about the potential of serious games to foster conversations about climate change. The following month we will again host Max to lead an in-person role-playing game in D. H. Hill Jr. Library. In this event, 40 members of the NC State University community and general public will play a public forum–style game about extreme precipitation in North Carolina.

Personally, we have found the most interesting and exciting aspect of this series to be the opportunities it has presented us to make connections and get people together to have conversations. It has been rewarding to partner with two local science organizations, the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh and the North Carolina Museum of Life & Science in Durham, and we expect the relationships we’ve built with those organizations to lead to future collaborations. We have also felt honored by the willingness of outside experts—from local scientists to Alaskan video game author Hope—to join our streams, and we are grateful for their generosity in sharing their knowledge and experiences. After the live events are over, the series will live on through the Global Change Games website, and we hope people beyond the NC State University community will be enriched by these conversations as well.

Karen Ciccone is Lead Librarian for Public Science at the NC State University Libraries in Raleigh, NC.

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