Using Online Games to Teach Sustainability – Part 1

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Lately, I have been seeing quite a bit about games and how games can be used to not only help educate individuals about sustainability issues, but also help solve the challenges it poses. Games provide of the opportunity for friendly competition, lower the barriers to participation and can spur innovation. This three part series will look at a range of games, most available for free online.

Using gamers to collectively explore options: Fold it is a web platform that involves gamers in contributing to important scientific research. Individuals can compete to design new proteins that could be used to prevent or treat diseases like HIV. Planet Hunters allows individuals to look through the massive quantity of images coming back from NASA’s Kepler spacecraft to help look for planets amongst the stars.

Using games to encourage green behaviour: A growing number of sites such Recylebank reward individuals for everyday green behaviours, like recycling, with deals and discounts in the US.

Using games to educate about sustainability: Oceanopolis is a Facebook game based on designed to educate users on sustainable living, in which users protect their island paradise from being buried under recyclable rubbish. Sweatshop is a game that educates users about the realities that many workers around the world contend with each day. Players act as the factory manager and are responsible for hiring workers while ensuring that prices stay down and product numbers stay high.

Using games to show gamers the challenges that businesses face: Karma Tycoon offers gamers the chance to run their own NGO. Oiligarchy puts gamers in the seat of CEO of the world biggest oil company, confronting them with real challenges like corruption.

Using games to come up with creative solutions to the world’s problems: Evoke is a ten week crash course in changing the world. The goal of this social network game is to help empower people all over the world to come up with creative solutions to our most urgent social problems. The game was developed by the World Bank Institute and is appropriate for all ages.

Using games to raise awareness about particular issues: The Reebok Human Rights Foundation, International Crisis Group and mtvU created the Darfur Digital Activities Challenge, which brought together technology students to create games to help educate the public about the genocide in Darfur. One of the finalists, Darfur is Dying, requires players to negotiate forces that threaten the survival of their refugee camps.

Using Games for Good: PSFK and Al Gore, with The Climate Reality Project, collaborated in an open source Gaming for Good Challenge where gamers were encouraged to create games that build awareness, promote fundraising, solve the unsolvable, embed knowledge, teach new skills or leverage collective manpower. One of the finalists was the very popular Facebook game, FarmVille, which gives players the change to run their own farms.

Do you use any games or simulations in your classes? Please share your experiences in the discussions area below.


5 thoughts on “Using Online Games to Teach Sustainability – Part 1

  1. Games – incentives – are indeed an effective way to get people involved in seeking sustainability solutions. Unfortunately, in a consumer-capitalist system that totally relies on more consumption to maintain growth, sustainability games will be just that – games for the individual, without too much impact on real life. Not only a change in behavior but also one of systems is needed to make our world more sustainable.
    More on sustainable futures – issues and trends at

  2. We have developed a freely available game in the form of a card-based social activity that brings people together around a table. The game content features aspects related to Finnish culture and aspects related to the representative migrant culture in Finland. Several others are making the same kind of game for other nations. You can register and download the game for free here:

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