New game makes complex climate change issues easier to understand

Researchers from NCoE NORD-STAR have taken part in developing an interactive game named “Broken Cities”. The game creates discussion around the complexity of decision-making related to climate change adaptation and mitigation in urban areas.

Online PR News – 08-November-2012 – November 2012, Denmark – Will you be a polluting profit-chasing slumlord or a green-minded eco-park enthusiast? The choice is yours. Broken Cities is a competitive city-building game run as a 2-hour long facilitated game session where 8-20 players compete as landlords to become the wealthiest land baron in the city. Real-world challenges and opportunities lead to thought-provoking and playful moments of realisation. Who will win the game? And will the environment survive the onslaught until then?

Why games?
In a field that is highly complex for many people to understand, interactive games prove useful as a tool to help people understand climate change and facilitate informed decision-making when planning urban areas. According to Science Domain Co-Leader of NORD-STAR Dr Sirkku Juhola from Aalto University, games have several benefits as a methodological tool.

- A game simplifies the complexity of the concept of climate change. Furthermore, it allows players to empathise with opposing points of view through the lens of play-acting in the game, allowing them to try things they would never do in ”real life” and thus experiment with alternative futures in a safe environment. By its very nature, a game is informal, and therefore people who don’t know each other tend to build trust more easily and communicate openly. And it’s fun!, explains Sirkku Juhola.

A growing need for understanding climate change implications on urban planning
According to Sirkku Juhola, the need for a simplifying tool is needed now more than ever due to the growing complexity which urban planners are facing.

- Previously, urban areas have dealt with local issues such as transport and infrastructure, but today we also have global processes that need to be taken into account. The decisions you make on a city level have global implications in terms of contributing to greenhouse emissions, but also local implications in terms of where you build. If it starts to rain more, you need to take this into account when you decide on where and how to build in order to avoid flash flooding. Games can help to simplify the interdependency between the decisions which you need to consider in urban planning, explains Sirkku Juhola.

Common ground for decision-making
In Broken Cities, the spectre of climate change is a limiting factor on growth. In real life, it is difficult to directly correlate local weather events with climate change, but in the game world of Broken Cities, this is not the case. Players see the direct consequences of their emissions decisions in near real time.

- The game represents reality and makes it possible to simulate how different scenarios play out 10-20 years into the future, depending on which decisions the players make during the game. It’s a concrete way to visualise the different consequences of different decisions, and thereby it facilitates common ground for decision-making, explains Researcher and Associate Director of Programmes, Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre Pablo Suarez, who has been part of developing Broken Cities.

Who can play?
The game is available to download for free at to anyone interested in climate change and urban issues, and different stakeholders such as students, city planners and politicians can all benefit from playing the game.
- The central theme of the game is to illustrate the complexity of the decision-making process related to adaptation and mitigation in urban areas, which makes the game highly relevant for students within the areas of climate change policy or urban planning as well as for researchers and politicians, explains Sirkku Juhola.

Danish university students get into the game
Broken Cities has already been played at universities and conferences in the Nordic countries, and has received positive feedback. According to PhD Fellow Patrick Driscoll at The Danish Centre for Environmental Assessment, Aalborg University, games of all kinds hold fantastic promise for education and research, especially for complex areas such as climate change planning.
- Our experience at Aalborg University has been that Broken Cities is one of the most effective means for the students to grasp the complexities of mitigation, adaptation and sustainable urban development, explains Patrick Driscoll and adds that the university has provided funding to print 100 game sets of Broken Cities that will be used in high school and university classrooms in Denmark to teach climate change planning issues.

Developers behind Broken Cities
The game Broken Cities was originally developed as part of the Finnish Climate Festival in Finland 2011 when Sirkku Juhola wanted to explore trade-offs between mitigation and adaptation in a new way. Aalto University in Finland granted funding for the project and together with the Nordic Council on Climate Change, researchers Pablo Suarez and Janot Mendler de Suarez as well as game design graduate students Mohini Dutta and Ben Norskov from Antidote Games and Co-Founder of Antidote Games Ida C. Benedetto, Sirkku Juhola and Patrick Driscoll further developed Broken Cities. A journal article focusing on Broken Cities and experiences from game sessions authored by the developers will be forthcoming.

Further information
• Download Broken Cities for free at
• Please contact Dr Sirkku Juhola, NORD-STAR management team and Researcher, Centre for Urban and Regional Studies (YTK) at Aalto University: for more information.