Could Video Games Help People Understand Climate Change?
Could playing video games help people understand and address global sustainability issues such as pollution, drought or climate change? At least two researchers believe so, outlining their argument in a concept paper published in the journal First Monday.
Video games have the potential to educate the public and encourage development of creative solutions to social, economic and environmental problems, said Oregon State University’s Shawna Kelly, one of the two authors of the article.
“Video games encourage creative and strategic thinking, which could help people make sense of complex problems,” said Kelly, who teaches new media communications in the School of Arts and Communication at Oregon State’s College of Liberal Arts.
“Entertainment has always been a space for exposing people to new ideas,” Kelly said. “Using video games, it’s possible to introduce sustainability concepts to the mass public in a way that’s not pedantic, that’s not educational. Instead, it could be fun and it could be challenging.”
Kelly wrote the paper with Bonnie Nardi, an anthropologist with University of California, Irvine's Department of Informatics, who studies sustainability, collapse-preparedness and information technology.
Kelly and Nardi identified four key areas in which video games could support sustainable practices. The areas are:
1. Shift away from growth as the end goal of a game. Uncontrollable growth is unsustainable and asks little of players’ imaginations.
2. Emphasize scavenging instead of combat to collect resources. Encourage players to interact with their environment in creative ways instead of simply looking for targets.
3. Offer complex avenues for social interaction. Move beyond “us versus them” and focus on other types of social collaborations.
4. Encourage strategizing with resources such as scenarios that incorporate long-term consequences and interdependencies of resource use.
Some video games already are using some of the elements Kelly and Nardi recommend. Economics-based games such as EVE Online challenge players to strategize between their short-term personal resource demands and the long-term needs of a larger group of players, their corporation. DayZ is a combat simulation game that requires players to scavenge for resources and work with other players, deciding on their own which players are friends and which are enemies.
Those are the kinds of game mechanics that make video games fun and challenging, but those mechanics also could be used to encourage players to think about real problems related to sustainability, Kelly said.
The culture of video gaming rewards people for solving problems and coming up with unique solutions. There is a common interest and connection among players, and knowledge is easily shared via game-specific wikis, message boards, instant messaging and more, Kelly pointed out.
“There’s a huge set of people out there who love to problem-solve,” she said. “Why not harness that power that is already there?”
That doesn’t mean someone should go out and develop The Sustainability Game, Kelly said. While video games have proven to be a good educational tool, there is a sense that those who play video games for entertainment don’t want forced educational components, she said.
“The attitude is ‘don’t make me learn something,’ ” Kelly said. “Instead, make the problems accessible to the gaming community and see what emerges.”
Kelly plans to continue exploring the relationship between video games and sustainability through additional research supported by OSU’s New Media Communications department. She’s planning to conduct a systematic survey of the use of sustainability concepts in current video games during the 2014-15 school year undergraduate student research assistants and resources from New Media Communications.
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By Aaron W Hunter
A chance discovery of a beautifully preserved fossil in the desert landscape of Morocco has solved one of the great mysteries of biology and paleontology: how starfish evolved their arms.
The Pompeii of palaeontology. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<h2></h2><p>Although starfish might appear very robust animals, they are typically made up of lots of hard parts attached by ligaments and soft tissue which, upon death, quickly degrade. This means we rely on places like the Fezouata formations to provide snapshots of their evolution.</p><p>The starfish fossil record is patchy, especially at the critical time when many of these animal groups first appeared. Sorting out how each of the various types of ancient starfish relate to each other is like putting a puzzle together when many of the parts are missing.</p><h2>The Oldest Starfish</h2><p><em><a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/216101v1.full.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Cantabrigiaster</a></em> is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. It was discovered in 2003, but it has taken over 17 years to work out its true significance.</p><p>What makes <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> unique is that it lacks almost all the characteristics we find in brittle stars and starfish.</p><p>Starfish and brittle stars belong to the family Asterozoa. Their ancestors, the Somasteroids were especially fragile - before <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> we only had a handful of specimens. The celebrated Moroccan paleontologist Mohamed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2016.06.041" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Ben Moula</a> and his local team was instrumental in discovering <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031018216302334?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these amazing fossils</a> near the town of Zagora, in Morocco.</p><h2>The Breakthrough</h2><p>Our breakthrough moment came when I compared the arms of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> with those of modern sea lilles, filter feeders with long feathery arms that tend to be attached to the sea floor by a stem or stalk.</p><p>The striking similarity between these modern filter feeders and the ancient starfish led our team from the University of Cambridge and Harvard University to create a new analysis. We applied a biological model to the features of all the current early Asterozoa fossils in existence, along with a sample of their closest relatives.</p>
Cantabrigiaster is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<p>Our results demonstrate <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> is the most primitive of all the Asterozoa, and most likely evolved from ancient animals called crinoids that lived 250 million years before dinosaurs. The five arms of starfish are a relic left over from these ancestors. In the case of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em>, and its starfish descendants, it evolved by flipping upside-down so its arms are face down on the sediment to feed.</p><p>Although we sampled a relatively small numbers of those ancestors, one of the unexpected outcomes was it provided an idea of how they could be related to each other. Paleontologists studying echinoderms are often lost in detail as all the different groups are so radically different from each other, so it is hard to tell which evolved first.</p>
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