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A World of choices: Exploring the use of a simulation game in engaging the public with climate change

Evans, Lisa (2022) A World of choices: Exploring the use of a simulation game in engaging the public with climate change. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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Poor mental models of the climate system can be a significant barrier to engaging with the issue of climate change. Simulation games are a powerful tool for improving mental models, supporting doubleloop learning whereby players improve the conceptual structure and explanatory power of their mental models. However, few currently available climate change games include models incorporating the key physical principles that underpin the understanding of climate science. For this project, a prototype of a climate change game was developed incorporating intermediate complexity climate simulations, in which players could alter different climate variables to construct new planets for alien species. It was play-tested by participants to investigate the effect it had on players’ mental models of the climate system. Participants were selected to represent a range of interpretive communities observed in a sample of 90 respondents from an audience segmentation survey. Qualitative methods were used to investigate the effect playing the game had on participants’ elicited mental models of the climate system, using a think aloud protocol and telemetry data recorded during gameplay. Their mental models were compared to an expert model using semantic comparison measures. In general, mental models which were weaker prior to playing the game underwent the largest semantic changes, becoming closer to an expert understanding, while stronger mental models changed least. Participants’ understanding of climate concepts they were already familiar with tended to improve – such as temperature, CO2 and vegetation, while more complex and unfamiliar concepts such as Surface Albedo were not assimilated. Participants from highly engaged interpretive communities improved their familiarity with climate concepts the most. These findings indicate that simulation games incorporating climate models do have potential to improve players’ mental models of the climate system and could reduce some barriers to engaging with the issue.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): Environmental and Conservation Sciences
United Nations SDGs: Goal 13: Climate Action
Supervisor(s): Baudains, Catherine and Kala, Jatin
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