New from Charles Games: A climate crisis survival game

Tuesday, 04 April 2023 13:45

Charles University’s successful spinoff Charles Games, the name behind historic games such as the famous Atentat 1942 recently launched a new educational video game called Beecarbonize. This time, history is not the topic but the climate crisis. “Through the game you explore the latest technologies, and make decisions about the development of society, protect nature and modernise industry to reduce carbon emissions,” says developer Ondřej Trhoň.

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Charles Games was founded in 2020 following the earlier development of Attentat 1942, and has since followed up with Svoboda 1945: Liberation and Train to Sachsenhausen. While the climate may seem more topical, the developers have also tackled topical issues in the past - a game about cyberbullying called DigiStories: Nela, for the NGO People in Need, which is used in schools. The climate issue was also addressed in Ashti, a game about water management that was commissioned for Iraqi Kurdistan.

However, the new Beecarbonize is their first game from the present day and aimed at the general public. It was created again in collaboration with People in Need, who provided the game programmers with background expertise and received funding from European funds as part of the 1Planet4All project. Thanks to this, the game could be launched on the market on 1 March, completely free of charge and without advertisements. In the first three weeks, it was downloaded by over 20,000 users across multiple platforms.

Tackle the climate crisis 

The name Beecarbonize is a play on bee and decarbonize, or the removal of carbon from a substance, with the bee being such a mascot and guide. “We knew from the beginning that we didn't want to make a game that would scream 'Climate crisis' or 'Save the planet' at the top of its lungs,” explains Ondřej Trhoň, the developer who is also responsible for marketing at Charles Games. He is also a lecturer in the New Media Studies programme at the Faculty sof Arts, Charles University.

Using comic book style illustrations, Beecarbonize, to a degree, references some of the studio's earlier projects, although Trhoň says it was not targeted and the graphics were created by someone else. What sets the novelty apart from the theme, on the other hand, is the mechanics of the game, or rather the system of rules that must be followed in order for the player to move on and successfully complete it, in this case solving the climate crisis. "Attentat or Svoboda were much more built on narrative, the main role of the players was to choose what to ask in conversations and to experience the fate of the game characters in interactive memories,” Ondřej Trhoň explains. “The climate crisis is a hugely complex system in which different areas of human activity participate and interact with natural phenomena, sub-ecosystems. It is these dynamics that we have exploited to the fullest in the game, letting players experience it for themselves.”

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The Charles Games team, creators of Beecarbonize together with experts from People in Need. Ondřej Trhoň is pictured second from the right.

Thanks to this approach, Beecarbonize has great pace. Although a round can take a few minutes, you need to balance tight decisions during play. It requires caution in the next steps you take as a world manager - hence it is strategic. It should be added that this is not a classic card game, as an inexperienced computer game player might imagine. The cards here are more like tools you can use to direct the course of society. In total, you can collect 120 of them, and you will find, for example, inventions, laws, social or industrial advances that can be used in the fight against climate change.

Enemy Number 1: Emissions

The authors divided the segments mentioned above that have a real impact on climate change into four stacks: industry, people, ecosystems and science. On the one hand, you need to act fast because carbon emissions increase at an ever-increasing rate as you progress through the game, and just like in real life, the more emissions humanity produces, the more difficult challenges and events you tackle in Beecarbonize. But again, don't be too hasty, because, as the game's authors write in the game's annotation, only those who handle resources carefully will survive. Therefore, you can "pause" the game at any time and choose from two speeds of play – if you need to slow things down to gain time to think.

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The game offers no clear-cut solution and is almost impossible to win the first time.

“We wanted to create a game based on real climate research. For example, the game's need to cut emissions quickly and sharply matches the recently released IPCC report, which basically says that nothing short of aggressively fighting the climate crisis will slow warming. But at the same time, we wanted Beecarbonize to be a good game in its own right. We took inspiration from strategy card games like Stacklands or Cultist Simulator,” admits Ondřej Trhoň. And he believes that the friendly comic book cover will attract people who have never been interested in climate and ecology before and that they will learn something new thanks to the overall concept of the game and the included "encyclopaedia", in which terms such as non-growth or circular economy can be looked up. This is exactly in the spirit of the educational games [or games with a twist or serious games – ed. note] that Charles Games has been producing since the beginning.

A heavier update of Beecarbonize on the horizon

On the other hand, although Beecarbonize is based on demonstrable facts, it does not offer players a clear-cut solution to the social transformation that would overcome the climate crisis. Just like in the real world - the key to success lies in a combination of various sub-steps.

Not only do you have virtually no chance of winning the game the first time, but even after successfully completing it, you'll want to go back to the beginning and try a different strategy. For this reason, the studio plans to release a newer version of Beecarbonize by summer, enriched with challenges for playing under difficult conditions, which will once again attract experienced matadors who have already gone through the first version and show them new ways to tackle the climate crisis. In addition to this, the game will soon be launching on one of the biggest gaming platforms, Steam, which could bring Beecarbonize to even more types of players. And they might find their way to older games from Charles Games while they are at it.

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Author: Jitka Jiřičková
Photo: Charles Games archive

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