For Daybreak players, the challenges are identical – but the solutions pop in seconds.
Sayanti Sengupta, technical advisor to the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Center, was one of the first people to try the beta version of Daybreak, a much-anticipated board game from creators Matt Leecock and Matthew Menabis. Playing at home, she marveled as her friends laid out cards to spread out solar farms, made multilateral climate deals across the table, and swapped tiles to phase out fossil fuel energy. Together they counted small gray cubes representing atmospheric carbon, a binding moment in each round where they paused to celebrate and reassess.
“Every time we could have done a tour without losing communities or without raising the temperature, people were more interested in it. Like next time, they want to do it better,” says Sengupta. “That’s exactly what you need to feel for the climate problem. You have to keep going.”
After three years in development, Daybreak will hit the commercial market next spring, joining a slew of games inspired by climate change. Leacock, known for his Pandemic co-op game, adds his own style to Daybreak: the game is based on real-world data and politics, with a degree of game abstraction. Like Pandemic, it’s hard to win, and players must work together to come up with collective solutions. In preparation for COP27, the creators say that Daybreak offers a microcosm with which to understand current events.
Here’s how it works: Four players take over the roles of China, the United States, Europe and the “majority world” – the Global South – each with its own strengths and weaknesses. In each round, they meet to decide on a global project, extract individual opportunities and prepare for unknown crises.
The central tension lies in the trade-offs. Are you using your Opportunity Cards to fund the global project, or are you taking advantage of the growing social movements in your area? Do you invest in mangroves, hedge against future floods, or do you prioritize a rapid transition to renewable energy? The central game board keeps a constant count of temperature and thaw as droughts and heat waves escalate.
Daybreak has been in development since March 2020. In the early days, Leacock and Menapace find themselves lost in the sheer scale and breadth of the climate crisis. Both rejected narratives about individual carbon footprints that encourage people to reduce flying or rethink having children. Citing BP’s campaign in the 2000s, Menapace wrote that “framing climate action as a single carbon diet would be enemy game.” But the duo only discovered a foothold after reading The 100% Solution by Solomon Goldstein-Rose, which lays out a comprehensive global plan.
“The tendency I’ve seen has been for people to say, ‘Oh, this is the solution to the climate crisis,’” and everyone would say, ‘Well, of course not, that’s not big enough,’ Leacock explains. All of these solutions, “and you can see them and see their part in the larger whole, I was able to understand the nature of the problem better and I really wanted to be able to communicate that to others.”
Leacock and Menapace have consulted a wide range of environmental advocates, from Greenpeace and the WWF to the Red Cross and Red Crescent Climate Center, which has developed dozens of educational DIY toys. Longtime climate activist Bill McKibbin was instrumental in helping them understand the role of lobbyists in the fossil fuel industry, which eventually folded into a crisis arena. Early comments also prompted them to move beyond technocratic carbon addition and subtraction to focus instead on impacting societies.
“When we started tying it all in there, climate justice threads and so on, the game got much richer,” says Lecock. All of a sudden, we can pick up books on the Green New Deal, all these policy books, and we can see anything as a climate solution, whether it’s healthcare or city greening or what you have. All of them had their part in the game.”
Daybreak, in its current form, offers nearly 150 cards with different solutions to combat climate change, from citizen gatherings to walkable cities to green steel and alternative cement. The name itself, Daybreak, was chosen to evoke the feeling of a new dawn, solar energy and the fact that the world, in fact, has many tools on hand. (Previous title: The Climate Crisis.)
While playing, Sengupta watched as her friends became curious about the realistic implications of different solutions. One of them was fascinated by a card in solar PV farms, which he wanted to see in his home in the Philippines. “The [unique selling point] From the game,” she says, “it’s not just something that moderators know, but it also gives you hope that you can do something collaboratively. ”
Each of the Daybreakers tells a different story about climate change. In CO2, players embrace the role of energy companies in turning to the environment, while Energetic assigns players as politicians, entrepreneurs, activists, or engineers driving the clean energy transition in New York. The online games featured in the community Earth Games range from building trust among disaster-stricken communities to combating misinformation. You could even argue that reshaping Mars, where players alter the climate to create a biosphere on the Red Planet, is yet another demonstration of the human existential crisis here on Earth.
Research on climate change games has shown their effectiveness in educating players and instilling hope – even inspiring players to take more action after the game. Dr. Juliette Rooney-Varga, Director of the Climate Change Initiative at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, has conducted dozens of sessions with World Climate, a dual simulation game that models both the scientific realities of anthropogenic climate change — sea level rise, increased frequency of storms and floods — and the personal reality of United Nations conferences. United.
As in Daybreak, global climate participants take the positions of government leaders. Role playing has proven to be effective in stimulating people’s attention span, providing a layer of responsibility absent in a lecture or movie. Real-time feedback on decisions, which cuts across the timeline between action and outcome, is also essential. “It is this sense of increased urgency that drives the desire to learn more and the intent to take action on climate change, rather than a change in your analytical understanding of the problem,” says Ronnie Varga. “It’s that formula that I think is really powerful.”
What Daybreak does well illustrates the trade-offs between us and them, now versus later, and certainty versus uncertainty, such as investing in adaptation when you’re not sure whether an extreme event will actually happen, says Pablo Suárez, innovation leader at the Climate Center of the Red Cross and Red Crescent.
Suarez offered his own example of the trade off: At a White House workshop in 2012, he explained that the frisbee he was about to throw into the standing crowd symbolized a hurricane. Participants who sat “evacuated”, while those who remained standing were suddenly aware of their vulnerability. The point of the game was to demonstrate the importance of early warning systems.
“Games are uniquely suited to helping people tackle complex problems where you have limited information, you have to make decisions, and your decisions will have consequences,” Suarez says. “Fun allows people to engage very intensely in imagining a range of potential futures.”
For Leacock and Menapace, Daybreak gives people permission to talk about climate change, learn about the diversity of solutions and try to reconcile them effectively.
“You might hear the government coming up with a plan to address a particular aspect of the climate crisis,” Minabas says. And you still feel like, ‘Okay, that’s fine, but they need more cards. They need to do more of that. It really gives you a way to quickly assess what’s actually going on.”