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Minneapolis woman creates climate-change focused board game

The game challenges players to make a difference in the real world.
Alix Dvorak, holding some of the cards from an earlier prototype of the game.

Alix Dvorak, holding some of the cards from an earlier prototype of the game.

Alix Dvorak understands the daunting nature of climate change. When scrolling through headlines that depict the effects of the crisis or suggest impending doom, it’s easy to become overwhelmed.

“What I’ve noticed is people are waking up to this [issue] and getting really worried, like, ‘OK, we’ve screwed it all up, there’s nothing we can do and this is hopeless,’” Dvorak told Bring Me The News. “And if that is our line of thinking, that is not a place we’ll take action from.”

This “self-fulfilling prophecy,” as Dvorak described it, bothers the 40-year-old consultant and climate activist. She wanted to help worried individuals see there are specific steps they can take, or causes they can support, that will make a difference. Dvorak hopes a new board game she co-designed helps bridge that gap.

Green House is a cooperative game where players work together to reign in climate change and its repercussions by employing science-supported solutions.

“We wanted this game to both be a way that people could experience climate change, and think about it and engage with it in a different way,” Dvorak explained, “and we also wanted this to be a fun game in and of itself.”

Dvorak, who lives in Minneapolis, conceived of the idea with her business colleague Adam Lupu in March of 2019. They’d both noticed how fear and dire predictions shaped the climate change conversation, Lupu said.

Research suggests they are onto something. One December 2018 study out of Yale found 51% of people feel “helpless” when it comes to climate change – even though most people believe there is still time to make a difference.

The duo wanted to reframe climate change as something “winnable, something we could all work together on,” Lupu said. He suggested a board game, a format with which he has some design experience.

What emerged after months of brainstorming, playtesting and tweaking was the current iteration of Green House. The two put the game on Kickstarter April 14 with a goal of $15,000. About halfway through the campaign, they’ve brought in more than $10,000.

In the game, players respond to different climate-related crises - such as wildfires, pandemics or deadlocked policy debates - by playing action cards. These action cards, Dvorak said, are a mix of “market-ready” solutions and more innovative actions, all based on real science.

Players might plant trees to lower greenhouse gases, for example, or support efforts to redesign communities in a way that reduces overall car use. A QR code on each card will give individuals access to more information about that topic.

The game caught the attention of Christie Manning, director of sustainability at Macalester College, during an event for a local environmental nonprofit Dvorak attended.

“The solutions that we need are collective solutions, not individual solutions,” Manning said of climate change. She was intrigued by the way Green House helped people not only see these big-picture efforts, but understand how they can connect to them – making the issue “much more tangible and concrete” for people.

Manning had the students in her first-year environmental course put Green House through its paces last December. She said they not only enjoyed the game, but came away feeling a bit hopeful.

“It can be hard studying an issue like climate change day in and day out,” Manning said. “And this game gave them a feeling that, OK, there are steps that I can take. There are people working on interesting things and I can join those efforts.”

This aspect of maintaining hope was something Dvorak wanted in the game. In addition to managing pollution levels and money, players must make sure the collective hope level doesn’t dwindle. Run out of hope, and the game is lost. Not unlike real life.

“If we believe that there’s nothing we can do about it because it’s hopeless,” Dvorak said, “then there won’t be anything that we do about it.” 

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