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Climania game puts built environment at heart of public climate awareness

Stephen Cousins

Free-to-download board game shows the general public the importance of green retrofit to climate action in project by local teens and Anthropocene Architecture School

Climania was created to raise public awareness of the impact of buildings on climate change.
Climania was created to raise public awareness of the impact of buildings on climate change. Credit: Simeon Shtebunaev/ BCU

If you thought board games were only about snakes and ladders or pale-faced teenagers rolling dice to battle orks and goblins, think again.

An innovative free-to-download board game developed by researchers at Birmingham City University (BCU), local youngsters and Anthropocene Architecture School, hopes to raise awareness of the impact of buildings on climate change among families and communities.

Developed over two months and funded by UK Research and Innovation and the Arts and Humanities Research Council, Climania tasks players with retrofitting homes with energy efficient technology as they encounter different environmental challenges and opportunities along the way.

Participants take turns answering questions about climate and built environment issues to win retrofit components while racing to reach the centre of the board, reinforcing the message of rising global temperatures.

The overarching aim is to educate people on how retrofitting buildings can play a vital role in cutting energy demand to heat homes and water, helping achieve wider goals of energy security and the national commitment to hit net zero by 2050.

According to Simeon Shtebunaev, doctoral researcher in urban planning at BCU and principal investigator on the project, the idea for the game came from his experience of youth engagement at summer school in Bulgaria, where young people were particularly receptive to games – as well as research by co-investigator Claudia Carter from BCU into ‘serious play’ in urban planning and environmental governance projects.

The board game was developed with input from teenagers and tested by over 50 people of different ages and backgorunds.
The board game was developed with input from teenagers and tested by over 50 people of different ages and backgorunds. Credit: John Christopher/ Zero Carbon house

The concept was developed and refined in workshops with 13 people aged 14-18, from Balsall Heath in the south of Birmingham. ‘We wanted to use an arts-led method of engagement that could be replicated easily and at low cost, allowing for the impact of the project to be easily multiplied,’ said Shtebunaev.  Initial workshops revealed that the youngsters had a surprising wealth of experience of board games, he added: ‘The name of the game, the mechanics, the focus and the main ideas of the game all came from our young co-researchers.’

Scott McAulay, co-ordinator of Anthropocene Architecture School, supported the project with architectural/built environment climate literacy education, retrofit knowledge and question writing.

As part of the research, the young people interviewed more than 30 members of their communities to uncover their climate concerns. External professionals then helped produce the game and more than 50 people were recruited to test it.

Less than a month since launching, game files have been downloaded 739 times in locations worldwide and BCU has received requests for the game to be translated and adapted into French, Spanish and German.

Shtebunaev said: ‘Climania is a demonstration of the untapped potential and innovation that teenagers can contribute to climate action research. The board game can spark inter-generational discussions at home, in boardrooms and in the public realm about the need to retrofit our dilapidated homes and pay attention to the built environment when it comes to climate mitigation.’


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