Sustainability Action Arena: Video Games for Sustainability Targets at UW

Executive Summary:

The UW Sustainability Action plan has 10 targets ranging from increasing student engagement to sourcing more food locally, and despite UW's world-leading sustainability program, not all students are aware of the current goals of the plan and how they can contribute. Our group EarthGames would like to build an app that illustrates the 10 targets of the UW Sustainability Action Plan, to be played by students, faculty, and staff. The game will be both an educational tool and also a promotional tool, connecting the player to different events and groups on campus. Sustainability Action Arena will be playable on web browsers and mobile devices. The code will also be made available under a creative commons license, so other universities or groups could use the game framework to highlight their own sustainability goals. 

The prototype would be designed over the summer by our core EarthGames group, including Prof. Dargan Frierson of the Atmospheric Science department, Prof. Jessica Kaminsky from the Civil and Environmental Engineering department, lead developer Rikki Parent, a UW alumni and an experienced EarthGames programmer and artist, and at least two student employees. During the summer, this core group would get feedback on the earliest game models from UW staff. Then the 10 rough sketches of the games would be digitized by our resident game developer, Rikki Parent, and 2 to 3 hired undergraduate students over the rest of the summer. Once the Autumn quarter 2021 begins, undergraduate students in the class ATMS 495: EarthGames Studio would test all 10 prototype games while taking the class for course credit only. Another 2 to 3 undergraduates would be hired to continue building the game for a total of 5 hired students. This was the way our employee Rikki at EarthGames first learned to develop games in 2018, through a grant from CSF that funded a more experienced game developer, as well as her and other students. The importance of having an experienced designer at the start of a project is essential to its success, and once that foundation is laid, the students' own creations can flourish. During autumn quarter, we will perform several testing activities to understand how much our games help players learn about the Sustainability Action Plan. 

The game would be built and promoted online, requiring no location on campus other than the ATMS 495 class space. The proposed cost of this project is $29917.60, and we would like to start right away if funding is awarded.

Student Involvement:

Over the summer, two to three undergraduate students would be hired, using the funds from CSF, at 5-10 hours per week. They would help in the initial creation of the app, alongside experienced game developers. Then two to three additional students would be hired in autumn quarter, and we expect approximately 10 students to participate for course credit only in the EarthGames Studio class. From design and coding of the app, to testing effectiveness and publishing a fully functioning product, the students will take an active part in creation and testing of the games.

The ATM S 495: EarthGames Studio would be offered in autumn 2021, allowing more students to participate in the development of the project for course credit (students who are taking the class for credit will not be paid employees). During autumn quarter 2021, undergraduate students in the class ATMS 495: EarthGames Studio would play and test all 10 games, checking for quality of learning, and quality of play, allowing students to participate in the development of the project. This would  generate skill building for the students involved. The focus of the class would be on testing the effectiveness of the games developed over the summer, and polishing the games to enhance the overall experience. We would also be able to hire another two to three undergraduate students who are not in ATMS 495 to continue with the development of the game into its final stages, including promoting the games in multiple UW clubs.

From students who join the EarthGames class in the Atmospheric Science department, to students involved in the game jam and clubs that UW hosts, we have access to many students interested in learning game development with a green focus. We will interview students who previously took an EarthGames Studio course, and who want to continue. We will reach out to the game related clubs at the UW and see if those students would be interested as well.

Education & Outreach:

Professor Frierson will use the game as a class topic and assignment in his classroom for a day and will encourage other sustainability professors to do the same. A classroom setting allows multiple people to play the game and compare thoughts. We would like to have promotions in the HUB space, particularly the gaming center. The game will be promoted online using our EarthGames website (, as well as through multiple clubs including UW E-sports, UW gaming coalition, and the Game Dev Club at UW, and green RSOs previously highlighted in our 60 Second Sustainability game. We will post to these clubs online spaces (including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Discord, and Twitch), as well as hopefully have students in those clubs who are new members of EarthGames Studio. We will also post a full developer log of the game on the Discord multifunctional online chat tool, and through GitHub. This can act as a way for people to share their thoughts during the development cycle, and should anyone want to adapt the game themselves later on. Graphics can be shared, as well as code, and sources. By inviting this and future ATM S 495 classes to this Discord channel, they can see how a game is made from start to finish. We will make the code and art available under a creative commons license (CC-BY-NC-SA), so other higher educational sustainability initiatives can adapt the games for use on their campuses. We believe the CC licensing will also help with generating more impressions of the game and the Sustainability Action Plan. The game will be designed in the open source game engine Godot.

Environmental Impact:
  • Energy Use
  • Food
  • Living Systems and Biodiversity
  • Transportation
  • Waste
  • Water
  • Environmental Justice
  • Community Development
  • Cultural Representation
  • Social Justice
Project Longevity:

EarthGames updates all of its previous projects on the various app stores whenever needed, so we expect this game to be useful for many years. We continue to update even the original games we made like Climate Quest, which was created in 2015. All of our games are still functioning and many are used each quarter in UW classes.

Looking forward, the class ATMS: 495 EarthGames Studio, can continue to use Sustainability Action Arena as a teaching tool by having students update the ‘current events and groups’ in the game. This benefits EarthGames Studio by having simple and ongoing tasks for students, and it benefits UW Sustainability to have an app continuously updated with current events.

Previous CSF Project (and its impact) and Other Prior Experience

EarthGames developed a game called 60 Second Sustainability in 2018 with funding from CSF. The game had 21 different levels, which each introduced the work of a different environmental RSO. Our staff member, a UW student at the time, Rivkah Parent first worked with EarthGames doing art for these games, and learned programming and game design as well. The game was successful in communicating the mission of the RSOs in a concise manner, and is still used in orientation and classes at UW to introduce environmental RSOs.

This project was how our employee at EarthGames first learned to develop games in 2018, through a grant from CSF. The importance of having an experienced designer at the start of a project is essential to its success, and once that foundation is laid, the learning becomes endless. EarthGames, and lead designer, Rivkah Parent, has experience developing high-quality, visually appealing, fun games in a short time and on a limited budget. Our team as a whole has included programmer/artist students from UW Seattle and UW Bothell who have taken the EarthGames Studio independent study course or volunteered, and two faculty liaison with a strong track record of supporting student outreach and engagement. EarthGames has released 13 apps to the Apple and Google Play app stores, and our page.

The primary difference between Sustainability Action Arena and 60 Second Sustainability is the learning goals. While 60SS focused on RSOs that students could join, SAA will focus on the quantitive targets for sustainability on campus. We see the two projects as complementary, in that learning about the targets will inspire more participation in green RSOs, and vice versa.

Environmental Problem:

This project addresses awareness of the most critical sustainability efforts at the UW, as defined in the Sustainability Action Plan. We believe that, especially among students in more tech-oriented majors, there is a lack of knowledge of the sustainability goals of the university, and how they as students can contribute to the accomplishment of these goals. These tech-oriented students are particularly accessible via initiatives involving computer gaming. In our past projects on campus, EarthGames has found that there are a large number of tech-oriented students who want to help out with sustainability efforts, and share their work and knowledge with fellow students.

We will create ten “mini-game” levels, one for each target of the plan. These levels will act as unique tools to educate those who are interested in sustainability at UW, particularly it will advise them how they can get involved in each of these Sustainability Actions. We will include actionable items that the players could participate in, in the real world, as well as some quantitative information about the targets. For example, links to current organizations and events, small changes in daily activities, or a realistic view of what a more sustainable life looks like.

Example: mini-game Target #1, Doubling Sustainability Engagement of Students, Staff, and Faculty

Players must lead “virtual characters'' through a maze of the UW and surrounding neighborhood to reach sustainability events such as Sustainability Stories and Whole U Quarterly Seminars, as well as volunteer opportunities on campus and around the community. The player would be successful if they can reroute enough virtual characters to the events to double the number of people participating in the events. Links will be provided for real-world events on campus.

Example 2: Target number 6: 35% of food is from local sources by 2025.

This game will be designed to raise awareness of where on campus students can purchase locally sourced food, and which items are local. By reinforcing the importance of food choices for sustainability and highlighting local options, we hope that our game will be able to assist in achieving this target as well. For instance, students will be able to recognize that food from Field Roast, Alki Bakery and Seattle Bagel is actually locally processed, and that the UW Farm is a provider for food options across campus.

Explain how the impacts will be measured:

We have three primary strategies for measuring impact. First, we will perform testing of the games during fall quarter, and will measure, via pre- and post-surveys, how much new information the players learned about the Sustainability Action Plan. Some of these tests will be performed in advance of release, so the games can be modified for better impact. 

Second, we will encourage teachers at UW and RSOs to use the app in their events, and will attempt to track engagement from them via short questionnaires. For comparison, Prof. Frierson typically uses the 60 Second Sustainability game as a homework activity in his 100-level classes at UW, and this often leads to over 100 student impressions per year. 

Third, the project's impact would also be measured by the downloads and plays of the game on various platforms. Each of the app stores that we use have anonymous download tracking, and we plan to use this for Sustainability Action Arena as a way to measure success without privacy concerns.

Total amount requested from the CSF: $29,918
This funding request is a: Grant
If this is a loan, what is the estimated payback period?:


ItemCost per ItemQuantityTotal Cost
EarthGames lead developer Rivkah Parent monthly salary, $3463/month + 30.3% fringe benefit rate4512.295.524817.60
Hourly student employees are paid at $16.69/hour + 22.2% fringe benefit rate = $20.40/hour. 5 students will work an average of 50 hours each, for a total of 250 hours.20.402505100.00
Prof. Dargan Frierson (Atmospheric Sciences): Unfunded project lead 0N/A0
Prof. Jessica Kaminsky (Civil and Environmental Engineering): Unfunded collaborator 0N/A0
Students of ATMS: 495 (Autumn Quarter) Unfunded UW students: Will receive college credit through course ATM S 4950N/A0

Non-CSF Sources:

Project Completion Total: $29,918


TaskTimeframeEstimated Completion Date
Plan 10 games based on the UW Sustainability Action Plan. These would be simplified concepts, drawn with paper and pen, with simple point systems. Should be able to play the games without any digital aspect.Early summer 2021 July 31
Have multiple students and stakeholders play all games (using paper and imagination) and discuss elements of learning, fun, and feasibility. Early summer 2021August 15
Receive feedback to ensure educational message for each Action Plan Target is clearSummer 2021August 15
Use feedback to increase learning and fun. Flesh out point system and overall flow of game (set goals for the player).Summer 2021September 1
Digitize the prototypes in the Godot game engine. If the games are fully formed on pen and paper, writing the basic code should be straight-forward to our experienced employee.Summer 2021September 15
Post the game to website (privately) so that ATM S 495 students can perform tests of all games, checking for quality and learning of players. These students would receive credit only.Autumn 2021October 1
Ensure the game runs smoothly on mobile and web devices. Post the game to both Apple and Android app stores for free. Autumn 2021December 1

Project Approval Forms: