Will Al Gore’s internet climate game take off?

Last week, Al Gore launched an online tool for spreading climate change facts to combat comment board fictions. Reality Drop, unveiled by the former Vice President of the USA in a TED talk in California, builds on internet gaming culture, as users gain points and badges by copy and pasting pre-prepared snippets of climate science into the comment threads of environmental news articles. The aim is to rebuke climate sceptic commenters with cold hard fact. However, while the concept is a fantastic one, as fact should always lead debate, its style makes me a little uneasy and I can’t see it gaining long term traction.

Having just watched the introductory video, I’m sure you can’t wait to start scattering all those nuggets of knowledge across the internet and gain badges as you move up from ‘Newbie’ to ‘Carbon Crusher’ to ‘Order of the Green Circle’ (I’m not making these names up). Yet, joking aside, you cannot challenge the noble premise of the project.

Maggie Fox, President and CEO of The Climate Reality Project, which is behind the new website, described the game’s straightforward goal on the Huffington Post: “No amount of manufactured denial can make the reality of climate change disappear. So it’s up to us to speak up, share the truth about climate change, and put an end to the denial.”

Reading the press releases and interviews surrounding the launch, it seems that Al Gore and The Climate Reality Project is determined to win the battle of the blogosphere. Reality Drop develops the work of websites like Skeptical Science (which is also a partner of the game) or Grist, that provide science-based rebuttals to climate sceptic arguments. By amalgamating news content from across the internet, outside specialist blogs, and creating a simple, rewarding competition, the new game hopes not only to lead the debate with fact, but to reach a wide digital audience.

However, after an hour or so ‘dropping’ facts on various message boards and gaining a handful of badges, I’m left unconvinced about Reality Drop’s potential for longevity.

Will Al Gore’s latest initiative take off?

If Reality Drop is meant to be undertaken as a game, it certainly is not the most enjoyable one. The task is simple: to gain points, you pick a story from the homepage, copy the provided piece of science, and then paste it into the article with or without your own comment. Your prize? Amusingly named badges and a place on the leader board. There’s no outdoor experience like on Foursquare or the practical skills you might glean from something like Codecademy.

Admittedly, you do help advance the cause of climate change awareness, which is an admirable goal. But that’s only enticing for those already convinced of the reality of climate change. The question remains, are those people the ones that need a light-hearted game to make them spread the word?

What disconcerts me most about Reality Drop, however, is that there is something a little submissive and mindless about playing the game. As students, we are told for years to criticise and dissect everything we read, then conclude appropriately. Yet, the game relies, essentially, on copy and pasting. Playing feels less like debate and more like shouting loudly with carefully packaged slogans.

One example from my trial earlier demonstrates this problem. I dutifully did my task, pasting the provided piece of information below a Washington Times article on “Kerry’s global warming crusade”.  Then, I scrolled up and down a little and saw that I wasn’t alone. Of the 170 comments and reactions, 36 contained the message from Reality Drop. It felt less like sensible deployment of the facts and more like environmental propaganda.

I loathe criticising a project with which I agree so strongly on principle. Harnessing the power of the internet and allowing scientific facts to speak for themselves is a fantastic way to educate people about climate change. Unfortunately, I don’t envisage Reality Drop becoming the next big thing in activist social media.

Photograph: Kasey Baker

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