In 2017, Abaca Games co-founder and creative director Chris Karounos was pursuing a master's in sustainability at the University of Michigan when he decided to help save the environment by creating a video game.
The idea of doing something to increase people’s knowledge of climate change had begun weighing on him when he was in Ecuador in 2014, conducting his thesis research on tropical agroforestation.
"I saw how much deforestation was happening there and it really struck me as the most astonishingly sad thing I have ever seen. It’s a waste on so many levels," he says. "I knew then that I needed to create a way for people in the United States to do something to help. And I knew it had to be easy and make people feel good."
His company’s inaugural offering, 10 Degrees, fits the bill.
Set for release on Sept. 3, 10 Degrees was created to educate its users on their personal responsibility for the environment and climate change. It’s an engaging, narrative-driven game with an immersive storyline based on science. Players assume the identity of characters who are essentially normal, everyday people, faced with making decisions in their daily life that could either help or harm the environment.
"Anyone can play 10 Degrees, but it’s especially made for teens and young adults. We want to reach people who are just starting out in making impactful choices in the world and show them the impact they can have," says Abaca Games' co-founder and head of research and outreach, Zach Van Stanley.
Van Stanley, an Iowa-based librarian who specializes in independent research, first heard about the game in 2017 via the additional reading section for an online course he was taking on climate change action. He reached out to Karounos to offer pro bono research services, which led to a position working directly on the game.
Reaching the younger generation was a must for the Abaca Games team. In the course of his research, Karounos discovered that 97% of climate scientists agree climate change is human-caused. However, only 53% of teachers believe the subject of climate change should be taught in schools.
"I think those who are on the fence about the issue will really consider looking at it through a different lens after playing our game. It will be a little more digestible than other media," Karounos says. "It will allow users to experience what they may not feel comfortable doing in the real world yet. I believe they will feel inspired and energized to take action – whether it's becoming more politically involved, or walking instead of driving their car."
Van Stanley notes that the game is free, "so players have nothing to lose and much to gain."
"You learn about your impact on the environment while you play," he says. "Players see the values and costs of their actions."
The outcomes of 10 Degrees gameplay will go beyond the walls of players’ homes and schools. They actually translate to making a real difference in the offscreen world. Advertising revenue from the game will be donated to the nonprofit Third Millennium Alliance (TMA), which will use the money to plant trees in Ecuador’s Jama-Coaque Reserve.
Abaca Games’ partnership with TMA is fairly new, having only developed over the last year. The team is also excited by another recent turn of events. This past March (just one month before Abaca formed an LLC), Abaca won funding from the University of Michigan’s optiMize social innovation competition.
"We couldn’t believe we won," Karounos says. "For our team, it’s not just about getting prize money. It’s about what we’ll be able to learn and the support we’ll be given so that we can possibly make some sort of impact on the world."
Jaishree Drepaul-Bruder is a freelance writer and editor currently based in Ann Arbor. She can be reached at email@example.com.
All photos by Doug Coombe.