Playing for the Environment: When Players Help Plant Real Trees

A Swiss game studio has developed a casual game for mobile phones that encourages players to act on behalf of the climate. By planting virtual trees, they force a company to do the same in real life.

The mobile game “Climapower”, created by a Swiss company, contributes to the realization of concrete environmental projects.

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One day, Dominic Eichenberger, a communications professional, had an idea: what if we created a game that was not just entertainment, but also had a beneficial impact on the environment? But how do you give a real-world impact to a digital game, especially as this industry is considered energy intensive? Dominic Eichenberger, who also advises Swiss game studio Streax, speaks to Flurin Jenal, its CEO.

The latter need not be asked: he is developing a free casual game (hence aimed at the general public) for cell phones. Her name? “Climate Power”. “It’s one of the first mobile games that turns the game into something meaningful: the fight against climate change”, celebrates Flurin Jenal.

A specific game model

The principle of the game is simple: first, players collect tree seeds using a mouse and plant virtual trees. Inside the game space there are obstacles and a safe drop zone. As time passes, more and more enemies appear, until there is almost no way out. One-off power-ups can certainly eliminate enemies, but they respawn. If we contact them too often, it’s game over.

What is unique about “Climapower” is not the game itself, but the model behind it: the more virtual trees there are in the game, the more trees will be planted in the real world – the ratio is 100 virtual plants to one real one.

To do this, Flurin Jenal and Dominic Eichenberger collaborate with several partners: advertisers, who provide the money, but also climate projects, education, and a climate council (see box). The more the game is played, the greater the financial commitment of advertisers to climate protection. They are also the ones who pay the daily earnings. “That way, they benefit from good visibility and take care of their image”, explains Flurin Jenal. They are also integrated into the game so as not to interfere with your progress.

1486 trees will be planted

At the end of a game session of this “climate competition”, money is paid to the climate project partners, who implement the concrete aspect. In this case, plant trees. “In a second variant, gamers could, for example, collect screws and allow the construction of a wind turbine”, explains Flurin Jenal.

Educational partners provide their expertise, while the climate consultancy (see box) guides, checks the seriousness of advertisers and ensures that none green wash is not practiced.

If the game is still under construction, a first “climate competition” has already taken place in April. Players planted around 148,582 virtual trees. The start-up operating at fintech Neon, a partner in the operation, hired Eden Reforestation Projects to plant 1,486 real trees. “The upper limit was set at one million virtual trees,” explains Flurin Jenal.

But this is not just a story about trees. Flurin Jenal and Dominic Eichenberger, who financed the game, want to sharpen their generation’s environmental awareness. “People my age hardly read newspapers and don’t watch television,” notes Flurin Jenal, 32. On the other hand, they have a reflex to click on ads.

Games, on the other hand, represent a language they hear. “If a message is packaged in a fun way, we also reach our generation”, he says with great conviction.

Game designer Flurin Jenal made a name for himself in the industry with the construction game “Struckd”. He runs the Swiss game studio Streax, along with six experienced game industry professionals.

The “Climapower” climate council is made up of committed climate advocates: Mischa Felber, CEO of a health food store; Valérie Schrämli, lawyer and zero waste advocate; Marie-Claire Graf, climate activist; Claus-Heinrich Daub, professor of sociology and founder of the Swiss Sustainability Challenge; as well as the two concept artists Frank and Patrik Riklin.

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