5 min read

Survive the Century

A climate game of choice and consequences
Survive the Century

Hello grownups!

I am so proud to announce the launch of Survive the Century: a branching narrative game about climate change that I co-created with scientists Christopher Trisos and Simon Nicholson.

In this game, you get to play the editor of a popular newspaper. Your decisions on how to talk about climate change dictate how the world adapts (or doesn't) to a warming planet from 2021 to 2100. Along the way, you get to read headlines and news stories about the future you've created, contributed by some of my all-time favourite science fiction writers: Lauren Beukes, Rajat Chaudhuri, Maria Turtschaninoff and Sophia Al-Maria.

It's up to you whether you lead the world to a green utopia, or unleash your inner sociopath to see how bad things can get. Nobody's judging.

Co-creator Simon Nicholson has this great description of what the game's trying to communicate:

Climate change is not just some distant environmental matter. Climate change is made and experienced by people. How the future will play out is going to be shaped by choices taken by people today, and tomorrow, and the day after.

A branching narrative game felt like the perfect way to explore climate issues, because it felt like a playful way to think about our choices. The ones we need to make now, but also the choices that still lie ahead of us.

We had a longer conversation with Adam Vaughan from New Scientist about why we chose the narrative game format, if you're interested.

I believe that the source of so much of our climate nihilism is that we make the mistake of talking about climate change as though it's binary: either we stop climate change or we don't. But of course, there's no stopping climate change. Instead, it would be much more helpful to talk about limiting the damage as much as we can; talking about all the potential ways that we can respond to, and even adapt to, a changing climate.

Co-creator Chris Trisos has this great metaphor about climate change that's been rattling around in my brain a lot.

Imagine a highway. You start at a world that's 1°C hotter than pre-industrial times. 1°C isn't paradise, but it's a pretty good place to live. But the further you drive from 1°C, the more difficult things get for us. We're already driving on the highway.

The highway goes from here all the way to 4°C by the end of the century. 4°C suuuuuucks. We do not want to live there. 4°C doesn't mean that the whole human race ends, but it does mean that we will have to withstand more disasters, more disease, more fights over scarce resources. Millions of people and animals will die, and life will be harder for most people. We want to get off the highway long before we get to 4°C.

Right now, we're coming up to the offramp that goes to 1.5°C. It is still plausible that we could take bold action now and get off the highway here. 1.5°C is a worse neighbourhood than 1°C, but it's MUCH better than 4°C. We could adapt to 1.5°C. We could flourish.

And yes, at some point, we will have driven past the 1.5°C exit (we haven't yet, but we're getting close and haven't even pulled into the slow lane yet). But when we drive past the 1.5°C exit, should we just throw our hands up and say "oh well, I guess we're going to 4°C then". No! We should try to get off at 1.6°C. Or 1.7°C. Or 1.8°C. Every 0.1°C matters, and we will have to keep fighting over each fraction of a degree.

Our choices matter. It's not over. There are many choices still ahead of us.


What made this project so damn fun is that it's the most collaborative thing I've ever worked on. This game is the creation of literally dozens of people.

This game is a work of fiction, but it is informed by real science. A team of brilliant (and hilarious) scientists and academics co-ordinated through the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC) workshopped the main storylines with our fiction writers (find all their names in the "Credits" tab; every single one of them deserves a trophy). We used a fascinating climate solutions simulator called En-Roads to validate our climate models (and got helpful insights from their team). And of course, my co-creators Chris and Simon spent endless patient hours with me helping me to understand the nuances of energy policy, geo-engineering and why it's unlikely that Bruce Willis could stop climate change single-handedly, despite what 90s apocalypse movies led me to believe.

Once we had the storylines in place, Lauren, Rajat, Maria and Sophia brought them to life with their articles from the future. If you don't want to play the whole game through, you can just click the "read the stories" button on the homepage and read them directly. There are some absolute gems! Read an obituary for Capitalism, a review of a floating restaurant in 2090, and a statement from a group of activists called Womb Riot who are sick of being the pregnancy surrogates for the super-wealthy on a nascent Mars colony. It was so wonderful working with all of them.

South African digital publishing powerhouse Electric Book Works did all the heavy lifting with web development and publishing (and like a bajillion other things), and are going to help us release a physical book version soon. Special thanks there to Arthur, Klara and Louise, who went above and beyond, and then beyond again. Annika Brandow and Karen Lilje are the reason the game is so beautiful, and Louis Greenberg and Wesley Thompson helped tighten up the language and test it. And there are even more people behind the scenes who helped us with marketing, play-testing, and so much else. Too many to name, but I'm grateful to all of you!

And of course, none of it would have been possible without the generous support of our funders: Climate Interactive and the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC).

You know that old proverb, if you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together? Well, it's bloody true. Every person who worked on this project pushed the game further that I could have imagined.

Making things alone is hard. Making things with other people is friggen delightful. This project took a long time, but every day of working on it was a joy. I hope that joy shines through, and that you enjoy playing it as much as we enjoyed making it.

Whatcha waiting for? Play the game!

Wishing you designer cooling suits, collaboration, and a 1.5°C world,

Sam