The following is the established format for referencing this article:Keys, P. W., and M. P. Keys. 2022. Creating a climate changed future with the sea level rise interactive-fiction game “Lagos2199”. Ecology and Society 27(3):40.
ABSTRACTStory-based futures serve an important role in climate change scenario development. Stories are particularly useful in exploring sea level rise possibilities, since we know many coastal areas are specifically vulnerable to accelerating rises in sea level. This discrete change in coastline is different from most other climate change impacts, and offers a clear basis for scientifically informed, future scenarios. We demonstrated this with a creative world-building effort set in Lagos, Nigeria in the year 2199. Further, we employed story-based scenario development, and created a learning-oriented serious game that allows users to experience a future Lagos in an open-ended, text-based adventure style. This collaborative process blended scientific research, story-telling, and artistic co-creation to iteratively construct the game “Lagos2199”. A pilot-use case of Lagos2199 is documented herein, with preliminary survey results from the student users. We present two core insights. First, we demonstrate how scientific projections regarding sea level rise can be leveraged as an entry point for world-building and scenario development of the future. Second, we show that such a scenario can be transformed into an immersive, story-based serious game to creatively communicate possible futures. Providing the next generation of citizens with fluency in both climate change impacts and how society will interact with such impacts is critical for providing adaptive capacity over the coming decades and centuries of accelerating global change.
Climate change impacts to the Earth system will be far-reaching and consequential to every aspect of human society (Wuebbles et al. 2017, Steffen et al. 2018). Recognition of these impacts, however, has not led to a commensurate effort to educate future generations to understand and prepare for a new world (e.g., Gillenwater 2011, Monroe et al. 2019). Part of this challenge is due to the fact that climate change is becoming an all-encompassing reality with heterogeneous impacts globally (Vincent and Hamilton 2020). Temperature changes may increase dramatically or modestly, depending on the location of the planet and the season being considered (Dai 2012, Mueller et al. 2016). Precipitation and drought are also notoriously difficult to frame effectively, given that some parts of the world are likely to get wetter (Giorgi et al. 2011, Allan et al. 2020), while drought will get worse elsewhere (Fu et al. 2013, Findell et al. 2019).
Global increases in mean sea level will, contrary to other impacts of climate change, unfold more consistently around most of the planet (Kopp et al. 2019, Levermann et al. 2020). While the range of sea level rise scenarios is indeed quite wide (Church et al. 2013), the geophysical location of these impacts is concentrated along the relatively narrow area of land that will or will not be inundated (Hsiang et al. 2017, Hauer et al. 2019). Moreover, given that global humanity is concentrated in larger numbers on coastlines compared to inland areas, sea level rise is highly consequential for global economies, cultures, and political stability in the future (Rigaud et al. 2018, Bell et al. 2021).
Sea level rise visualizations are increasingly being used as both a vehicle for narrative experience and engaging participants’ interest in climate change. Stephens et al. (2014) identified the emergence of personal narrative construction in relation to the use of computer platforms that depict sea level rise. Building on this, Stephens and Richards (2020) found that conveying risk and uncertainty in purely quantitative terms may not be the most effective strategy, but that discovery via sea level rise projections enable better appreciation for conveying the nuances of sea level rise risks. Games have been widely used as a method of providing educational resources for learning about and practically working through climate change impacts and adaptation (Flood et al. 2018). Serious games, so-called since they are explicitly for purposes other than entertainment, have been used for increasing capacity among policy-makers as well as for stakeholder engagement (Wu and Lee 2015). A recent systematic review of serious games used in climate change adaptation provides a great deal of insight into the potential for games to advance stakeholder learning, engagement, and action (Flood et al. 2018). Serious games can effectively contain complex scientific information and enable simulated decision-making with this information (County of Marin 2016). This uptake can be a critical hurdle to achieving broader engagement on complex cross-disciplinary topics like climate change, which games evidently can address (Mendler de Suarez et al. 2012). There are also challenges to using serious games, including the length of the gameplay, the method of data collection (if any) about the user experience, and the balance between quantitative and qualitative game elements.
Many of these serious games are sophisticated, with many layers of interaction among players, and often have considerable facilitation components. Sterman et al. (2015) provide an example of a facilitated, climate negotiation game that includes participation and learning about the complexity of climate policy and responses. Rumore et al. (2016) underline the value of role-play simulations for advancing engagement in climate change action, and these findings are echoed in other work (Lee et al. 2013, Meya and Eisenack 2018). While both facilitation and group collaboration can contribute to important forms of collective learning, individual narrative games provide a parallel value of individual experience and agency. Reckien and Eisenack (2013) discuss the dominance of role-playing games in the field of climate change, though acknowledge the increasing role of online games. They highlight a need for games that focus on climate adaptation as much as mitigation. An example of such an online game is FloodSim (Rebolledo-Mendez et al. 2009), which is an interactive, online policy game that allows a user to explore flooding in the UK.
While some serious games are focused on teamwork and decision-making, narrative-rich, story-based games can also provide important contributions to climate change education (McComas and Shanahan 1999, Spoel et al. 2008). Storytelling-based scenarios have emerged as a key feature of futures thinking globally, ranging from industry to government to education (Rasmussen 2008, Sakakibara 2008, Milkoreit 2017). Specifically, science fiction prototyping has emerged as an effective vehicle for creating engaging and immersive visions of a future that is radically different from the present day (Johnson 2011, Burnam-Fink 2015, Merrie et al. 2018). Likewise, approaches such as the “Seeds of a Good Anthropocene” and the “Nature Futures Framework” employ creative scenario approaches that intentionally focus on trajectories toward a more sustainable future (Pereira et al. 2020a, 2020b).
Nuanced, complex, and sometimes contradictory pathways are critical to properly envisioning a future—particularly in parts of the world that are often depicted as a single story and in a negative light (Adejunmobi 2016). Science fiction has contested ideas of a globalized, Western design of the future (Csicsery-Ronay 2012). Particularly, African science and speculative fiction has emerged as a dominant locus of decolonial and endogenous ideas about African futures, thereby fostering robust debate and discourse (Hugo 2017, Thompson, 2017, Serpell 2019). In parallel with the contemporary recognition of the historical and topical depth of African science fiction is the present-day reality that many parts of West Africa are demographically the fastest growing and are among the most economically dynamic in the world (e.g., Rosling 2019). In particular, Lagos, Nigeria has emerged as a focal point for global ambition, economic development, and local narratives that contest Western perceptions of development (Hecker 2010, Shiru et al. 2020). For these reasons, situating narratives about future worlds, especially worlds that characterize local agency, is of paramount importance for adequately reflecting reality in climate change education (Pereira et al. 2018).
In this work, we leverage cutting-edge research on the long-term inundation caused by sea level rise in the Lagos region of Nigeria. Then, we use science fiction prototyping and other futures methods to generate an engaging, scientifically rooted story of the future of Lagos, informed by the latest projections of climate change (Brown et al. 2011, Fashae and Onafeso 2011, Croitoru et al. 2020, Shiru et al. 2020). We then transform the story into a text-based game, blending storytelling, visual art, and music to create an immersive experience about a future Lagos set in the year 2199, called “Lagos2199”. The first-use case of this game is described using a survey of students that had actively learned about sea level rise and climate change prior to playing the game.
We present two core insights. First, we demonstrate that scientific projections regarding sea level rise can be leveraged as an entry point for world-building and scenario development of the future. Second, we show that such a scenario can be transformed into a serious game to creatively communicate possible futures. We also discuss how the educational value and impact of Lagos2199 (as well as other games) could be studied, based on pilot survey data. The layout of this paper is as follows. We first describe the quantitative process of sea level rise projection to 2199, followed by a description of the methods for developing the scenario world. Then, we share the iterative process of developing the story, incorporating the game platform, designing character art, rendering conceptual environments, and identifying musical accompaniment. We next report on a pilot survey of the game’s first users. We discuss Lagos2199 in the context of climate change games, futures research, and art–science collaboration.
CREATING THE GEOGRAPHY OF A FUTURE LAGOS
Theoretical estimate of sea level rise in Lagos, Nigeria
First, we identify an inundation scenario that is consistent with an intermediate projection of sea level rise for 2200 (Sweet et al. 2017). While global mean sea level will not be precisely true anywhere because of relative differences in, for example, topography and bathymetry, it is a suitable proxy for a conservative estimate of sea level rise in low-lying areas such as Lagos, Nigeria (Kopp et al. 2014). Thus, using an intermediate scenario, we find that sea levels will likely rise by 2.8 m globally.
Locally, sea level rise will be experienced through high tide and annual flooding events. In Lagos, the average high tide is slightly less than 0.5 m above mean sea level (Melet et al. 2016). So, under an intermediate sea level rise scenario of 2.8 m, plus a regular high tide of ~0.5 m, the typically inundated area for Lagos in 2200 will be above 3.0 m. For the purposes of this analysis and simplicity in subsequent steps, we rounded the amount of change to 3.0 m by 2200.
We note that such a scenario of sea level rise corresponds to a relatively successful strategy of mitigating carbon emissions in the 21st century but not the most aggressive climate change mitigation path forward. The lowest projection of sea level rise associated with 2199 is 0.39 m, and the highest is 9.7 m (Sweet et al. 2017). While 0.39 m would change the coastline much more modestly, 9.7 m would be catastrophic and would likely be reached only with enormous meltwater pulse events, similar to the deglaciation during the transition from the last glacial maximum to the present-day interglacial (Deschamps et al. 2012, Brendryen et al. 2020).
Sea level rise visualization
We used Climate Central’s coastal risk screening tool (https://www.climatecentral.org/) to map inundation in the Lagos, Nigeria region (Kulp and Strauss 2019). These maps are a combination of (a) high-resolution satellite imagery (NASA JPL 2013), (b) existing sea level rise analysis (Tebaldi et al. 2012, Kopp et al. 2014), and (c) proprietary sea level rise projections made available for educational and research use (Strauss et al. 2012). We used the Climate Central inundation map to reveal both the current coastline of Lagos (Fig. 1a) and a projection of sea level rise in Lagos based on the theoretical rise of 3 m (Fig. 1b).
While the Climate Central map for 3 m of sea level rise demonstrated profound inundation of the Lagos region, we were not able to effectively export the web-based map for use in the Lagos2199 game. Thus, we complemented the Climate Central spatial estimate of inundated areas with a simple analysis based on a digital elevation model (DEM). We used digital elevation data that are based on the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission with information at the 90-m resolution (NASA JPL 2013). In this DEM, the data indicated the height above (or below) sea level. This information is depicted in software with colors corresponding to different elevations. Fig. 1c shows the current coastline of the Lagos region.
Our sea level rise map for the Lagos region was produced by changing the symbology in QuantumGIS (i.e., QGIS, a freely available geographic information system software) to indicate that water started at the 3-m elevation level in the DEM rather than at zero (Fig. 1d). While this is a straightforward and somewhat simplified approach, the map that was generated is nonetheless very useful for showing which present-day cities and areas of the Lagos region may be underwater in an intermediate projection of sea level rise (Sweet et al. 2017). Likewise, it is possible to see the profound change simply by adjusting this color scheme in the DEM, and to provide a new sense of which areas on dry land are inhabitable and which areas will be more or less permanently underwater. This simple, straightforward approach allows us to use spatially georeferenced data layers that are readily available (e.g., locations of cities, roads).
Cross-check between Climate Central and GIS-based estimates
By comparing an overlay of the Climate Central estimate of sea level rise and the simple DEM-based estimate, we found high correspondence (Fig. 1e). While there was some disagreement, particularly in low-lying portions of western mainland Lagos city, the pattern and extent of inundation was highly consistent. Thus, we have high confidence in the base map of the Lagos region, as well as the future map associated with 3 m of sea level rise (Fig. 1f).
Map of Lagos present day versus 2199
The map presented in Fig. 1 illustrates how profoundly Lagos will be transformed with 3 m of sea level rise. Using QGIS, we were able to depict this change with the dark blue colors corresponding to presently inundated area, light blue corresponding to newly inundated area by 2199, and green corresponding to areas above the hypothetical 2199 high tide.
Between the present day and 2199, the Lagos Lagoon is transformed into Lagos Bay. In the present day, the entry to Lagos Lagoon is a clear waterway between the southwest area of the Lagos Port and areas on the eastern side, such as Eko Atlantic, Victoria Island, and Lagos Island. In the future, the channeled waterway forming an entry into Lagos Lagoon becomes a fractured coastline of semi-inundated areas. The areas of Victoria Island and Lagos Island (center of the south-facing coastline) now appear to be open water, though would likely be marshy, highly vegetated areas. Likewise, after 180 years of sea level rise, this region may be unnavigable due to changed and collapsed infrastructure in the region. Further into the lagoon, the western part of Lagos that contains Surulere, Festac, and other regions (left side of the map) are inundated almost entirely, forming a small bay. The other area in the region that is more transformed than most of the other areas is the Eti-Osa peninsula in the southeast (center to the right side of the map). Administrative areas such as Lekki, Eputu, and others have been massively inundated by 2199.
While it is possible to use existing spatially georeferenced data layers in a GIS analysis, we used the present locations of cities and major social focal points as suggestive rather than indicative of future locations. In other words, we allowed for the fact that in the next 180 years, the current structure of habitation and population will adjust to changing sea levels, while at the same time, recognizing that cities are remarkably persistent, despite enormous disasters and changes (McGranahan et al. 2007).
The setting, or world, for the Lagos2199 story was developed using a systematic, structured futuring approach, which was adapted for the specific purpose of generating a story from sea level rise-induced changes. The story creation process was iterative and generative, meaning that the relatively linear path shown in Fig. 2 is described with retrospective clarity. First, as previously mentioned, we used the modified DEM and existing spatial data on points of interest, cities, and other landmarks to learn what the new geography of 2199 could be. Using the map of the Lagos Bay in 2199, we focused on the transition of three major regions from the present to the future: Lagos becomes Eko City, Ikorodu becomes Ikorodu City, and Lekki becomes New Lekki City (red dots with yellow outlines, from Fig. 1f to Fig. 2a).
Second, we imagined how these three cities might appear in 2199, and we brainstormed how the ideas might be connected to one another in the future (Fig. 2b). Using the Futures Wheels approach (Glenn 2009), we looked for both logical and contradictory connections (Pereira et al. 2018) among the three main cities in Lagos Bay. This included identifying first-order details related to these future cities, such as the consequences of 200+ years of adaptation to climate change impacts and how physical infrastructure has (or has not) been successful in that adaptation. Moving outward, we described the interacting social, political, economic, and cultural reality of 2199 in each city. For example, what distinguishes Eko City in the future? It is the largest and oldest part of the region, and this informs the cultural and social role that it plays. This means that part of its adaptation has been to focus on the connectivity of its historic architecture and arts. Comparatively, the progressive inundation of the Eti-Osa peninsula over 200 years has continually remade New Lekki such that it has emerged as a dynamic and changing metropolis.
The Three Horizons framework was then used to explore “patterns of innovation and change through a systems lens” (Curry 2015, Sharpe et al. 2016). The three horizons were the present world, a transition period, and the future world (i.e., the target time period of the story) (Fig. 2c). We used the Three Horizons framework to situate the three cities in 2199 (at the fully realized, third horizon) and to design a future history characterized by systemic changes that propel the entire region. Working backward, we identified how the world has transformed from the present day to the hypothetical future world. We then focused on three specific intersections in this future world, where the first, second, and third lines intersect. The three intersections were as follows: (a) in the mid-late 21st century, Nigeria develops cutting-edge biotechnological tools to mitigate carbon emissions, (b) a glacial meltwater pulse event leads to catastrophic sea level rise at the end of the 21st century, and (c) in the early 22nd century, the three cities that comprise Lagos Bay become independent from the Nigerian national government.
Navigating new social-ecological geographies
Based on the structured futuring procedures, we revised the map of Lagos2199 and identified the core idea of the story. In this case, the story centered on a water taxi operator who ferries people around Lagos Bay, to reveal how things have changed in the future owing to climate change and more. With an emergent sense of the future of Lagos, the nascent story, and a sense of how the history has unfolded, we focused on key waypoints throughout Lagos Bay. We made sure each waypoint served a specific narrative goal and illustrated a particular climate change or sea level rise feature (Table 1).
We briefly describe how three of these waypoints provide a glimpse of a changed set of social-ecological systems and geographies in Lagos Bay. First, Eputu Town has been transformed from a suburban community in the middle of the Eti-Osa peninsula into a sprawling, now-coastal city of climate refugees. The socially progressive management of the community has made it a magnet for people throughout West and Central Africa who are seeking a new start. Second, the Ekoatlantic ruins have been transformed from a land reclamation and luxury construction project into a lawless, half-submerged swampy ruin. The proximity to Lagos Island (which is the site of a regional battle, circa 2100), makes the region a restricted zone. Third, Bat’s Mouth is a 22nd century illicit marketplace that exists within the genetically modified colossal mangrove forest. The forest itself dates from the late 21st century and represents the Nigerian and Lagosian contribution to climate mitigation via large-scale biological carbon sequestration. The colossal mangroves grow to enormous size by continuously sequestering carbon among the deep, dense root network. Importantly, all the waypoints in Table 1 are intertwined in a complex web of history, ecology, and people moving throughout the bay and the broader world. The game itself could be viewed as a vision of a future urban social-ecological system.
Main and supporting characters
Considering the entire set of waypoints detailed in Table 1, we began developing the story that occurs throughout Lagos Bay. Given that the main character in this scenario is a water taxi operator, we decided that the story should unfold in a way that makes logical sense from the perspective of somebody taking passengers around the bay. As such, the sequence of waypoints featured in Table 1 is in the same order in which they are encountered in Lagos2199. Thus, beginning with Eko City, the story proceeds clockwise around the exterior of Lagos Bay before concluding in the interior of the bay. The development of the story plot was iterative, and early versions of the story involved a more complex navigation of the bay. However, given that the central character in this story is a water taxi operator who is navigating around the bay, we wanted to avoid duplication of locations within the story, and to provide the maximum exploration possible within a single day.
As the geographic and world-building of the scenario became clear, so did the supporting cast of characters that the water taxi operator encountered during the story. These characters helped propel the narrative forward, provided information about the world, and motivated the action and events of the story. Table 2 shows the specific characters that are picked up and dropped off around Lagos Bay, and emphasizes the narrative role they play in the story.
Build story beats and write story
The world-building, the waypoints defined by the geography of Lagos Bay, and the characters the water taxi operator might encounter all provided the scaffold for writing the story. We created the outline of the story by defining the core “story beats” that would help distribute the events of the story, where and how the characters interact with the water taxi operator, and how to provide a satisfying story experience. This helped shape the arc of the game narrative and ensured that the text effectively delivers on the primary goal of the story. The following is a brief overview of seven key story beats, which begin in italics:
- Once upon a time, there was a normal water taxi operator in Lagos Bay.
- Every day, the water taxi operator would perform this uneventful job while trying to avoid dangerous areas, like Old Lagos and the Bat Forest.
- Until one day, the water taxi operator happens to be assigned a very fancy boat, which is out of the ordinary.
- Because of this, the taxi operator can travel much farther around the bay, and has a string of unexpected passengers that know information about the Bat Forest.
- Because of that, the taxi operator becomes tangled up in a mystery involving Old Lagos, biotech, and the dying Bat Forest, with a drone technician and a gene edit dealer.
- Until finally, the taxi operator winds up solving the mystery of why the Bat Forest is dying.
- Ever since then, the taxi operator has a deeper involvement in what happens in Lagos Bay and a greater awareness of their role in things.
This list of story beats then provided the framework around which the story was woven. To be very clear, while the description that is conveyed in this article suggests the entire process was directed and linear, the writing process was an iterative loop of drafting, testing in the Twine game software (see Game design), experimenting with music and art, and returning back to revising the story itself.
The full text of the story is available in Appendix 1. We emphasize, however, that certain aspects of the story leverage the fact that the users themselves must interact with the story by making choices, all while seeing the visuals and hearing the game music. Thus, the text is most effectively experienced in the game context.
Make it weird
Finally, the story was examined for how well it managed the tension of remaining realistic while also being strange. Following Dator’s second law of futures research, “any useful statement about the future should at first appear to be ridiculous”, we aimed to imagine a world that has elements that are wholly different from the present (Dator 1993, 2019). At the same time, certain features of the present may be too permanent or unchangeable to convincingly transform (O’Neill 1981). Thus, we aimed to balance the story to push the limits of what is believable or possible while not going so far as to have the reader disengage. It is worth noting that this is not a process of science fact prototyping but science fiction prototyping. In this case, with a world that is 180 years in the future, it was critical to make certain aspects of the technological and socio-political world very strange. Thus, some elements took on a fantastical component, including the following:
- The Ikorodu government is managed by an Artificial General Intelligence,
- West African governments are different from present-day geopolitics, including Lagos Bay, which is a city-state autonomous from the Nigerian national government,
- Climate change has led to migration crises from Europe to Africa, and
- Humanity has colonized the inner solar system, including orbiting colonies around Mars.
These aspects are definitely fictional yet also theoretically or scientifically plausible. Given the far time frame in which this story is set, sufficiently capturing the potential for strangeness is critical (Dator 1993, 2019).
The game development was, necessarily, highly iterative. Originally, the game was planned to be a multi-branching story, such that the water taxi operator could go in nearly any direction within Lagos Bay. However, this was halted, given that such a game would not permit a common user experience or a structured exploration of the game world. A key goal of the game development was to foster a common user experience in terms of both the storytelling and the exploration of climate change impacts on the region. Thus, a single-path story was developed, with minor branching elements.
Lagos2199 Art and Music
Given the goal of creating an immersive game experience, significant effort went into the development and creation of unique artwork for Lagos2199. Characters were drawn digitally, which provided visual anchors for each of the personalities that the water taxi operator encounters (Fig. 4). For additional information on the character design process, see Appendix 2.
Using photographic material that is in the public domain or under permissive Creative Commons licenses, we also created artwork to accompany the story. Thirty-eight pieces of concept and environment art were developed for the final game. This art is available in Appendices 3 and 4, which include corresponding photographic references, the source artist’s name, and the relevant license governing the use of each source. Four examples of the types of environment and concept art used in the game are shown in Fig. 5.
The story was complemented by music from the open access Free Music Archive, which is a database of freely available, creative commons copyrighted music. Songs were selected to accompany the different locations around Lagos Bay to match the situation in the story, dramatic tension, and tone. All songs were used in a manner consistent with the individual Creative Commons licenses associated with each song. The full list of songs, artists, and individual licenses is available in Appendix 5.
Given that the game would be played on the web, it was necessary to have the game assets (e.g., artwork, music) also available on the web. Thus, a web server was set up using a free website, and all game assets were loaded onto this website. In this way, the Twine game could reference the assets on the dedicated web server from anywhere in the world and without having to download anything to a local machine. In the case of Lagos2199, the Wix web platform was used to host the data for the duration of the project.
The final game is freely available at https://climate_futures.itch.io/lagos2199, and we encourage you to explore the game for yourself. Gameplay requires about 30–60 minutes, depending on how long one takes to navigate the various pathways. The game itself is released under a Creative Commons License Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0). This license permits users to share and adapt Lagos2199, providing they provide attribution to the creators.
PILOT-USE CASE OF LAGOS2199
Preparation and approval for documenting first-use case
This game was piloted in an advanced undergraduate (i.e., 3rd and 4th year students) course on sea level rise at Colorado State University. The course is not required for any degree or major, and the students in the course originate from departments across the university campus, which necessitates a broad and interdisciplinary approach to education. The students are primarily from the United States, but demographic information beyond that is not disclosed. The primary learning objectives for the course are (1) assess the physical basis for sea level rise, (2) interpret and use sea level rise projections to articulate potential policy responses, (3) discuss ethical implications of sea level rise from cross-disciplinary perspectives, (4) assess how future sea level rise projections will impact different geographic and economic regions, and (5) explore sea level rise from the perspective of the humanities, such as art, poetry, fiction, and film.
The educational goal of Lagos2199 was specifically to foster imagination and visualization of the future of Lagos, Nigeria under conditions of climate change and sea level rise. Thus, a survey was administered to understand whether the game effectively delivered on this goal. In order to conform to ethical norms in research, the survey questions and methodology were submitted to and approved by the authors’ Institutional Review Board. All relevant ethical guidelines were observed, and the user responses were (and remain) anonymous. In total, 15 participants were invited to provide feedback on the initial game; 12 of those respondents provided feedback and user data. None of the user responses contain identifiable information, nor are they publicly available, except as presented in this article.
Volunteer participants were individually instructed to play Lagos2199, and at the end of their version of the game, there was a link to take a survey. The link took each participant to a Google Forms-based survey. The survey questions included a Likert scale ranking of agreement with four different statements, as well as open-ended questions to gather additional thoughts and reactions. For the Likert scale questions, participants were encouraged to rate their level of agreement with the statements on a scale from 1 to 7, with 1 corresponding to “strongly disagree”, 4 corresponding to “neutral”, and 7 corresponding to “strongly agree”. The survey is available in Appendix 6.
The number of survey respondents was not large enough to draw generalizable conclusions. We report the results as indicative of user experience, and as a basis for future exploration of both broader pedagogical methods and potentially game redevelopment. The results of the survey indicated that the Lagos2199 game was broadly effective at improving students’ ability to visualize and consider sea level rise in Lagos, Nigeria. First, most students disagreed with the statement that prior to playing Lagos2199, they could easily imagine future life in Lagos (Fig. 6a). After playing the game, most students agreed that they could (now) easily imagine future life in Lagos (Fig. 6b). Second, most students agreed that the story in Lagos2199 effectively conveyed climate change in Lagos (Fig. 6c). However, one-quarter of respondents were neutral regarding this question. Third, most students either agreed or strongly agreed that the story was effective at conveying sea level rise in Lagos (Fig. 6d).
The survey yielded some negative results as well, notably that one student somewhat disagreed and two students were neutral regarding whether Lagos2199 was effective at conveying sea level rise impacts in Lagos (Fig. 6d). This represents one-quarter of the participants, and while most thought the game was effective (9 of 12 respondents), it is worth noting that there could be improvements to the communication of the sea level rise elements in the game.
In addition to the Likert scale questions, the survey respondents had an opportunity to provide open-ended comments regarding their experience of the game. When asked whether the game was “effective at conveying climate change in Lagos”, one respondent commented that “I think that for people with a basic knowledge and understanding of climate change will be able to understand it, but it might be harder for someone who doesn’t have that understanding.” This is important feedback because it illustrates that prior exposure to climate change education may be necessary to be prepared to imagine such a radically different future.
We emphasize two major caveats. First, the number of survey respondents was quite limited (N = 12); thus, broad interpretation is not justified. Our preliminary, indicative findings suggest possible future directions for both how to glean more insight from the user experiences and how to distinguish what aspect of the educational process led to particular learning outcomes. Second, the structure of the questions revealed what the student perceived as a change, but whether this reflects an actual change in their learning is debatable. A more rigorous set of questions, both in terms of number of questions and formatting, would be required to effectively triangulate actual changes in student learning. Likewise, future work could aim to distinguish between the learning effectiveness afforded by the class, the game, and a combination of the two.
Given that climate change education is being delivered among many universities, an opportunity exists to recruit collaborating climate change educators and share the entire curricular module on “Sea Level Rise in Lagos.” A much broader comparative effort could then be made to understand what aspects of this particular learning game are effective at improving student understanding regarding sea level rise dynamics, climate change adaptation, socioeconomic transformations, and imaginative inspiration (none of which the current version of the survey aims to accomplish). By understanding whether and how Lagos2199 is (and is not) contributing to understanding about the aforementioned topics, it is possible that subsequent climate games could be much more finely targeted at specific aspects of student learning.
Sea level rise is highly visualizable
The fact that sea level rise will permanently change the coastline is self-evident. However, the fact that very specific places around the world will be changed in relatively well-understood geophysical ways provides an opportunity to glimpse the future remarkably clearly. In this case, we explored the changed coastline of Lagos, Nigeria. While climate change is often discussed in terms of short-term policy time horizons (5–10 years) to medium-term strategic time horizons (20–30 years), we aimed to describe a future that is far removed from the present, which permits much more substantial cultural, technological, and Earth system changes. We selected 2199 because it corresponds to a time horizon where even modest rates of sea level rise will have led to substantial inundation globally and the transformation of many coastlines from anything they resemble today. Moreover, climate change will be a societal challenge for centuries to come. Sea level rise is a climate impact that provides an entry point for depicting specific geographic changes in the far future (> 100 years) with relatively high confidence. In this way, 2199 permits a visit to a transformed future world under relatively staid projections of climate change.
Regardless of the scenario that is used, the first-order impact of any sea level rise scenario is inundation of land and change in the coastline. We have demonstrated that one can use multiple existing sea level rise simulations and couple them with a direct analysis based on a digital elevation model of any location on Earth. Compared to most climate impacts, this is an unprecedented ability to peer into the future. Other story-based scenarios of sea level rise have directly employed this feature of sea level rise to develop a future coastline. In the novel “New York 2140”, Kim Stanley Robinson used the approach of identifying a new floodline (albeit improbable) in Manhattan (Billings 2017). Robinson said “If Manhattan is inundated by 50 feet—an amount unlikely but not impossible—you can look at topographic maps from the U.S. Geological Survey and see what would be underwater and what would still be dry” (Billings 2017).
Our work directly builds on this evidence that sea level rise mapping can be productively blended with immersive, narrative experiences to engage users on the topic of climate change. Moreover, the method we developed is ultimately rooted in public data on sea level rise, and could be replicated for any coastline on the planet for which sea level rise projections are available (which is nearly the entire global coastline). Thus, there continues to exist considerable future opportunities for employing a method of detailed scenario analysis based on scientific projections of sea level rise. Likewise, as a method for teaching and education, such scenarios allow students to explore specific locations, which subsequently permits a more direct understanding of sea level rise consequences to society and ecosystems.
The authors of this work reflect that these imaginative methods are inherently subjective. Specifically, the development of the story and the practice of creating a map-based game reflect the subjective interpretation of quantitative and qualitative data. As such, this work reflects dimensions of positionality (i.e., Western, non-Nigerian) and social privilege (i.e., scientists from a research university). The subjective imagination of future geography, albeit based on the objective projections of sea level rise and current geographic information, impose constraints on the game itself and the experience of the players. Participatory methods are, by definition, more inclusive and could lead to a greater diversity of viewpoints and perspectives. Future versions of the game would be improved by fostering local participation in story or game redesign. Nonetheless, while this narrative was written by two people, the ideas and inspiration were drawn broadly from both scholarly research on climate change and contemporary Nigerian writing (Abani 2018, Onuzo 2018, Okungbowa 2019).
Futures methods for sea level rise education
A central goal of this work is to show how a story-based fictional game could potentially improve the capacity of undergraduates to imagine a future radically unlike the present. This goal is related to other work that has employed story-based futures methods for educational purposes (Wu and Lee 2015, Abraham and Jayemanne 2017). Subsequent research could improve and deepen the user experience of Lagos2199 in multiple ways. First, the game itself could be made more complex with additional branching storylines that delve into deeper treatments of aspects of the game. For example, each waypoint could include additional options for exploring how that location has changed due to sea level rise, and the coincident social-ecological change. Second, the students could be empowered to develop their own immersive scenarios following the same sea level rise-based methods we have detailed.
Also, though Lagos2199 was designed for a specific class that is learning about sea level rise, to think more broadly about the future, the game could be incorporated into other types of coursework focused on climate change impacts, as well as courses focused on creative futures methods and climate fiction. There is also the potential for application outside academia. The game could serve as a platform for a community group trying to envision sea level rise and climate change, and does not need to be restricted to Lagos, Nigeria or even Africa. Stephens and Richards (2020) provide an approach to constructing a nuanced experience of sea level rise that manages to bridge global projections with local stories. Their method is based on the lived experience of the storytellers in the project. The Lagos2199 game mirrors this with the character encounters from the perspective of the water taxi operator.
It cannot be overstated how important it is to leverage multiple forms of media for engaging the world beyond academia to think more deeply about climate change. Education, especially with regard to climate change, must be perceived as more than a flow of information. Cultivating experiential, interactive opportunities that permit entangled emotional and intellectual engagement will be increasingly critical, especially as the anticipated future diverges ever more strongly from the past.
Feedback between artistic process and scenario design
The interplay between artistic creation and story development was neither linear nor isolated but rather multi-directional and iterative. The initial story design provided input to the character design, and vice versa. As an example, the Nigerian Coast Guard Officer began as a character that would simply allow the water taxi to explore the coastline of Lagos Bay. Then, as the broader scenario began to take shape and the importance of the character took on different aspects, the design and artwork changed to clarify the more sinister role the character served.
This iterative aspect is an important characteristic of scenario methods, particularly when trying to tether them to social aspects of the future (Raven and Elahi 2015). The importance of design is also a critical feature for understanding how individual and group norms can be tacitly embedded in perspectives of the future (Evans and Sommerville 2007). Moving forward, there exists a significant opportunity to more deeply engage artistic co-design in the development of sea level rise-based scenarios, and advance this effort more directly into design thinking curricula (Evans 2010).
Sea level rise will transform the coastlines of planet Earth in ways that are hard to imagine, within the lifetimes of children born today. We document a method that takes a projected change in sea level rise, explicitly models such changes on the coastline, and develops a novel scenario-based future through the creation of an immersive, educational game about climate change impacts. The resulting game, Lagos2199, is then explored in a preliminary survey of a pilot-use case.
While Lagos2199 provides a unique vision of a sea level rise future in Nigeria, we expect our methodological contribution to have broad implications for the field of story-based scenarios of sea level rise and climate change. First, sea level rise projections are publicly and freely available, and based on the methodology we describe herein, a baseline map can be developed for scenario analysis anywhere in the world and with basic GIS skills. Second, such a map is a fruitful starting point for story-based scenario design, particularly in the future beyond 2100, when sea level rise impacts are likely to be highly consequential. Such stories can be integrated into games, using free software and multimedia, to foster an immersive learning experience. Third, and finally, such story-based games can provide an important complement to existing climate change education programs, particularly those tasked with equipping students with a futures curriculum. Indeed, providing the next generation of citizens with fluency in both climate change impacts and how society will interact with such impacts is necessary right now for effectively responding to accelerating global change.
AVAILABILITY OF LAGOS2199
The final game is freely available and downloadable from https://climate_futures.itch.io/lagos2199. The game is released under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0). This license permits users to share Lagos2199, providing they provide attribution and do not use the game for commercial purposes. The individual artwork and music have individual licenses from the original creators, and are found in the appendices.
A considerable amount of information is available in the appendices for this paper, including the full text of the story, the 38 pieces of artwork in the game, a table of source material for the conceptual artwork with corresponding licenses, a table of music sources with corresponding licenses, and the original survey questionnaire.
RESPONSES TO THIS ARTICLEResponses to this article are invited. If accepted for publication, your response will be hyperlinked to the article. To submit a response, follow this link. To read responses already accepted, follow this link.
The authors acknowledge the feedback from Dr. Nathaniel Barnes, Nicholas Barnes, Micha Bennett, Dr. Matthew Bowers, Ryan Deming, and Dr. Craig Starger. The authors also express their gratitude to the anonymous students who participated in the study.
All data that were used in this work are publicly available for educational and research use. The sea level rise projections from Climate Central are available at https://sealevel.climatecentral.org/maps/. The digital elevation model topography data are available at https://portal.opentopography.org/datasetMetadata?otCollectionID=OT.042013.4326.1. The open access QuantumGIS Geographic Information System software was downloaded from https://qgis.org/en/site/forusers/download.html . The sources for the photographs and music are available in the respective Supplemental tables. The GNU Image Manipulation Program (GIMP) is available at https://www.gimp.org/. The Twine software can be downloaded from https://twinery.org/.
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Table 1. Summary of Lagos Bay waypoints, the relevance to the narrative structure, and the specific sea level rise-related (or climate change-related) feature that is highlighted.
|Lagos Bay waypoint
|Sea level rise feature
|Historical heart of region
|Persistence in the face of sea level rise
|Bureaucratic and administrative hub
|Technological adaptation for complex circumstances
|Technological advances despite climate change
|Persistent, adaptive slum
|Social dimensions of climate refugees and migrants
|Rebuilding following sea level rise disasters
|New Lekki Port
|Transit connection to Africa
|Adaptation to sea level rise and infrastructure collapse
|Hubris of the past
|Legacy of failure to consider long-term risks of sea level rise
|Atlantic Point Base
|Emergence of military governance during and after sea level rise
|Port infrastructure collapse
|Permanence and difficulty of dealing with old infrastructure
|Adaptive community and restorative economics
|Legacy of regional warfare
|Historic legacy of sea level rise and climate change conflict
|Local scientific advances to mitigate climate change
|N’etiti (Bat Forest)
|Religion merging with action
|Realignment of culture to make sense of existential crisis of climate change and sea level rise
Table 2. Overview of characters that the water taxi operator transports around Lagos Bay.
|Explain there is a problem in Lagos Bay related to dying Bat Forest
|Explain purpose of Bat Forest with regard to climate change mitigation
|Soy vat scientist
|Provide glimpse of possible scientific reason for dying Bat Forest
|Coast Guard officer
|Atlantic Point Base
|Explore the danger of scofflaws in the bay, as well as the tension between the three cities and the Nigerian government
|New Lekki Port
|Comic relief. Also, providing an outsider’s perspective for some of the sea level rise damage to the bay
|Atlantic Point Base
|Explain the Lagos War, and the ways technology has accreted around the bay
|Gene Edit dealer
|N’etiti (Bat Forest)
|Dramatic tension for the Third Act of the story, where the mystery of the sick Bat Forest and other things get resolved