Code:Red – a digital alternate reality game to tackle the climate crisis

by Daniel Lambton-Howard | Oct 27, 2021 | Events

In support of the Planet:Red Summit, Code:Red was a week-long, digital alternate reality game that took place across the internet and across the globe. During the game, around 780 players came together on an online forum, sharing over 1,100 messages in order to crack codes, solve puzzles and reveal the mystery at the heart of this innovative game. 

But this was a game with a twist, although plenty of fun was had, the game had a serious heart, and a serious mission. Through playing the game players engaged with the realities of the climate crisis, and gave their own thoughts and perspectives on how the climate crisis has affected their local communities. Over 100 first hand testimonies from 30 different countries were made during the game painting a picture of how this global crisis manifests locally.

A page from Professor Hernandez’ personal Notebook allows players to look for clues in a recent IFRC Climate-related report The Cost of Doing Nothing

Furthermore the game acted as a catalyst for the proposal of groundbreaking innovation projects, submitted during the game, all geared towards local innovation to tackling the crisis.

But where did this game come from? And how was it made?

Luckily for this, we had a weight of joint experience with our ongoing collaboration with Open Lab, Newcastle University in designing games for engaging with complex topics. In 2017 we jointly ran WhatFutures, an innovative forecasting game about the future of humanitarian need, played entirely through WhatsApp. And in 2019 we created the world’s first digitally immersive humanitarian escape room Escape To the Future at the 2019 General Assembly.

From these, we had learnt valuable lessons around how to create interesting and entertaining games that engaged a large audience in discussion of complex humanitarian issues. So the natural thing to do was to combine this learning into something new. A digital alternate reality game, played online, aimed towards sourcing innovative solutions to tackle the climate crisis.

Code:Red had a rich story that involved players unearthing a mysterious forgotten AI project and working with the AI and each other to gather youth voices on climate change. Along the way is saw players decoding cryptic messages spread across social media and the web; coordinating with each other to crack clues spread across different locales and languages; “hacking” webcams to receive coded messages, completing an 8-bit video game called Solar Scramble, communicating with an AI; tracking down a missing professor, and working together to take-down a mysterious organisation with nefarious intent.

Overall, the game generated valuable insights to inform the IFRC’s stance on tackling the climate crisis and tremendous excitement and engagement from its players, whose dedication and passion for solving the Code:Red mystery and cracking the codes, is a testament to the power and tenacity of the movement’s youth volunteers.

Meet the players

Discover the forum where the game happens and learn more about the Red Cross and Red Crescent wonderful people

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