Geek Heresy and EarthGames

I’ve recently started reading a fantastic book on a friend’s recommendation called Geek Heresy: Rescuing Social Change from the Cult of Technology. The book takes a look at the culture of technology in human society, with the premise of delving into how technology came to be so highly-regarded as a tool for social change and why this view can be problematic. I’m only one chapter in, but Geek Heresy has already got me thinking about what is likely a central theme: technology does little for social change without the right people to support the change.

Over the weekend, I helped represent EarthGames UW at the second annual Seattle Youth Climate Action Network (Seattle Youth CAN) Summit. During the lunch hour, we let the eager high-schoolers explore some of the games that EarthGames designed over the past year. We followed this up with an activity-packed hour where we guided a dozen students in developing a concept for their very own environmental game!

The event ended up being the highlight of my weekend. I met a young woman who had already designed her own game about pollution using HTML/Javascript, and within the hour-long game jam, we already had a game concept down (tower defense style game about overfishing)! I got to meet a bunch of really smart kids that were excited to bring about environmental change.

Now, you might be wondering why these two pieces are in the same blog post. Throughout the event, I kept thinking back to Geek Heresy and how these games are like the teaching tools presented at the beginning of the book. While EarthGames UW was founded on the motivation to teach people about climate change and the environment, the games that we make are just as likely to see the same downfalls as the laptops-in-the-wall presented in Geek Heresy’s first chapter — a lack of mentoring or guidance means less effective or a complete lack of social change.

I’m glad that EarthGames is taking on more opportunities to engage with youth with games and game design. There’s a lot of potential in using games to engage with the public, and even more in using game design to let the public engage with us and each other. I hope EarthGames will continue to foster collaborations with engagement groups to enable change in our society. If I get the chance (and time!), I hope to be able to foster these collaborations myself.

What do you think is essential for social change? How do you go about engaging your community? Let me know in the comments section!



Back from ComSciCon 2016!

It’s been a while since I got back from ComSciCon 2016 in Boston, but it feels like I’m only just getting back into the groove of things here in Seattle.

Being surrounded by so many people dedicated to science communication was incredibly inspiring. Among the attendees and experts, there were artists, animators, film makers, writers, and more.

I learned from people who blended science research with environmental advocacy, who did field research for nature documentaries, who turned their passion for science and drinks into a career of science festivals.

I met others who were stoked about science in games and I hope we’ll carry that enthusiasm into more collaborations!

And of course, I reaffirmed that being in academia is not the only option, and even being a full-time researcher is not the only path to being a successful scientist. Mixing science and science communication may be the path less traveled, but the professionals I met at ComSciCon showed that it’s certainly possible. Success will come with lots of networking and putting my work out there, listening to what is needed in the science communication world, and carving myself a niche that is both fun for me and fits the needs.

After attending ComSciCon, I want to bring that inspiration here, so be on the lookout for the awesomeness of ComSciCon to hit the Pacific Northwest!!

ENGAGEing graduate student research talks coming to Town Hall Seattle!

I’ve had the excellent opportunity to be participating in University of Washington’s ENGAGE seminar this year. I encourage you to look around their website, but in short, it is a science communication seminar aimed at giving science graduate students the skills to translate their research into a form that is digestible by a general audience.

To show that we can “walk the talk”, so to speak, we will be giving twenty-minute presentations at Town Hall Seattle. Topics this year range from the ethics of social media data to bio-engineered crops to alien life within Arctic glaciers!

I’ll be presenting my research on dam management, and how math and statistics help both human society and rivers have the water they need even as fresh water becomes more scarce. Be sure to be at Town Hall Seattle on May 12 if you want to hear my talk, but talks will be happening throughout March, April, and May. More details to come soon!

ENGAGE Seminar Blog

I’m currently enrolled in a seminar on science communication called ENGAGE, and it’s been incredibly informative! The goal of the seminar is to teach graduate students how to effectively communicate their scientific research to the general public. It culminates in a presentation at Town Hall Seattle! Dates are to be determined, but be on the lookout for exciting and accessible talks in a few months!

In the meantime, I did a guest blog for the seminar, which you can find here. While I focused on relating the class assignments to my recent board game exhibition, the same lessons applies to scientific presentations as well. There is only so much time in a presentation, so a real challenge is how to pack everything you want to say into an engaging package without skimping on details? Often in scientific presentations, the temptation is to cram every detail in; after all, we don’t want to misconstrue any aspect of our work, right? Unfortunately, when we do that, our audience only gets the sense that there’s a lot of details, and really loses sight of the story.

I recently gave an hour-long presentation to an audience of quantitatively-focused professors and students. Generally, this crowd appreciates seeing the details behind mathematical models, so at first I thought, “Hey, there’s this really cool method that I’m incorporating, and I should talk in-depth about it so others can appreciate how cool it is too!” Upon further reflection though, I realized that my story wasn’t really about this cool method. It was how I used this cool method to show an even cooler framework for solving a central conflict in dam management – namely, how do we allocate fresh water so that human society can benefit from rivers, without drastically harming the river itself? In the end, I cut most my discussion of the “cool method” and focused on the “cool story” where the “cool method” was a supporting actor.

The result? I got to talk about the “cool method” without it interfering with the overall “cool story”. For the people that were interested in the math, I offered up a novel tool. For the people that were interested in dams and applications, I offered up a success story for an incredibly challenging problem. By dialing back on the accuracy just a bit, I was able to engage my audience a little more, and everyone ended up winning.

Success at the Smithsonian!

AdaptNation won 3rd place in the “Open” category of the Climate Game Jam, and the design team (Rachel Lee, Rob Thompson, and myself) were invited to showcase the game at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. It was exciting to engage kids and adults alike in playing AdaptNation and talking to them about the impacts of climate change! While playing the board game, visitors learned about how scientists forecast wildfires, what ocean acidification means for humans, and much more!

After the major successes at the Smithsonian, our team is preparing to ramp up development and play-testing! If you’re interesting in following our development and doing play-testing, contact us at! Until then, feel free to look at the work in progress here.

Climate Game Jam

Over the last weekend, I participated in a National Climate Game Jam. What is that, you ask? It’s an intense 48-hour event where participants are tasked with creating a game from scratch that teaches people about climate change! The world is experiencing warming at an unprecedented rate. As a result of increased carbon emissions, we are a point where climate change prevention is no longer possible. Rather, we must be ready to adapt to the impacts of climate change, and this was the theme of the game jam.

As part of a three-person group, we designed a cooperative board game called AdaptNation, where each player controls their own city and players must work together to manage their supply of power, water, and food to adapt to more frequent and severe environmental events (drought, wildfire, and ocean acidification, etc.). The game starts out relatively tame, and players are able to cope with the impacts of climate change without much trouble. However, as the game progresses, the impact of climate change on their resources will grow, and players will be forced to cooperate with their neighbors, or else fall into debt. Even then, players will have to plan and prepare carefully if they are to adapt to the new climate reality of AdaptNation.

For more information, check out the video below!