Polar Eclipse a game for environmentalists
January 18, 2013
"Bananas travel great distances to make it to your breakfast table. Many have traveled up to 2,500 miles all made possible with fossil fuels. Eat your banana and heat up two spaces."
That is a small sample of what Parkite Lori McDonald has spent the past five years developing, the board game Polar Eclipse, which addresses climate change, the environment and engaging children to think about the world in a different way.
"My goal is to make children aware of the environment, climate change, things they may not have been exposed to before," McDonald said. "The object of the game is to make it into the future, to get cooler and cooler temperatures so that your species can survive."
Brightly-colored, interspersing photos from her travels with those from other Park city photographers, the games is marked with examples of renewable energy sources and wildlife. Using a giant grid with one axis for years and another for temperature, the game uses cards to move players forward in time to a sustainable future.
Whether prompting children to consider just how far their breakfast traveled to reach them or the amount of water a redwood tree requires on an average day, McDonald created the game for classrooms, a jumping off point into discussing environmental practices.
Special "Arctic Cards" also come with the game, corresponding to special squares on the board. Each card asks a question, with no right or wrong question. For example, one card asks "If you could be somewhere, anywhere, carefully observing an animal, what would you see? Paint us a picture with words," and another prompts players with "Old computers are piling up. What should we do with them? Add your idea."
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"I deeply care about the environment and I love kids," McDonald said. "I know there is so much information out there for adults, but I think it’s a good topic for kids in a casual way, in a way that is not so overwhelming and can feel hopeful about their potential impact."
Before McDonald created the game, she was an art teacher and a founding member of the Heber-based charter school, Soldier Hollow. Her daughter helped her to test the initial prototypes, a tiny board with makeshift pieces. After years of developing the game and showing it to teachers and parents for feedback, she decided to produce the first game board through an overseas company that uses recycled materials.
But she knew the game had potential when she saw a group of middle school boys playing it, each slow to start but quickly engaging each other on different talking points.
"They weren’t sure about it at first," she said, "but they ended up getting very engaged, playing and getting competitive. One was close to becoming extinct, and he was getting nervous. Whatever the subject, they were talking. Whether home energy or disposable diapers, I kept hearing them say, ‘Oh, I never thought about that.’ That was very rewarding."
Polar Eclipse was initially created to fit in elementary school and middle school curriculums for ages eight and up as an added tool for teachers discussing the environment and global warming. McDonald has pitched the idea to local schools with interested feedback and hopes to see the game used in more classroom settings.
Another expansion to her original idea is the concept of an app for smartphones. The app would appeal to a wider age range, from younger children to adults, and would allow for one player to move through the game.
"People walk away with ideas and knowledge they did not have before," McDonald said. "That was always my goal."
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