Oblivion: a Data-driven VR Game on Climate Change

May 2022 - July 2022
We explored ways of putting time in perspective to promote climate change awareness by leveraging temporal-spatial dimensions in VR. On this basis, we designed, tested, and developed a first-person perspective VR game, Oblivion, to demonstrate its potential to visualize what is invisible, enabling users to see and feel the time on the climate clock. Building on existing work on VR data visualisation and serious game regarding climate change, this study investigates how to translate real-world data into an immersive experience of climate change.
Problem Statement
Raising awareness about climate change is a challenging task because individuals often fail to recognize or realize the immediate effects of climate change due to the psychological distance between the impacts of climate change and the human mind.
Research Questions
Research Question
How does the immersive visualization of climate data influence the user’s perception and understanding of climate change?

Design Question

How can we translate real-world data into an immersive experience to visualize temporal-spatial dimensions of climate change in VR?
My Contributions
Concept planning, asset design, game development, desk research, conducting playtesting
In Visible Climate Change: Exploring Immersive Data Visualisation to Promote Climate Change Awareness in a VR Game. In Extended Abstracts of the 2022 Annual Symposium on Computer-Human Interaction in Play (CHI PLAY '22)
Data Mapping
We utilized real-world climate data of Tuvalu, a sinking island nation in the Pacific Ocean for credibility. These data are then mapped to various visual elements of the game to create the temporal and spatial dimensions of climate change.
Game Concept
Oblivion is disguised as an exploration game to keep the concept of the game secret for players to make sense of and create meaning of climate change at their own pace. The players are tasked with documenting the island’s experience by taking landscape pictures with a camera. During the last phase of the game, players discover the actual concept through the photo album - that the island is Tuvalu and that visible climate change effects have occurred throughout their stay on the island.
User Experience journey
Game Design
We designed and developed a first-person perspective VR game to promote climate change awareness. Oblivion is developed using C# on the Unity3D platform (version 2021.3.5f1) with the Oculus Integration SDK (41.0) and runs on Oculus Quest 2.
Creating a user interface for VR can be challenging because there is not a convention yet established for how users should interact with VR environments. Traditional UI elements, such as buttons and menus may not be intuitive to use in the immersive VR environment.

One approach to tackling this problem is to create onboarding material that guides the users on how to use the hand controllers. At the beginning of the game, we provide the onboarding information, which provides a clear understanding of how to interact with the virtual environment for a more seamless experience.
Additionally, throughout the UI designs, we placed clear visual cues to indicate how to interact with the UI and the 3D models, allowing the users to quickly understand and interact with the environment.
As we aimed to create an untethered VR experience for the Oculus Quest 2 device, we used low poly models and assets to ensure that the game runs smoothly on the device. I used Autodesk Maya for the key 3D elements such as the island and camera. For the less significant components of the project, I opted to utilize Unity assets. In this way, I created a balance between visual quality and performance, providing an engaging and immersive experience for users without compromising the game's performance.
Playtesting (n = 5)
The participants were first introduced to the game and asked to think out loud, that is, verbalize their thoughts while playing Oblivion. After experiencing the game with an Oculus Quest 2 device for 20 minutes, we conducted a semi-structured interview asking about their thoughts on the game concept and overall experience.
All the players succeeded in completing daily missions. Most of the players spotted relatively apparent changes like the change in color of the sun and sea level rise. However, no one managed to identify all the visual elements of climate change on the island and link them to climate change in the gameplay experience. All players reflected on the changing climate through an explicit before and after comparison using the photo album, commenting that it was surprising, and connecting their time on the island with real-world climate change was thought-provoking.
finding - GENERAL
Participants reported positive feedback on the visual and ambiance of the island, especially being able to hear the ocean waves and see flying birds. They reported the overall exploration part as a visually pleasing and fun experience and felt a sense of presence while playing the game.

In line with this, many participants suggested adding various features and interactions to enhance the experience, for example, allowing more functionalities on the camera. We plan to elevate the user experience by making the 3D space more information-rich and visually appealing by utilizing more diverse climate data and developing user interactions. As some participants mentioned motion sickness, we consider implementing longer breaks between each day and providing alternative modes of locomotion such as teleportation to keep players as still as possible and minimize movement and acceleration.
Next Steps
In the future, we aim to refine the current prototype according to user feedback.
  • Add more functionalities on the camera such as zoom in/out, selfie mode
  • Utilize more diverse climate data
  • Provide alternative modes of locomotion such as teleportation
Moreover, we will deploy qualitative methods to investigate our design question: How can we translate real-world data into an immersive experience to visualize temporal-spatial dimensions of climate change in VR?

Further research should be undertaken to address solid answers to the questions raised by this study:  
  • What is novel about VR in addressing the challenges of climate change awareness?
  • What are the uses and effects of affordances in VR games to visualize climate change?
  • What is the potential of VR as a persuasive medium to promote climate change awareness?
These important questions need to be addressed to build a more robust design rationale for making the game VR-based.