Seeing CO2 brings data visualisation into a game world to make infographics playable

The prototype by Extraordinary Facility allows players to drive around a virtual world discovering what gigatonnes of carbon dioxide might look like IRL.

10 March 2021


Seeing CO2 is an open world game prototype by design studio Extraordinary Facility that explores how intangible data on carbon emissions might be presented in a more relatable and interactive way. In the online game, players can drive around in a little blue van and explore a landscape populated with increasingly huge black cubes. Each cube is ten times bigger than the last, and represents a physical volume of carbon dioxide, from one tonne to a billion tonnes. Next to each cube is a render of a real-world landmark for scale, for example, the Eiffel Tower next to 100 kilotonnes of CO2, and Mount Everest next to 1 gigatonne of CO2. This seems all the more stifling given that, in 2019 alone, society pumped 35 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

“I read Project Drawdown a while back, which really stuck with me as a constructive, non-preachy way to just get on with the work of reducing our carbon emissions,” explains Extraordinary Facility’s Matt Brown on the impetus for the project. “It looks at all the approaches we currently have, and measures their potential carbon reduction in gigatonnes. I remember thinking I should probably be a bit better informed on how big a gigatonne actually is, and started sketching some ideas.”

By driving around the world and viewing the massive black cubes of theoretical CO2, the scale and pace of the virtual experience is designed to help players see and feel “how huge these emissions really are,” Brown continues. Although he doesn’t see it as a game, per se, “more like an article, or a public information piece, that just happens to exist in a game world. I could have done it in print, or as an animation, but given how dominant game worlds are in pop culture now, it felt more culturally relevant and potent to design it that way,” he says.


Extraordinary Facility: Seeing CO2 (Copyright © Extraordinary Facility, 2021)

Data visualisation has always been a huge part of gaming, Brown adds, but lately, game engines are being used more frequently in non-game contexts. “One big reason, as always, is the tools,” he says. “As things like Unity and Unreal become as common as Photoshop, we'll see more diverse ideas and experiments happening with them. One big influence on this project is the work of Isotype – what might Marie Neurath have created if she’d had access to the tools we have now?”

Extraordinary Facility is known for its fun educational projects such as The Tune Zoo, a music toy for iPad where you can learn about notation, scales and musical composition via cute animated characters (a development of its hilarious Singing Sock Puppets project) and Color Corral, a puzzle/action game that teaches colour theory. Brown also built a digital piggy bank for Pigzbe and worked with Google on a voice-based game show for the Nest Hub, hosted by Google Assitant.

This latest project, while still fusing learning and play, is a departure for the studio and so far just an experiment to dabble in ideas and approaches to work that might inform its future work. Meanwhile, Brown concludes, “if someone somewhere has fun playing with it, and walks away a tiny bit more informed, there’s no better reward. If the kids are going to save us, we’d better do our best to help them”.

Play Seeing CO2 here.

GalleryExtraordinary Facility: Seeing CO2 (Copyright © Extraordinary Facility, 2021)

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Extraordinary Facility: Seeing CO2 (Copyright © Extraordinary Facility, 2021)

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Jenny Brewer

Jenny oversees our editorial output across work, news and features. She was previously It’s Nice That's news editor. Get in touch with any big creative stories, tips, pitches, news and opinions, or questions about all things editorial.

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