A staggering 71 per cent of the consumption-based emissions in the US are caused by individuals, and the average American citizen’s emissions amass to more than 14 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year. These statistics help demonstrate that climate change today is more in the hands of consumers than ever before. Governments play a role in the form of policymaking and taxation, but large businesses really only change their practices when consumers make their voices heard at the cash registers. In the eyes of economists, sustainability is an expensive undertaking. Therefore, consumer preferences need to change to encourage this economically daunting commitment.
Inspired to encourage sustainability, Swedish board game designer, Marcus Järgården of Gaard Games, set out to merge his passion for addressing climate change and creating (and playing) board games. The product of this is Tiny Footprint, a card-driven strategy game with an enticing array of playing styles. It’s part of a genre known as ‘cooperative games’ in which a maximum of six players work together to achieve an objective, rather than competing with one another to come out on top (it’s a design choice that also means the game can be played solo).
Players make choices about where they live and their types of lifestyle, all with an aim to become as sustainable as possible. For example, living in the countryside raises your transportation emissions, but decreases your consumption emissions. Lifestyle plays an important role in determining the difficulty of reducing your carbon emissions – for example, a ‘Recycler’ would find it easier than a ‘Sunseeker’.
At the start of each turn, every player gets a mission card (based around consumption, food, residence and transport) and is told their current level of emissions. Players then set out to take actions and use resources in such a way to reduce their carbon emissions to two tonnes per person.
‘The idea for the main mechanic in the game (the use of environmental missions to reduce carbon emissions) came from having read a scientific article about how different lifestyle choices are discussed in media and that there is a false equivalency made between smaller choices such as bringing a bag to the supermarket and becoming vegetarian,’ says Marcus when Geographical quizzed him on the background to the game. ‘There are three major lifestyle choices that impact our individual carbon emissions (plant-based diet, no flying, no car) in a substantial way and the other ones are fine but do not really have the same impact. After having read that a parent at my son’s school showed me a plastic bag that she rolled up in her purse and brought to the supermarket, saying she now felt really good about her trip to Thailand since they sort of cancelled each other out. So I wanted to explore that in the game. I hope that a player will learn about the mechanisms that make it hard to live sustainably even if you want to, some of the things that can be put in place to facilitate a more sustainable lifestyle and realise that if you cannot succeed with those big three it is going to be very difficult to reach the individual climate target.’
Marcus is no stranger to making these choices himself. ‘I worked in finance in London for most of my career, but when I hit 40 I started to think about what I wanted to do with the rest of my life,’ he recalls. ‘I thought about things that I am a passionate about and would be more meaningful for me to work on. Running my own company and sustainability were the two things that came up. I moved back to Sweden and first launched a kick scooter company with an emphasis on trying to get adults to use kick scooters for shorter commutes rather than cars.’
Unfortunately for Marcus this was just as the boom in electric rental scooters hit and so his first venture never really got into gear. ‘Looking back, one of the problems was that I am not really interested in scooters. I just thought it was a good idea to reduce car dependency.’ Board games, however were a different story. ‘I am a huge board game geek,’ he confesses, ‘so simultaneously with the scooter company I started to work on designing a board game around sustainability. I first launched a Swedish version in 2018 and now I have updated it and translated it to English and it is now live on Kickstarter.’
Tiny Footprint is already more than fifty per cent of its way to reaching funding on the crowd-funding platform, even though it has only been live for a couple of days. Backers can pledge to simply get copies of the game, unlock bonus content, or even – at the higher levels – have their own faces digitised to appear in the game’s components, forever enshrining them in interactive environmental awareness legacy. Backers can also take solace from the fact that every copy of the game backed via Kickstarter will see environmental group One Tree Planted will plant a single tree.
To pledge towards Tiny Footprint’s funding target, head over to the game’s Kickstarter page. Pledges can range from as little as £1 up to £45 for top-level backers. The campaign runs until 21 November.