Design Theories

Simplifying or removing the context can enable players to process new information – even if it’s not in alignment with their existing biases.

In Thomas was Alone (Bithell Games), players take on the role of the first sentient AI seeking freedom. Players take control of a single block in a maze of other simple shapes and colors. The experience is deeply narratively driven, with a narrator assigning complex and dramatic meaning to simple actions taken by the two-dimensional shapes. By using abstraction, it hones in on the intended emotions in the play experience.

Climate change may be seen as inherently stigmatized in some circles. By removing many of the details that certain players may dispute or not believe, abstraction of experience allows players to still emotionally identify with in-game experiences that may be starkly different than their own.


  • Abstracted games break down highly complex situations. The simple and abstract are more easily understood from an emotional level, allowing players to connect to experiences or knowledge emotionally rather than logically.
  • If the player does not have a meaningful connection with the experience and/or does not recognize the design intent, players may not map the decisions they make in-game to what can be done in the real world. To mitigate this, consider opportunities to surface the underlying design intent – be it in-game or through community engagement (see Metagame). You can also consider leveraging Locality and Local Knowledge to partner with a local climate advocacy organization who can help translate the abstracted experience into specific, concrete real-world action they are already doing.

From the Environmental Game Design Playbook
– by IGDA Climate SIG