Fortnite is an unprecedented, smash hit video gaming phenomenon – where the aim is to be the last person standing after a battle royale shootout on a magical island – and now scientists are tapping into its popularity to try and teach kids about climate change.
The new ClimateFortnite Twitch channel features what many a Twitch channel does: live streams of players fighting their way through rounds of Fortnite. The difference is, the audio commentary deals not just with Fortnite strategies and tips, but also with the consequences of our changing planet.
Credit for the idea goes to climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe from Texas Tech University, who tweeted about the disparity in viewing figures between her own climate change seminar on YouTube and her 11-year-old son's Fortnite stream on Twitch. Henri Drake, graduate student at MIT, took up the challenge, and ClimateFortnite was born.
"It builds a community where people can ask the hard questions directly to an expert," Drake told Emily Waite at Wired. "For a topic like climate change that is steeped in misinformation, direct access to experts is crucial."
"I had never streamed myself, but I'd been watching League of Legends on Twitch since about 2013 and had always thought about doing some kind of educational stream about climate science."
The channel now has 17 videos and counting, with Drake and his co-hosts discussing the finer points of climate change with other online gamers. From methane gas emissions to renewable energy, there's a lot of ground covered – both virtually on the Fortnite island and in terms of the topics discussed.
The clip above features NASA Earth Scientist Peter Griffith dropping in to talk carbon cycle and warming in the Arctic while Drake blasts his way through a few opponents on the Fortnite island: it's a good example of how the channel mixes gameplay with climate chat.
As well as seeing some high-paced Fortnite action, we also learn that the Arctic is warming faster and earlier than anywhere else on Earth, and how the thawing permafrost locked away in Alaska is increasing the level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
While viewing figures are relatively low for now, Drake and the other scientists working on the channel are hoping to attract a bigger audience over time. The channel is now available on YouTube too, and the very top Fortnite streams can attract hundreds of thousands of viewers.
Those viewers can ask questions via the real-time chat system built into Twitch, questions that Drake can put to whichever expert he happens to be chatting to – the channel is intended to be interactive as well as informative.
With its incoming storms and scavenging for resources, Fortnite sort of fits with the topic of climate change, but Drake is also experimenting with streaming games of Eco – a game specifically focussed on the careful management of natural resources.
And as well as highlighting some of the challenges and dangers of climate change, scientists on the channel also discuss some of the ways we can try and model it, mitigate it, and ensure the stable future of the planet.
If you're a fan of Fortnite or just science in general, we'd recommend tuning in.
"Scientists do a good job of communicating via traditional routes – talking to journalists and policymakers and writing op-eds," atmospheric scientist Andrew Dessler from Texas A&M University, who has been featured on ClimateFortnite, told Wired.
"But not everyone listens to policymakers or reads op-eds or follows scientists on Twitter. ClimateFortnite is a great way to reach people who don't get news from traditional sources."