Iced Out: A Game of Climate Change

Zoe Samuel
7 min readMar 22, 2019
Roberto Araya Barckhahn via Wikimedia Commons

This is game I came up with, designed for workshops or group sessions. The game illustrates how climate change can cause extreme weather events that floods and droughts, even those are opposing problems. It’s designed to help children in particular visualize the problem of climate change.



5+ plus the leader, known in this game as the Changer. Any number of players can join as long as they can fit seated in a circle.


  • A basket or bucket.
  • Foam balls. At least 2–3 per player, ideally more. Tennis, ping-pong, or any other small and conveniently-passed item may be substituted, as long as they fit in a single hand. They’ll be moving fast, so hard ones are not recommended.
  • A metronome or some other device to keep time (there is a phone app for this).
Good metaphor for what society is doing.


The Changer stands in the center and announces the five sections of the circle around her. These are:

  • Oceans and Seas
  • Towns and Cities
  • Deserts
  • Forests
  • Farmland and Grassland

All players sit in the circle, either on chairs or criss-cross applesauce, evenly distributed through the five sections.

All except Desert players receive one ball. Ocean players get an extra ball each. Desert players get one ball to share between all of them. The Changer keeps all the remaining balls in the basket. We are now ready to play.

More of this is coming our way…

How To Play

(Changer’s dialog is interspersed with italicized instructions for players.)

Changer: These balls represent all the water in the world. So we see here in the Ocean section, the water in the Ocean, which is mostly liquid, though some of it is frozen as icebergs. Here in the Towns and Cities, Farmland and Grassland, and Forests, the liquid water that is on land — all the water in the rivers, seas, lakes, and so on. Those of you sitting in the Desert section don’t have very much water. All the rest of you have at least some.

The Changer puts the basket with the other balls in the middle.

Changer: This basket is our glacier. It represents all the water that is frozen, locked up in ice sheets. Now, everyone hold one ball in front of you. If you haven’t got one, don’t worry, just wait for now. If you have two, put your second ball on your lap.

All do as instructed.

Changer: As you know, the water in the world moves around. The rivers flow. The oceans evaporate. The rains fall. To show this happening, everyone pass one ball to the person on your left.

Everyone passes.

Changer: These are the rivers flowing. Pass again.

All pass.

Changer: These are the rains falling. Pass again.

All pass.

Changer: These are the oceans evaporating. Pass again.

Do a few more passes as needed.

Changer: I’m going to start this metronome now. Once you hear it metronome start, you will keep passing to your left. You’ll make one pass for every click.

The metronome starts slowly, around 40 beats per minute (bpm). Desert players will eventually get a ball.

Changer: That’s how the water moved in our world throughout nearly all of history. Rivers flow, oceans evaporate, rains fall. Sure, you folks in the Desert don’t have much to do to start, but you do eventually get some water. But remember, our climate is heating up, and that means our glaciers are starting to melt. That means these extra balls here, all this water that’s locked up right now, is going to start joining into the game. When glaciers melt, the meltwater runs off them into the Ocean.

The Changer takes an additional ball from the glacier basket and gives it to the first Ocean player as she continues.

Changer: I’m going to start adding that meltwater right here in the Ocean. Now, we have one extra ball. Keep on passing, just one pass per click. You’ve got a bit more water in the Ocean right now, though, so those oceans are a little deeper now. That means sea levels have risen. Of course, the climate is hotter, so that means evaporation of our warm seas will be faster. So we’re going to speed up the movement of water around the planet. Keep on passing, one pass per click!

Changer adjusts the metronome to 50bpm.

Changer: Uh-oh! The climate is getting hotter. Looks like we’re going to have more icecaps melting. That means we’ll be adding water to the Ocean. Sea levels are going up!

Changer takes extra balls from the glacier basket and hands one to each Ocean player.

Changer: More water is in the ocean, which means more evaporation. If you find yourself with more than one ball, you can start passing two balls per click now if you want. To repeat, if you have two balls, you can pass one or two, whichever you prefer. You can see now that our Farmland and Grassland have gotten some extra water. That’s OK, maybe they needed a little more rain. Maybe there will be a couple inches of flooding. Maybe it’s a big storm. We can handle that, right?

The players keep passing on each click until they are handling it OK.

Changer: That’s about where we were twenty years ago. Slightly bigger storms. A little flooding. But uh-oh, now we’ve caught up to today. More ice is melting!

Each Ocean player receives an additional ball.

Changer: Evaporation is speeding up. The world is hotter. There’s more energy in the system. That means more rain. More storms. Bigger hurricanes.

Metronome speeds up to 60bpm.

Changer: Keep those passes going. If you have two, pass two! But oh no, we’re losing more ice!

Each Ocean player receives another ball.

Changer: If you have three balls, you may now pass one, two, or three, whatever you prefer. Hurry -warm water waits for no man.

Every few seconds, Changer should add one more ball into the mix, anywhere in the Ocean section. She will adjust the metronome to 72bpm. At this point players should start to struggle to pass on every click.

Changer: Things are speeding up. I can see Towns and Cities that are seeing three times as much water as they should be. I’m seeing water in the desert where it doesn’t belong. Keep passing — one, two, or three balls per click! Have you suddenly got four? Pass all four!

The Changer adds more balls and speeds up the metronome to 80bpm, then 90bpm, until players are really struggling. They will start dropping balls.

Changer: If you drop a ball, that’s OK, just leave it. It’s just a storm causing a big flood. We’ll have to handle that. Let’s hope we don’t get too many floods in our cities. The world is getting hotter, more ice is melting… we’re really in trouble now, look at all this extra water in our oceans! They’re rising high now.

At 100bpm, players will regularly drop balls. Changer should keep going until the whole game is a mess. Some players have no balls. Some have five or more. Some have one. Some of the balls have rolled off into other parts of the circle. Once this level of chaos is reached, Changer suddenly stops the metronome.

Changer: Freeze!

All players freeze. Changer then evaluates the room. She should adapt the dialog below to the situation that she sees.

Changer: Look around. You can see: there’s water where we don’t want any. There’s not enough water where we DO want it. There’s way too much water in the ocean and on this farmland here, but this town over here has just seen their faucets run dry! Here’s a flood, and there’s a drought.

And that’s how climate change works. It messes up a system that moves water around the world by adding too much pressure to the system. It doesn’t just mean that the water goes faster or that we get too much in one predictable place, though. You can see from our experiment, what we get are droughts, storms, floods, and rising sea levels. They’re all different types of problem, but they’re all caused by the same issue.

So now you understand that climate change affects different places differently. It may even affect the SAME place in different ways at different times; one year, your town has a drought, the next year, it floods. We can’t predict exactly how bad it will be or exactly when or where it will happen. All we know is that if we don’t stop raising temperatures and melting the ice, we’re going to have a great big mess on our hands.


If you give it a try and you like it, please do send your feedback. Thanks!