OBJECTION! Help us build a courthouse climate game where you sue the powerful

Joost Vervoort (@vervoort_joost) is an Associate Professor of Foresight and Anticipatory Governance at Utrecht University. His work focuses on where imagined futures, games, and politics, policy and action connect. Email: j.m.vervoort@uu.nl.

The Trilogy of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney (by Capcom)

Last Saturday (11 September 2021) I attended a strategy meeting organized by Fossielvrij NL, an organization led by three women — Liset Meddens, Hiske Arts and Marianna van der Stel — who have been working for years to try to get the Dutch pension fund for civil servants, ABP, to divest their billions of Euros of investments in Royal Dutch Shell. Since nothing else has worked to move this pension giant toward divestment, Fossielvrij NL is now working to build a lawsuit to take ABP to court to force them to divest from fossil fuels — see the crowdfunding page here. Their plans have been inspired by previous court victories against the Dutch government, and against Shell itself.

I am a member of this pension fund, with all of my colleagues at Utrecht University and across Dutch academia — and ABP’s failure to engage meaningfully with divestment frustrates me. I feel that I have the right to demand change, and so do many colleagues. And I feel that engaging with ABP on this topic is a pathway for change.

So when I listened to the plans of the ABP Fossielvrij team — and the many enthusiastic people who joined the strategy meeting (either in real life or online) I was thinking about ways to help contribute to this cause. The answer was, of course, a game.

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney and its connected series of Phoenix Wright and other Ace Attorney games represent a series of games that focus on solving courthouse cases. They offer hilarious and engaging storylines and unique game mechanics around smartly presenting pieces of evidence to beat your opponents in court. Lots of intense court theatrics and larger-than-life emotions are involved. The games are simple in presentation — lots of static screens and text — but powerfully engaging.

Intense accusations in Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney − Trials and Tribulations (2004)
As well as great insults in Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney (2007)

My idea: to make a Phoenix Wright-style game, but focus it on climate lawsuits against the powerful. Next to the two cases mentioned, such lawsuits are being tried all over the world.

This game will combine simplified but still realistic cases with the hilarity and intensity of the Phoenix Wright game style. Of course, the battle for the planet is intense and larger than life. So the fit seems perfect.

The game itself would do a bunch of things. It would make players familiar with successful court cases as well as areas where they run into challenges. It would give players some understanding of how such cases can be organized, and possibly increase their interest in contributing to such efforts, in one way or another. If the game is designed in a way that allows players to offer suggestions, it could even be way to collect ideas and strategies.

On top of this, I’ve proposed to make this a Kickstarter project where one part of the Kickstarter funds go to the development of the game, and the other part will be used to directly support the court case financially. This way, the game idea itself becomes a way to raise funds for the court case against ABP. After all, game Kickstarters can be pretty successful — people like investing in a game that they will be able to play later. The Kickstarter process itself would in turn be a nice way to make some noise more generally for the case.

Finally, this would be a super interesting case for the Anticiplay project. Because if it works, everything about this process — the game play, the Kickstarter aspect, the noise the process may make — represents what we are interested in as researchers in terms of the potential of games to contribute to sustainability transformations. This game and its development and marketing would all be intimately connected to real change in the world.

Of course, a game project like this needs support of all kinds. It needs game designers, programmers, and artists. It needs experts and those who have been or are involved in the court cases. It needs goodwill and funding. So, here’s the call to action! If you are interested in this project, get in touch via j.m.vervoort@uu.nl or via other channels such as our @anticiplay Twitter account or my personal account @vervoort_joost. And spread the word to people you think might be interested in this project!

Anticiplay is an NWO Vidi-funded research project that aims to establish a new design paradigm for the gaming sector in collaboration with CreaTures EU. You can find our mission statement here! Follow us @anticiplay on Twitter, and feel free to engage us with any questions, games that you think are inspiring, and anything else!




An NWO Vidi research project that explores how games can help imagine and realize sustainable futures - transforming governance and the game sector.

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