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A PC web-based transformational card game to promote a broader conception of sustainability among the CMU community, with a specific focus on engaging students.
I am responsible for proposing the game concept, designing game play loop,  writing game design documents, conducting playtest and UI programming in Unity. 


Game Designer

& UI Programmer






Jan 2022 - May 2022

Team Size




Many online materials about Sustainable Development Goals are stagnant and people find them lack engagement and interactivity. How might we make the process of learning more exciting and story-driven?


We created a web-based card game about the Sustainable Development Goals about managing a fictional city while being sustainable.

End Result

Promoting Sustainability:
A Card Game for CMU Students

Over the course of 4 months, I worked on a PC web-based transformational card game to promote sustainability awareness among the CMU community, particularly students. The project aimed to encourage players to acknowledge the broader concept of “sustainability”, adopt sustainable behaviors and make environmentally conscious choices in an engaging way. 
The game was well received, and our team was interviewed by CMU News. The interview was published on the CMU website and helped to further promote the game's message of sustainability awareness.

Project Background

01 Client Needs

Our client, the Director of Sustainability Initiative, was looking to develop a game that would allow the CMU community to learn about sustainability. The game needed to emphasize the broader conception of sustainability, as defined by the Global Goals. In order to achieve this, the game would need to be engaging and informative, while also promoting sustainable behaviors and values. As a designer, my role was to create a game that met these requirements and helped to achieve our client's goals.

02 Sustainability

What is the broader concept of sustainability?

When talking about sustainability, people often think of environment and resources. However, the broader concept of sustainability refers to the idea of achieving a balance between economic growth, social well-being, and environmental protection in a way that meets the needs of present and future generations. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were created to help achieve this vision, by providing a universal set of 17 objectives for sustainable development. These goals were developed through a global consultation process that involved millions of people from around the world and were adopted by all countries at the United Nations in 2015.


03 Setting Expectations

Our game was designed to promote personal growth and transformation in players by creating an immersive and engaging experience that went beyond traditional forms of sustainability education. Specifically, we hoped to see transformations in four key areas: knowledge, disposition, behavior, and society.


Knowledge transformation refers to players learning something new about sustainability and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), such as the interconnections between different goals or the impact of certain behaviors on the environment.

Disposition transformation involves players experiencing a shift in their emotions or attitudes towards sustainability, such as feeling more motivated to take action or more connected to the natural world.

Behavior transformation refers to players acting in a different way as a result of playing the game, such as making more sustainable choices in their daily lives or advocating for sustainability in their communities.

Society transformation involves a broader impact beyond the individual player, such as influencing the attitudes and behaviors of other players or contributing to a more sustainable campus culture at CMU.

Overall, we aimed to create a game that would inspire players to think more deeply about sustainability and the SDGs, to develop new perspectives, and ways of thinking that could be applied in real-life situations. 

Uncovering Issues

01 Audience & Context

To better understand our target audience and context, we conducted 5 user interviews with students to gauge their opinions and knowledge about sustainable development. Our goal was to assess their awareness and contribution to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which were a key focus of our game.

Through these interviews, we found that 3 out of 5 students were not particularly interested in learning about sustainable development. They found the concept too broad and complex, with too many goals to understand and too much information to absorb. Moreover, they struggled to relate the 17 SDGs to their daily lives and did not see a clear connection between sustainability and their personal goals or values.

Based on the interviews we conducted, we made 3 personas to help us meet their needs and preferences.


02 Barriers

By digging into our interview results and personas, we identified several key barriers that were preventing our target players from understanding and practicing sustainability. These barriers included motivation, relevance, complexity, and misconceptions.

Many students felt that sustainability was not worth their time or effort, and did not see a clear connection between sustainability and their personal values or goals. This lack of motivation was a major barrier to engaging students in sustainability education.

Additionally, many students found sustainability to be complex and overwhelming, with too many goals and too much information to absorb. They felt disconnected from the topic and struggled to see how it related to their daily lives.

Finally, there were also misconceptions about sustainability that were preventing students from fully understanding the concept. Some students felt that sustainability was a vague or abstract concept or that it was only relevant to certain groups of people and was only related to the environment and resources. 

Finding Solutions

01 Barriers are the Ways

I believe that the barriers are the ways because they are the things that hinder my players’ transformation and they give me ideas about the gameplay. I came up with the following design to address each barrier.

Motivation => create an engaging, rewarding game

Relevance => emphasize the connection between sustainability and daily activities + provide players with fragmentary narration

Complexity => simplify + focus on a few SDGs + break down complex concepts

Misconceptions => provide clear and accurate information and what they entail

02 First Ideation

The first ideation is a simulation game where players take on the role of a mayor and manage a city. In our design, the game should focus on SDGs that are related to resources and social well-being. The game was designed to challenge players to make strategic decisions about managing the city's resources, while also incorporating educational content about the SDGs. The reference of this game idea are Cities: Skylines and Frostpunk


Though we received some positive feedback about the game design, we quickly found that this might not be the best way for us. The client emphasized the importance of incorporating all 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the game, as they are interconnected and cannot be separated from each other. And we also consulted with faculty members who had experience working on simulation games like Simcity. They advised us that creating a functioning simulation system in just 14 weeks with a small team would be a challenging task. So we move on to develop our second idea.

02 Second Ideation

So we went on simplifying the game system design and trying to incorporate all 17 goals into the game. To accomplish this, we decided to shift our focus to a card game format that would allow us to maintain the city management gameplay while also streamlining the mechanics. To develop the card game, we drew inspiration from other card games like Lost in Fantaland and Wingspan.


Wingspan screenshot


Lost in Fantaland screenshot

I created a one-page design document overview for the game to help other members of the team to better understand the design of the game.


Core Gameplay Loop:


There are many design details to address the 4 key barriers of our target players.

Motivation => create an engaging, rewarding game

  • The air in the city becomes clearer as the environment improves

  • Residents become more cheerful as social well-being improves

  • Unique buildings instantiate as the player plays different cards

  • Residents have different reactions in the interview phase at the end of each round

  • Card Collection system

  • Ending page summary and call of action

Relevance => emphasize the connection between sustainability and daily activities

  • In the interview phase, residents talk about their life and daily activities, which connects the SDGs to people’s daily life

Complexity => simplify + break down complex concepts

  • We abstract the complex city management into different policy cards

  • We create a policy tree system to simplify city management into hierarchy

  • Each policy card can relate to several SDGs, which are directly shown to player

Misconceptions => provide clear and accurate information and what they entail

  • We did research when creating the policy cards and consult subject-matter expert (the director of CMU SDG Initiative and students from partners allied in civic engagement) to make sure the information are correct (Research: SDGs Research - Google Jamboard)

  • Players can dig deeper in the collection system, where we put the detail information about each policy card

Playtesting & Iterations

Throughout the process of creating our game, I conducted numerous playtest sessions to gather feedback from players and make iterative improvements to the design. Those sessions included internal playtesting with the team, closed playtesting within the building, expert playtesting with CMU SDG Initiatives, and open testing with the community. During these sessions, I observed the playtesters and used the method of "think out loud", which involves encouraging players to share their thoughts and reactions as they play.


To help guide the playtesting process, I also used Jesse Schell's post-playtest questions guidelines (The Definitive Guide to Playtest Questions – Schell Games) from Schell Games, which provided a useful framework for analyzing the feedback and identifying areas for improvement.

01 Card Design Iteration

we found in the early stage playtest that the players were only focusing on the numbers instead of actually looking into the cards and thinking about what this card could do. The players ignored the related SDGs because they were so small and packed together. They were confused about the stars.

Based on the feedback we received from playtesting, we decided to make several changes to the card design. 

Removing specific numbers

In order to encourage players to think more deeply about the cards and their impact on sustainability, we removed the specific numbers from the card. This allowed players to focus more on the card's effect and its relationship to the SDGs.

Removing related SDGs

To avoid overwhelming players with too much information on each card, we removed the related SDGs from the cards themselves. Instead, we created a new dedicated session on the HUD where players could access information about the SDGs as they relate to the game.

Hiding the level and hierarchy of the card

While we had initially included information on the level and hierarchy of each card, we ultimately decided to hide this information from players as it was not the primary focus of our game.

02 Index Design Iteration

When designing the index system to present the current state of the city in our game, I conducted extensive research on other simulation games and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). After analyzing the available data, I came up with a system that included Social Stability, Life Expectancy, Environment, and Prosperity as the main indexes.

Then our client proposed an alternative approach that relied on the "people, planet, and prosperity" framework, which was supported by research on sustainability metrics. As the game designer, I was initially concerned that this metric system might not be intuitive enough for players to understand and engage with.
To address this issue, I decided to conduct some playtesting with 5 participants to
compare the two index systems. Through this process, we were able to identify some areas where the "people, planet, and prosperity" framework was less clear. we ultimately decided to switch back to the original system.

03 Game Impact Measurement

We conducted open playtesting with Pittsburgh's local community and CMU students. There are 30 playtesters in total. Here are the findings.


of the playtesters didn’t know about SDGs before playing the game


of them have a clear understanding after this game experience

Here’s one testimonial 

“ It expands my knowledge of sustainability. I didn't know equality belonged to it before. I am working in banking, and I feel that we could use these metrics to help with our hiring practices. ”

It showed that by overcoming the barriers of motivation, relevance, complexity and misconceptions, we were able to transform our players in at least those key areas: knowledge, disposition, and behavior. And if our playtesters indeed practiced what they learned from our game, then we were also making an impact on CMU and the local community.

Lessons Learned

01 Less is More

We do not need to have a lot of features to make a great game. Cutting some of the weaker features actually made the game stronger overall. By removing extraneous elements and information and focusing on the core gameplay mechanics, we were able to create a more engaging experience for players.

02 Positive and Supportive Workplace Atmosphere

To maintain a positive and cheerful workplace, it is crucial to establish a culture where team members feel at ease to express their thoughts and emotions without any apprehension of criticism or negativity. This facilitates a collaborative and open environment, resulting in improved teamwork and effective communication. As for me, I aspire to boost everyone's spirits and uphold high morale in the workplace.

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