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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,  writing game design documents, designing UX, conducting playtest and programming UI in Unity. 



Game Designer & UX Designer

& UI Developer






Jan 2022 - May 2022

Team Size




Existing online resources about Sustainable Development Goals often suffer from a lack of dynamism, resulting in diminished engagement and interaction.

How might we make the process of learning more exciting and story-driven?


We developed a web-based card game centered around the topic, tasking players with sustainably managing a fictional city.

End Results

Promoting Sustainability:
A Card Game for College 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 and myScience.orgThe interview helped to further promote the game's message of sustainability awareness.

Promo Video

Game UI Showcase

Game Experience Overview

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.


What is this "broader concept of sustainability" that my client wanted?

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.


Source: United Nation

02 Setting Expectations

I set the expectations of our games following the Transformational Framework by Sabrina Culyba. 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.

Overall, the team 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 the target audience and context, I conducted 5 user interviews with students to gauge their opinions and knowledge about sustainable development. The 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, I 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, I made 3 personas to help us meet their needs and preferences.

02 Barriers

By digging into our interview results and personas, I 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 view barriers not just as obstacles for my players but as guiding forces that shape the gameplay, sparking innovation in design to overcome these challenges. To address each barrier, I devised the following solutions.


Create an engaging, rewarding game


Emphasize the connection between sustainability and daily activities + provide players with fragmentary narration


Simplify + focus on a few SDGs + break down complex concepts


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. The game should focus on SDGs that are related to resources and social well-being. It also challenges 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 too challenging task. So I move on to develop our second idea.

03 Second Ideation

This ideation's goal is simplifying the game design and trying to incorporate all 17 goals into the game. To accomplish this, I decided to shift to card game genre that would allow us to maintain the city management gameplay while also streamlining the mechanics. This ideation's inspiration includes Lost in Fantaland and Wingspan.


Wingspan Screenshot


Lost in Fantaland Screenshot

I created a one-page game design document to help the artists and other programmers better understand the design.


One-Page Design Document

Core Gameplay Loop:


Those are some design details I include to address the 4 key barriers.


Create an engaging, rewarding game

  • Air Purification: As the environment becomes better, the city's air becomes clearer.

  • Vibrant Community: As social well-being increase, residents become more cheerful.

  • Architecture: Unique buildings instantiate with every card played, transforming the cityscape.

  • Diverse Reactions: The end-of-round interview phase shows varied resident reactions, adding depth to gameplay.

  • Card Collection System: Player can collect beautiful cards.

  • Conclusive Inspiration: The ending page not only summarizes the journey but also delivers a call to action.


Emphasize the connection between sustainability and daily activities + provide players with fragmentary narration

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


Simplify + focus on a few SDGs + break down complex concepts

  • Policy Card Abstraction: Transforms complex city management into accessible policy cards.

  • Policy Tree System: Simplifies city management into a hierarchical structure for clarity and ease.

  • SDG Integration: Each policy card is linked to multiple SDGs, clearly displayed in HUD and card collections.


Provide clear and accurate information and what they entail

  • Expert Consultation: Conducted thorough research and consulted with subject-matter experts, including the director of CMU SDG Initiative and students from civic engagement partner organizations, to ensure accuracy in policy card information. 

  • In-depth Learning: Offered within the collection system, providing detailed information about each policy card for players interested in exploring further.

Playtesting & Iterations

In developing our game, I conducted extensive playtesting across various stages, including internal, closed, expert (with CMU SDG Initiatives), and open community sessions. By employing the "think out loud" method in real time, I captured player feedback for iterative design improvements. 


For analysis and improvement, I used Jesse Schell’s post-playtest question guidelines from Schell Games.


Open Community Playtesting

01 Card Design Iteration

We found in the early stage playtest that

  • The players were only focusing on the index number instead of actually looking into the cards and thinking about the policy and its effect.

  • The players ignored the related SDGs because they were so small and packed together.

  • The players were confused about the stars.

Based on the those findings, I decided to make several changes to the card design. 

card iteration.webp

Removing specific numbers

In order to encourage players to think deeply about the cards and their impact on sustainability, we removed the specific numbers from the card and replace them with "increase", "decrease" or "?".

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 too much information to show on card face.

02 Index Design Iteration

In developing our game's city index system, I researched simulation games and SDGs, creating initial metrics around Social Stability, Life Expectancy, Environment, and Prosperity. Following a client suggestion, we explored a "people, planet, prosperity" framework but faced concerns over its intuitiveness. Comparative playtesting with five participants highlighted clarity issues with the alternative framework, leading us to revert to our original system.

index test.webp

Index Playtest Feedback

index analysis.webp

Index Playtest Analysis

Conclusion & Lessons Learned

Game Impact Assessment

We conducted open playtesting sessions with members of Pittsburgh's local community and CMU students, involving a total of 30 participants. The following summarizes our key 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. ”

Those 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 Player Behavior and Game Mechanics

Early playtests revealed that players focused solely on numerical values on cards, bypassing the educational content we aimed to highlight. This taught me the importance of understanding how card designs can influence player behavior and engagement.

02 Simplification vs. Engagement

By simplifying the information on the cards to "increase," "decrease," and "or" instead of specific numbers, we shifted players' focus from purely quantitative analysis to qualitative thinking. Cutting some of the weaker features actually made the game stronger overall.

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