Support World Environment Day by learning through climate-focused mobile and video games.
If you’re one of the more than three billion people around the globe who played games in 20221, you know how absorbing they can be. And often, that’s precisely why we play them in first place — to take a break from the anxieties of life and button mash our way to victory for a while. But what if instead of gaming to escape your worries, you could play games that help address them? Well, that’s exactly what some of the biggest gaming brands have been trying to provide — a way for gamers like you to feel good about doing what they love. Developers have created a new and innovative way to connect and educate gamers about environmental issues called green games — in essence, the gamification of sustainability education and experiences that give users the ability to learn about more sustainable scenarios and steps they could take to address one of their biggest anxieties, climate change.
Popular and fun titles have started integrating more serious environmentally themed messaging and even missions into their games. Other games have taken a more direct and serious approach, making the game itself the environmental message, like Tencent’s Carbon Island Game. It raises critical environmental issues for Chinese audiences by trying to reach China’s massive GenZ gamer and esports audiences with productive alternative gaming options which teach them the different consequences of global warming, highlighting and intensifying the present and future risks of climate change.
With yearly revenues from games reaching a whopping $140 billion dollars last year (more than Hollywood, Bollywood and music sales combined)1, and 666 million people now tuning in to watch other people play games on Twitch and YouTube, channeling even a small portion of that attention or revenue towards green initiatives could help educate players about more sustainable decision making and habits, a similar goal of the United Nations Environmental Program, the Playing for the Planet Alliance.
From games that are purely fun to ones that provide hypothetical future world building environmental scenarios, let’s take a look at some other green gaming titles. You can boot them up this year on World Environment Day to support its global #beatplasticpollution campaign, as well as to support, educate yourself and game for other climate related initiatives that are important to you.
"Green games typically focus on a wholesome main character to navigate a dying or endangered environment. The games focus on healing the characters' surroundings and can be very relaxing and packed with small lessons."
— Ashley Willard, Green Gamer
Minecraft: Sustainability City — learn about sustainable home building, along-side climate change, renewable energy and zero waste
Minecraft has been lauded as an educational tool for years, and their new Sustainability City2 continues the trend. It’s a place for student-gamers to wander freely as they examine a wide range of issues, including the components of a sustainable home, managing waste products, clean electricity generation, responsible forestry, and more. As part of its Sustainable Home experience, students go on a virtual field trip to a sustainable home and learn about the importance of sustainable materials in home building. They can learn about a wide range of sustainable topics from Non-player Characters (NPCs), each with an area of expertise. For example, the ventilation NPC will show them how ventilation ducts help keep an energy efficient home. In the basement, the furnace NPC explains how the home is powered by the local plant and offers tips to reduce the reliance on the furnace. In another related Minecraft experience called Climate Hope City, players can learn about climate change, biodiversity, renewable energy and zero waste. Funds raised from these Minecraft games have already affected real-world change, paying for the planting of 150,000 trees across East Africa.
"When a green narrative is added to a game, users might start making even more conscious decisions. When you spend time with characters in games, most tend to care about their plights without realizing they correlate to everyday issues."
— Ashley Willard, Green Gamer
Ocean Heroes Game: Make Ocean Plastic Free — pledge commitments to specific ocean protecting actions
A social cause based technology initiative called Ocean Heroes Game: Make Ocean Plastic Free, from Dropledge is a green game that finds you as a scuba-diving hero on a mission to protect the ocean and its inhabitants from the dangers of plastic pollution. But watch out for sharks and other dangerous marine life that will take a bite out of you while you’re taking a bite out of ocean pollution. Throughout the game, the player is prompted to pledge their commitment to specific actions and bring awareness to the state of the planet’s oceans. By educating the player with sobering facts about ocean pollution during traditional gameplay, Ocean Heroes gamifies the act of cleaning up the oceans and seeks to challenge and change gamer behavior subconsciously.
Eco: Learn how to build a sustainable civilization, seeing real-time effects on the environment of your actions
There are countless world-building simulators out there, but Eco3 takes it a step further and focuses on how the players’ progress affects the environment as well. Eco is an online multi-player game where players work together — and with nature — to build a civilization advanced enough to save the planet from an imminent meteor strike, without destroying its fragile ecosystems. For example, building too many factories may cause farms to stop producing, and animals to move to cleaner pastures; too much logging can destroy habitats for critical sources of food. In addition to real consequences, players are given a tremendous amount of data on how their resource use and pollution has affected the planet, so they can see the real-time effect on the environment of their actions. In Eco, progress is inevitable, and so is the potential end of humanity, unless we do something to change trajectories.
"It takes a lot of effort to develop games in a way that impact others’ ways of thinking for the better. Even if a person has picked up a game not understanding that, it’s an homage to helping the planet."
— Ashley Willard, Green Gamer
Imagine Earth: Experience an ecological survival thriller
As we expand civilization into the outer reaches of space, how will we treat the planets we colonize? From developer Serious Bros., this is the question that Imagine Earth4 asks. When you first start playing Imagine Earth, it presents itself as an economic strategy game, prompting you to maximize your resources to develop your new planet and its infrastructure, while fortifying and defending your population from invading hostile forces. But very quickly, your choices start having environmental consequences, like global warming and rising sea levels that wipe out your hard-earned infrastructure. From there, players forge diplomatic alliances to address environmental issues and preserve the quality of life for inhabitants. Only by balancing your growth sustainably will you be able to create a new thriving civilization. Will you make different decisions for your own version of Earth?
Though our individual actions can have a meaningful impact, it’s easy for the sheer size and scope of the climate crisis to inspire feelings of inaction. Thankfully, mobile and video game technology companies have recognized their users’ anxiety around this critical issue and are doing their part to help audiences learn about climate change impacts and solutions in a new dynamic, engaging way. By providing educational scenarios through game play, these companies are unlocking the power and potential behaviors and actions of billions of global gamers. This capability to educate ourselves on important climate change issues and more sustainable options and actions through gaming can potentially help improve our daily sustainability behaviors offline. Through gaming for good via green games, you can challenge yourself to make World Environment Day, a part of your every day.
1 Economist March 25th, 2023 Special video game report: https://www.economist.com/special-report/2023/03/20/ready-player-four-billion-the-rise-of-video-games
2 See minimum requirements and download at https://education.minecraft.net/en-us/worlds/sustainability-city. Free trial available for download.
3 See minimum requirements and download at https://store.steampowered.com/app/382310/Eco/. Purchase required to download.
4 See minimum requirements and download at https://store.steampowered.com/app/280720/Imagine_Earth/. Purchase required for download.
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