It’s 2050, and the opportunistic decisions you made in eras gone by have spawned a present day reality that far exceeds the avant-garde impressions of your dreams or astrological predictions, but due to a few shortsighted diplomatic and environmental choices, it’s also a world immeasurably more hostile than any dystopian prophecy.
There are six ways to reign victorious in this future era – through science, religion, culture, diplomacy, domination, or time – and you have almost been dominated several times by opponents who conquered almost every other civilisation on the map. However, your sustainable use of resources across the ages, as well as many world congress alliances, and investment in forward-looking technologies, has ultimately allowed you to withstand the unprecedented challenges of a changing environment, and overcome the enemy army and their information warfare.
This is not the final page of a sci-fi novel, this is actually just the end of one of many possible gameplay timelines in “Civilisation VI: Gathering Storm,” a video game that immerses players in a world where their strategic choices on managing resources, land, the environment, power, diplomacy and technology – across the many eras in time – ultimately result in their victory or demise.
This game is fun, but it is in fact more than that; it has the power to shape perspective. Yes, It may just be a video game, but the 21st Century global issues woven into the storyline can help educate players’ on the real-world significance and downstream implications of conflict, politics, technological advancement, and most importantly, climate change.
Bridging the conceptual gap
In the game, players must transition through over 6000 years of time, from the ancient to future era, building cities, making choices on how to best use resources, bolstering diplomacy in the world congress, and engineering technological infrastructure like off-shore windfarms to mitigate the many environmental effects of climate change.
During gameplay, players’ choices on the use of resources will affect the planet’s temperature and level of CO2 emissions, triggering an array of different environmental impacts such as melting ice caps and rising sea levels, which intensify throughout the game based on different scenarios.
“Civilisation VI: Gathering Storm,” like many other recent releases from the gaming industry, attempts to spark big ideas in young minds, and educate players on the reality and science of climate change, as well as allow them to navigate its negative impacts first-hand as a result of their own poor planetary decisions.
Being told something is true, and actually understanding the real world implications are two separate entities. That’s why seeding virtual storylines with topical issues in this way provides a useful proxy to bridge the conceptual gap between being told the planet is warming, and actually conceiving its tangible reality of destruction.
Who ever thought video games would be good for people and the planet?
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Some voices however, are not quite so quick to laud the games featuring climate change storylines as helpful: While they surely raise awareness, concerns have also been raised that they paint an unrealistic impression of how world challenges can be solved with easy fixes.
In “Civilisation VI: Gathering Storm” for example, carbon capture technology and flood barriers are readily available to players as simple solutions to rising greenhouse gas emissions and sea levels. However in reality such technological solutions are not so easily implemented or effective.
Another criticism that must be acknowledged, is that an industry born from technology such as the gaming sector, indeed has a sizeable carbon footprint of its own, though many big names in the industry have recently begun committing to net-zero pledges to offset this.
Despite the sector’s potential negative environmental impact, or its difficulty in navigating how to frame climate issues accurately within games, the industry’s recent efforts in raising climate awareness within gameplay is a powerful tool to help accelerate climate comprehension, shed light on the crisis’ implications, and inspire climate action. Not to mention, this format of climate advocacy will likely resonate with people much better than a stern warning from the government or scientists.
Giving gamers the green nudge
“Civilisation VI: Gathering Storm” is not the only game sparking climate dialogue. There is in fact a whole movement of game developers helping to shape perspectives and educate players on climate change.
“Floodlands” paints a picture of Earth after the apocalypse. This time, the eerie dystopia presented is not a product of zombies, meteor collision or pandemic, but of climate change and melting ice caps wreaking havoc on the world.
Catastrophic floods have reduced Earth’s inhabitable terrestrial landmass to just a few islands, and civilisation as we know it is in pieces. The aim of the game is to rebuild society using the available resources left in the aftermath (mostly rubbish) to build homes, find ways to purify water sources, erect farms and fishing docks to feed the population, establishing an economy and job opportunities for the victims still left standing.
“Eco,” on the other hand, starts gameplay much further upstream of the end of the world, where players work together to build a society and develop the technology required to prevent a meteor strike from hitting earth.
Throughout gameplay, all decisions must be made sustainably: everything a player’s does has an impact on their environment, and the aim is to develop planet earth in order to save it from the meteor, without destroying it with global warming in the meantime.
“Plasticity” is a game set in 2140, where over-consumption of single-use plastics has yielded a “plastic-ridden world” which is lifeless and desolate.
The gameplay follows the story of a curious young girl called Noa who leaves her gloomy polluted home “in search of a better life” and to determine a better future for her world. Player’s can make choices in the game to try and rebuild the environment, with each choice impacting the game’s sequence of events and storyline.
“Never Alone” (or “Kisima Ingitchuna”) tells a story of how indigenous cultures are affected by the impacts of climate change.
Player’s follow the story of a young Inuit girl called Nuna and her arctic fox companion as they navigate Alaska’s ice sheets breaking apart. The game was crafted from conversations with 40 native Alaskan elders of the Inuit Inupiaq community, and aimed to inspire curiosity about their culture, the landscape, and the threat climate change poses to the environment and indigenous peoples in Alaska.
The Finanial Times even created their own climate change game, in which players must try to save the planet from the impacts of climate change through a series of prompts and questions.
The UN are also involved in promoting climate action and environmentalism within the gaming industry. In 2019, the UN Environmental Program (UNEP) formed a new alliance between gaming companies called “Playing for the Planet” (P4P) as part of the Climate Action Summit in New York, and this year, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) launched their own mobile game called “Mission 1.5°C.”
The P4P initiative invites member gaming companies such as Sony, Niantic, Ubisoft and SEGA to commit to protecting the planet, whilst empowering their players to do the same. Members are encouraged to make sustainable commitments such as working together to reduce the sector’s emissions, supporting and aligning with global environmental efforts and the net-zero agenda, and integrating “green nudges” or “green activations” into their games to encourage pro-climate behaviour changes in players.
As part of the alliance, the UNEP even launched the “Green Game Jam” – a competition between game developers to create imaginative yet influential games that incorporate “green nudges” of core climate themes. This year’s competition encouraged activations that focused on the topics of: food, forests and our future.
NASA too have launched a climate advocacy platform called “NASA Climate Kids” which features infographics, videos and games that focus on the biggest climate change questions.
Creating a better world
Overcoming the challenges of climate change will undoubtedly require a cosmic commitment to change from billions of people. To achieve this, we need to empower all demographics of society to connect with the urgent reality of our warming planet, distilling the science and implications of global warming into a digestible, and welcome format.
Our planet is populated with over 2 billion gamers, be that morning commute phone gamers, after school with their children gamers, or with a group of friends on a friday night with pizza kind of gamers – the bottom line is that the window into the virtual world is looked upon by billions, and therefore provides a unique opportunity to influence an enormous audience to catalyse change.
Historically, society’s relationship with video games has largely been associated with unhealthy addiction, laziness, and even promotion of violence. However, if the aggression of a shooting game can transcend the virtual world and promote gun violence in real life, then why can the same not be said for a game about climate change fostering more climate advocacy within the gaming community?
Perhaps video games can in fact help to create a better world, or at least paint a futuristic picture of what one might look like!
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by the authors are their own, not those of Impakter.com — In the Featured Photo: Sony PlayStation 4 controller. Featured Photo Credit: Michal Ilenda/Unsplash