We seem to be simultaneously at a low point and a high one when it comes to climate change awareness. On the one hand, more people are taking it seriously than ever before, and various companies, countries, and individuals around the world are making a real effort to reverse course. On the other, the U.S. government – arguably the most powerful entity in this conversation – has taken a position against progress on this issue, and “climate change denialism” remains fairly popular, perhaps for political reasons more than scientific ones.
In other words, despite some progress we’re not there yet, and it still feels as if one of the most important aspects of the battle against climate change is widespread awareness. In the simplest terms, the more people there are who recognize and accept the realities of global warming, the less resistance there will be for the kinds of sweeping changes and massive efforts required to preserve our planet.
The question we’re asking here is, could video games actually help to spread that awareness?
A Presence In Known Games
One of the most effective ways that climate change can be turned into a component in video games is for it to be injected into known, trusted franchises. This way, players who already enjoy said franchises will naturally be exposed to features related to climate change as they play. Whether on a conscious or subconscious level, the message may just get through to them more effectively than it does through, say, dire studies published at online news outlets, or testy debates held between politicians. Sid Meier’s Civilization franchise is leading the way in this respect thanks to the recent release of Civilization VI: Gathering Storm. The game is another in a long, beloved series of civilization building and conquest games, but the first to focus heavily on climate change as “an endgame crisis.” It might one day be a very big deal if some similarl
y popular franchises find their own ways of working in climate change as well.
Possibilities In VR
Virtual reality gaming is catching on, even if it’s doing so somewhat slowly. It has the power to bring about incredibly immersive experiences, and can throw us into game settings in a way that not even the most advanced, sophisticated console games can do. So, naturally, a high-end VR game involving climate change would have the power to make a significant impact. It has been suggested that because of this, VR could be the secret sauce for climate action, and this makes a certain sense; the tech can just make it more real to people. The trouble will be getting people to engage with climate-related VR experiences, which is why games seem important. If there’s a way to make climate action entertaining, challenging, or competitive in a VR game, we could be onto something.
Easy Themes In Visible Games
In this category we’re referring to casino arcade games, which might constitute the greatest correlation between simplicity and visibility. While many in the U.S. (where climate awareness is most needed) don’t necessarily engage with these games on a regular basis, a massive variety of legal games is available in Canada, and sites overseas can be accessed as well. More to the point, these games tend to involve pages’ worth of digital slot and arcade offerings, all of which have colorful, engaging themes, from fairytale spinoffs, to rock star homages, to licensed Game Of Thrones and DC Universe content. Because of the sheer variety of themes and the simplicity of the games this would seem to be the easiest space in which climate themes could be injected into gaming experiences. Perhaps the icons on a slot reel could be pieces of trash plucked from a dirty ocean, or a game’s background could show a warming, withering climate that improv
es as you play. Whatever the specifics, even a small handful of games like this could be seen by millions and millions of gamers worldwide.
New Games Altogether
It may be more of a stretch, but we should also keep an eye out for brand new games that involve climate change as a core feature. To an extent this is what we’re talking about above regarding VR or casino games, but here we’re referring to more traditional experiences, on mobile or console devices. Imagine, for instance, a dystopian adventure game in which the player’s goal is to navigate a massive, declining open world environment in order to stop an evil organization that’s exploiting climate change for gain. Or think of an arcade-style mobile game in which you control a diver swimming through the ocean collecting trash and avoiding man-made obstacles and dangers, reaching high scores based on how long you survive, or how much trash you pick up. There’s no limit to the number or style of games that could be put out to put climate change – even in a subtle way – on more people’s minds.
Brad is a former Senior Fellow at the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University, is an award-winning travel, culture, and parenting writer. His writing has appeared in many of the Canada’s most respected and credible publications, including the Toronto Star, CBC News and on the cover of Smithsonian Magazine. A meticulous researcher who’s not afraid to be controversial, he is nationally known as a journalist who opens people’s eyes to the realities behind accepted practices in the care of children. Brad is a contributing journalist to Advocator.ca