A teenage gamer explains how his simulated passion drove home the hard reality of climate change
The problem with climate change for most of us it is simply too abstract when it comes to experiencing the consequences. It’s really hard to understand what life will be like in 50 years. It’s just too far away. Or is it?
We gamers are experiencing the effects of climate violence in virtual real time – and it’s scary. My favorite is Civilization 6, where climate change is at the heart of its best seller “Gathering Storm.” Civ 6 where the later stages of the game become dominated by climate violence. As more human induced CO2 is emitted into the air, polar ice melts, lowlands flood, vast fires scorch forests, cities start to submerge, and vast coast lines disappear into a rising ocean.
Though never the intent of designers, climate-related themes in video games are raising awareness perhaps far more effectively than traditional media. More than a billion people around the world play video games on various platforms, and that number is growing yearly. In 2018, the video game industry took in $140 billion in revenue, though it is unclear how much that growth could be attributed to an interest in climate change scenarios. For Civ 6, there has been no decline in popularity. In the last 30 days alone, more than 32,000 gamers were playing the game concurrently.
Video games can fast forward gamers to the future in stunningly realistic ways. And if you can experience the consequences, and not just describe them, you begin to feel the results. Ask anyone older than a teenager how it feels to pay rent on Monopoly’s Boardwalk loaded up with hotels. Studies show gaming often changes people’s views on more abstract topics, as shown by a study by the Entertainment Software Association of Canada on people’s attitude on nuclear warfare after playing DEFCON, a video game centered on the subject. The study concluded that playing DEFCON had the ability “to provoke attitude changes and critical reflection about nuclear weapons.”
Sensing a climate opportunity, other gaming companies are rolling out climate-based scenarios. E-line Media, Strange Loop, and Internet of Elephants are three gaming companies that are successfully developing video games based around climate change. E-line media created Never Along, Beyond Blue in which you are a researcher exploring the seas while having to manage limited resources. In Strange Loop, created Eco, a group of players tries to gather tech and resources to stop a meteor from destroying a planet. The Internet of Elephants created an app in which you can bring animals from the wild into your everyday lives helping people relate to species currently endangered or close to it by having them interact with them, even if it’s only in a mixed reality setting.
Video games may just be the best way to experience climate violence short of being a direct victim.