One of the biggest questions in the green community is how to engage and get Millennials excited about sustainability and conservation. For me, video games come to mind almost immediately. Below I review three environmentally-minded video games because I believe that video games can and should be an effective engagement strategy to shape the way young people think about the environment. Here are 3 reasons why:
1. Video games are more popular than ever. Millennials, those born between 1981 and 2000, make up the primary demographic of video game players and Millennials play video games all the time. Video games have grown into a billion-dollar industry. Fifty-nine percent of Americans play video games, 51% of U.S. households own a dedicated game console, and consumers spent $21.53 billion on video games in 2013, according to the Entertainment Software Association (ESA). The average age of gamers is 31 years-old and seventy percent of gamers are 18 or older. The ESA says that most Millennials have been playing video games for 14 years, and 48% of the gamers are women.
2. Video games tell great stories. Video games are an engaging form of media, generally stimulating sight, hearing, and touch all while asking the player to make quick decisions. Games capture the attention of people of all ages; I’ve seen WWII Vets playing Call of Duty and getting whopped by 8 year-olds. So why not make video games a medium of choice for delivering environmental messages? Games give the player a sense of agency that increases attentiveness and interest in the subject matter. If video games are designed correctly, they can put players in the shoes of big decision makers, capturing their attention by giving them virtual responsibilities for solving real-world environmental challenges.
3. Video games can effect change by modeling environmental problems at scale. Games allow players to experience infinite scenarios played out right before their eyes, giving a sense of urgency to a potential problem or experience. Many young people are often told that they should care about the environment even though they do not experience the potential consequences of continued and long-term environmental challenges. Video games can show them these consequences. Games can help generate the necessary sense of urgency by emulating various environmental scenarios in an entertaining and non-threatening way.
Here are three environmentally-minded video games that may help Millennials get engaged about the environment:
Fate of the World: Tipping Point –
Fate of the World, doesn’t beat around the bush when it comes to climate change. In terms of gameplay, Fate of the World has a lot in common with games like Civilization in the sense that it is not played in real-time and the player’s job is to interact and collaborate with countries around the world. However, unlike Civilization the player does not control ground troops or build structures for a single country, but rather plays the head of an international organization which manages social, environmental, and technological policies. The player can choose from a variety of scenarios ranging from curbing rising temperatures to improving the Human Development Index. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Fate of the World is that its mechanics are based on real-world research by Prof. Myles Allen of Oxford University. This allows the game to demonstrate just how complex environmental issues can be; there are over 100 policy choices and over 1000 possible events ranging from natural disasters to political instability. While Fate of the World may seem a bit too educational for some gamers, its realism and complexity ultimately make it an enjoyable and challenging experience for most crowds.
While Flower may not be the most direct game relating to environmental issues, it is by far one of the most high-quality games that can be justifiably added to this category. In this game you play as the wind and your goal is to simply navigate beautifully rendered landscapes, picking flower petals as you go. Admittedly the majority of the appeal of Flower is in its visual aesthetic rather than its meaningful content, but that is not because meaningful content is not there. Rather, Flower takes a more underhanded approach to incorporating themes like urbanization and renewable energy than most games labelled as environmentally-minded. And I must say this is something that I appreciated. By letting the player peacefully meander through lush fields and gently prodding them with the occasional still image of an urban environment, the player is allowed to examine their own feelings about such issues, instead of having opinions thrown in their face. Even if you don’t play video games I would highly recommend playing Flower, as its simple mechanics and gameplay make it an enjoyable experience for anyone.
Oiligarchy is a free online flash game that is delivered with quite a bit of satire. The game starts in 1950, the post-war economy is looking good and the player has just been appointed to CEO of a major oil company. As CEO you decide where to drill, which political party to throw money at, and which foreign governments are in need of a change of hands. You must overcome the challenges of the “eco movement,” uncooperative native tribes, and growing demand for oil in order to maximize profits and keep your own paychecks coming in. Although it might be off-putting to essentially play as the bad guy, this game plays the important role of putting what is most likely to be an environmentally-minded player in the shoes of the opposition. While Oiligarchy might be a bit too tongue-in-cheek for some, it is important that both sides of environmental issues be understood.