In celebration of World Oceans Month, this blog is all about the games that are helping to protect our oceans. This year, for World Oceans Day (June 8th), I want to explore how social impact games can create real change. Not only can environmental gaming be a force for good, it’s fun and accessible to a huge range of people worldwide. I’ll look at:

  • Why we create social impact games
  • 7 environmental games saving our oceans
  • 3 expert tips for designing impactful environmental games

Why do we create games for good?

Before we get into the ocean games, I want to give you three reasons we use games to educate and inspire for good causes.

Games are entertaining

Why do humans play? Because it is fun and it makes us happy. Research has found that playing video games fulfils three of our basic human needs: competency, autonomy and relatedness. I go into more detail on this in my previous blog – Serious Games Guide: Everything You Need To Know in 2021.

Games have a wide reach

By the end of 2021, it is expected there will be 2.9 billion people playing video games worldwide. That’s more than a third of the entire global population. The diversity and inclusivity of this group is encouraging with players coming from a range of countries around the world, economic backgrounds and gender identities.  

Games can create tangible impacts

With such high reach and the ability to entertain, gaming may be the most powerful media right now. When used for good, games have the potential to create real, lasting impact. In fact, each of the seven environmental games in our list for World Oceans Day has created real-world change. Going beyond environmental awareness, these game developers have found ways to both educate and support action in real-world contexts.

Want to take a deep dive into environmental gaming? I’ve made a list of 20 incredible environmental games from the last decade. Check it out!

7 social impact games saving our oceans

Deep Blue Dump by Stories Studio (2018)

Platform: Android and iOS

This smartphone app is a great example of how simple gaming for good can be. Players must protect a baby turtle from plastic pollution by pushing away trash in its path. The game features facts, tips and resources to educate and motivate players to change their personal plastic habits. The Stories Studio also contribute 2.5% of revenue earned by the game to plastic pollution causes.

Bleached AZ by Chaos Theory and We Are Rad (2019)

Platform: Android and iOS

Bleached Az is a mobile game where players slash and slice away plastics, trawler nets and other hazards to protect the precious coral below. To combat climate change in the real world, 20% of revenue goes toward Carbon Neutral’s ‘Plant-a-Tree’ program. Over 250 trees have been planted since the game’s release which equates to more than 43,000kgs of CO2 absorbed from the atmosphere.

Lost City of Mer by Astrea Media (2019)

Platform: VR and mobile

The Lost City of Mer is the brainchild of a creative media company and independent game developers. It combines an immersive VR experience with a smartphone app. In the virtual underwater world, players explore the abandoned city of Mer and work on rebuilding the coral reefs. In the real world, players work to reduce their carbon footprint by tracking their steps in the app. The more steps you take, the more rewards and adventures are unlocked in the virtual world. For every mile walked, a pound of CO2 is saved.

NeMO-Net by NASA (2020)

Platform: Mac, Windows, iOS, Android

NeMO-Net combines environmental gaming with citizen science. It’s a single player game where you explore and classify coral reefs. The data is used to improve the machine learning of NASA’s Supercomputer, Plaeiades, which assesses the health of coral reefs from around the world. The game has reached 300 million people and received over 76,000 classifications so far which provides valuable data for coral reef conservation efforts. 

Coral Greef by MullenLowe Group (2019)

Platform: Web

Coral Greef is an arcade game where players help a surfing octopus and Sandy the crab rid the oceans of plastic waste. For a limited time, for every score shared online, the MullenLowe Group donated US$5 to Plastic Oceans International – a NFP focused on ending plastic pollution. By the end of that campaign, over US$6,000 had been donated.

ResponSEAble by 3x1010 (2018)

Platform: Android and iOS 

ResponSEAble is a European research project which includes an educational game aimed at improving ocean literacy. Ocean literacy goes beyond regular learning. It requires a focus on both issue awareness and capacity building. This means the project objectives are equal parts education on the risks to our oceans AND the impact of actions. This helps the ResponSEAble game have a greater impact on policy and decision making, not just general knowledge.

i-Biome-Changing Ice by Springbay Studio (2020)

Platform: iOS

i-Biome-Changing Ice is part of a series tackling environmental conservation. Designed for kids, players build and manage their own arctic habitat. During gameplay, you’re encouraged to set eco-goals for the real world like reducing your meat consumption, increasing recycling and making conscious transport choices. Each of these activities will help to minimise your individual carbon emissions. Players can also challenge family and friends to CO2 reduction races. 

3 tips for improving your social impact games

In a speech for the Game Developers Conference 2019, video game author Elizabeth Maler discussed some of her learnings from developing two successful social impact games. Here are the key points:

Choose one clear focus

It’s tempting to make one game to tackle many problems, but the risk is it will be less effective. By focusing your social impact game on a single cause, you’re more likely to achieve targeted results.

Allow players to be themselves

Playing as yourself, rather than a character, increases your connection to the game. The decisions you make and the consequences feel more personal which increases your learning from the game.

Seek feedback

Your game will benefit from a playtest before being released. Feedback can help you understand if the key messages from your game are being received or if there’s any room for improvement in game mechanics and storyline.

Build games for good with Chaos Theory

Feeling inspired to create your own environmental games? Connect with Chaos Theory. Our mission is to improve the quality of life using the magic of play – including through social impact games.

To get started, book a free 30-minute brainstorm with me.  I’ll answer any and all questions you may have and help you get to the bottom of your big game idea.