I'm sure you know what transformational games are now. One part of these is environmental games. These games have environmental or ecological themes. Like Abzu or Beyond Blue that give you a sense of wonder and amazement. Or Eco or Alba: A wildlife adventure that teaches essential conservation lessons. There are many reasons for making environmental games, which you can read in detail here. 

Game companies like ours develop and advocate for ecological games. We can spark conversations, change behaviours and support real-life impact through charitable donations. But how can games like these be agents of change?

To create agents of change, you must also be agents of change on some level. Game studios and developers must understand the importance of the message they make. 

As we mentioned in our first blog, environmental games are rising. We know why these games work, but how successful are they? Khalayan Arts donated profits from their game Samudra to ocean clean-ups in South East Asia. They succeeded in raising $1000 towards the effort! It might seem small, but from an indie game dev studio and donation, any amount helps. Samudra was not only an agent of change but advocated for its players to join in their movement. 

In this blog, I will cover the following: 

  • How environmental games can create agents of change
  • Case studies of how games solve real-life ecological problems.
  • Upcoming trends in environmental games that can help you get started in making one. 

Who are agents of change?

The term has many meanings and different ways of referring to it. Agents of change, Change agents, and Advocates for change all mean the same thing. It is a person exposed to an issue, relates to the need for change, and then advocates as a catalyst for that change. An agent of change will bring awareness to the issues they care about, thus leading to more agents of change. How can environmental games create agents of change?

Focusing on nurturing a community and its relationship with nature

Environmental games are improving the conversations around the importance of protecting our Earth. From subtle games like KangaZoo to games that hit the topic with a stark reality like Samudra. The idea is to get the community to talk about our real issues. Companies like Sony Playstation use games to drive their players to become climate advocates. Like in Horizon Forbidden West, where achievements in-game were rewarded in real-life. Sony teamed up with the Abor Day Foundation to plant trees.

Reinforcing positive behaviours and changing perspectives

Games are effective storytelling devices because of the various audio, visual and kinaesthetic levels of communication. Gamers have a sense of immersion that is unlike other mediums. For example, playing a game like Beyond Blue or ABZU pulls gamers into a world of ocean exploration. At the same time, games like Never Alone bring a unique perspective to Native American wildlife and culture. It also raises funds for Native American communities.

Maximising impact through measurement 

There are around 3 billion people in the world playing video and mobile games. In other terms, you're looking at the largest pool of users, testers and potential researchers. Games also have an easy way to check real-time data from their systems. These can provide both immediate and long-term results on topics. For example, Zooniverse is a website that offers a variety of citizen science games. One is Planet Hunters, where players have already discovered 40 potential life-inhabiting planets. All that not even professional astronomers have found!

What are the real-life success stories for environmental games?

Another excellent case study is the Internet of Elephants. The company started by building an AR system that brought wildlife into your home. It takes real animals from sanctuaries and incorporates natural conservation and rescue stories into a game. This helps to build empathy and awareness for their efforts.

Internet of Elephants also developed into other conservation games. Unseen Empire is the world's most extensive at-home wildlife research effort. Users can relive a ten-year study into elusive species in South Asia. They can access documents, place trap cameras and provide evidence to policymakers to protect essential habitats. 

Another example is the Zambesia Conservation Alliance. They are trying to fundraise and raise awareness about wildlife conservation in Africa. They've created a virtual sporting event with the best athletes in general trivia. At the same time, users watch, support teams (like in regular sports matches) and donate funds to a good cause! 

Many more games and organisations like these can help create agents of change, now more than ever. As I mentioned, the video game market is growing exponentially. An estimated million players each year organisations can reach through environmental games. 

9 Trends in Environmental Games for 2023 and Beyond

With all the information above, where is the innovation for the future? Here are some trends for the coming years that we can keep an eye on

  1. Game studios use real-time data from the physical world. Accurate data from scientific research organisations is finding its way into games. This connects the digital and physical worlds and brings attention to important issues. Seeing real-time results or genuine success efforts can inspire your players.
  2. Mass-market games are exploring environmental themes. Large game studios are starting to examine ecological themes in their games. Art mimics what people care about, and conservation is an important topic for many people. These studios have the audience to create agents of change on a large scale. Many studios, as mentioned, have already committed to planting trees for game achievements.
  3. Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality games. Augmented and Virtual reality games have unique strengths. They enhance the experience for players and thus create an agent of change faster. Augmented reality (AR) usually requires a smartphone or tablet. For example, AR hunting in Pokemon Go, or more topical, an AR garden created by the company Polycular. The University of Salzburg built the garden to teach children about sustainable choices. The AR upgrade helps to better interact with the area. Virtual reality (VR) immerses the player through the technology of head-mounted display units. For example, the UN teamed up with Sony Playstation to create "Meet Your Carbon Footprint". This experience through VR challenges the lack of awareness of individual emissions.
  4. ARGs or Alternate reality games. They are interactive narratives. Large groups of people role-play a scenario and come up with results or solutions. Evoke is an example that connects university students in Africa to people worldwide using social networks. They use story-based content to innovate solutions for the future of famine, poverty and climate change. It garnered 19 thousand players from 150 countries and raised over 28 thousand forms of mixed media solutions. 
  5. Sustainably produced games will be the most significant trend as we advance. While sending good messages, environmental games still contribute heavily to CO2 emissions. It isn't easy, but the game industry can be sustainable. Game studios joined the Playing for the Planet alliance and pledged to reduce or offset all their carbon emissions. Their positive results can also foster changes within the gaming community.
  6. Action from Players, action from developers. We have seen games that give players ways to be more sustainable, such as our Bleached Az. 20% of in-game revenue went to carbonneutral, which has planted 250+ trees since October 2019. Even game companies are taking action, such as Space Ape games. They committed to offsetting emissions from its studio, developers and all the players who download their games. 
  7. Focus on fostering collective action. We need a massive collaborative effort. Games can be a social experience or deliver personal and moving stories. They can tie into real-world data, direct players to relevant causes, and motivate action. Pokemon Go's parent company Niantic hosted a community event for every 5km walked by players; Ecosia would plant one tree. The pledge successfully planted 100,000 trees every month in the Fall of 2022. Niantic donated money for an extra thousand trees for those who couldn't walk 5km. We can expect more significant and more ambitious action in the future. 
  8. Citizen Science. Like the example Zooniverse, "citizen science" is getting more popular. Mass-market games like Eve Online have players contributing to life-saving research for Covid-19. Players also raised over $130,000 for the WHO Covid Response fund. While specialised projects like Fold It, where players practice protein folding research applications. One such application was the solution to an enzyme structure related to the AIDS virus. You can read about citizen science and other brilliant examples in our other blog.
  9. An explosion of ideas. The past ten years of eco games have been very successful. The style, form, content, and impact of these games are innovating at an increasing rate. There are many new gaming platforms, and gamers seek these world-solving games. We need large-scale action to tackle the current climate crisis and can't afford only to do one thing. So, get out there and make something new!

To summarise, I have listed how environmental games create agents of change and some relevant case studies. I also briefed you on upcoming trends in ecological games. All of which could help you start making an environmental game of your own.

While there is still a long way to go, the gaming industry is heading in the right direction. With many more environmental trends on the rise, now is the time to unite for the planet. 

If this blog inspired you to think about your next sustainable game project, you could book a free 30-minute brainstorming session with me. Or if you want more information on transformational games and how it could help your business, download our FREE ebook below!