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The Ultimate Guide to Environmental Games 2023

Everything you need know about environmental games
Written By
A portrait of Nico King. Executive Creative Director and Serious Games Expert from Chaos Theory  - Chaos Theory | Serious Games Developer, Australia
Nico King

What are Environmental Games?

Environmental games, also known as eco-games or green games, are video games that focus on environmental themes and issues. These games aim to educate players about environmental problems, promote sustainable behaviours and lifestyles, and raise awareness about the impact of human activities on the environment. 

At their core, environmental games promote ecological consciousness through play. They rely on the player's curiosity, resourcefulness, instincts and thirst for knowledge as the primary motivation for gameplay.
A promo video for Crab God, a 3D side-scrolling god game by Chaos Theory
Environmental games are typically classified as serious games, but in recent years, they have defined their own space in the games industry.

Environmental games can take many forms, from adventure-focused experiences to simulation games, intriguing puzzles, and thought-provoking strategy games. They often feature natural landscapes, wildlife, and environmental challenges like climate change, pollution, and resource depletion.

Environmental Games Market 2023

For the past few decades, environmental games have thrived in educational settings, but we are starting to see a shift to entertainment-focused games tackling these issues more and more. Today environmental games help drive social change, research, training and scientific exploration.

Click the preview to enlarge the infographic

Chaos Theory 2023 Infographic on "What are environmental games?" and the status of the Environemntal Games Market today and beyond 2023

Why do we Play Environmental Games?

Games can give us agency over things that feel out of our control in the real world. They help reinforce positive action through gameplay and excite players into taking action.

A study found that players of environmental games reported an increased understanding of environmental issues and an increased sense of responsibility to take action to protect the environment.

A flat graphic of a environmental friendly game controller
Environmental games know how to engross players in climate-centred scenarios. They aim to create profound experiences that tap into various human emotions, from fear and aggression to joy and wonder.

There are several reasons why people play environmental video games:

1. To learn about environmental issues and solutions in an interactive way.
2. To gain awareness about environmental problems and understand how to approach sustainability.
3. To be inspired to take action and practice pro-environmental behaviours.
4. To engage with nature and wildlife virtually.
5. To escape into a virtual world and experience different environments and ecosystems.
A flat graphic of the environmental cycle around games

What are the Benefits of Environmental Games?

These games can increase environmental literacy, promote pro-environmental behaviours, raise awareness about environmental issues, foster empathy for nature and wildlife, and provide an entertaining way to learn environmental concepts.

Another survey found that 86% of young people believed games could help them learn about environmental issues and inspire them to act.

Here are the main benefits of environmental games:

A photograph of children planting trees

1. Increasing environmental literacy

A collaborative study in India deduced that students playing environmental video games could encourage players to adopt pro-environmental behaviours.

Players were more understanding of the interrelatedness of nature & humans, current sustainability concerns, and the value of eco-friendly behaviours.
A screenshot of the sims 4 eco lifestyle game

2. Raising Awareness

Environmental video games can raise awareness about environmental problems and promote environmental activism. Larger franchise games such as The Sims 4 have showcased the importance of green consciousness in gameplay, and Final Fantasy VII has strong ecological motifs in the game world.

The permeation of these concepts into pop culture and public awareness have helped to raise public support for environmental policies and initiatives.
A photo of a rescued wombat

3. Fostering Empathy

Environmental video games can help players develop greater empathy for nature and wildlife, leading to a greater appreciation of the value of biodiversity and the need for conservation.

A study done with a VR immersive experience showed that players exhibited greater empathy towards the environment.
A photograph of alternate reality environmental games

4. Fun and Engaging

Environmental video games can provide an engaging and entertaining way to learn about environmental issues.

Being in a video game format can also interest people who may not be interested in other forms of media outreach. Environmental games make this form of education and awareness more accessible and enjoyable.

What are the Types and Themes of Environmental Games?

In a study on Serious Games on Environmental Games from 2017, researchers studied a sample of 25 environmental games developed from 1994 - 2013. From the 25 games, the following five types of game designs were analysed: hybrid simulation games, online digital games, board games, card games and digital games.

Physical games have been popular in the environmental category for a few reasons, including the lower initial development cost and suitability for conducting research and studying collaborative scenarios. There have been some instances where popular physical games have been expanded into a digital version and vice versa.
Over the past 30 years, we’ve seen the rise of environmental management games across PC, web, console, and mobile within the last decade, some of which we have highlighted below.

Among the environmental games studied, most games offered basic knowledge on sustainable issues to help players develop familiarity with a topic—some games aimed at raising awareness of causes and consequences and promoting a change in attitude and behaviour.

A smaller percentage of the games studied were created to stimulate the development of solutions and ideas through creativity.
A pie chart of the various types of environmental games

What are some Future Trends of Environmental Games?

Game companies like ours develop and advocate for ecological games. We can spark conversations, change behaviours and support real-life impact through charitable donations. 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:

A flat graphic depicting sustainable games

Sustainably Produced Games

This is one of the most significant trends we are seeing. As environmental consciousness grows, there is an increasing demand for sustainable practices in various industries, including game development.

This involves minimising the carbon footprint of game development, utilising renewable energy sources, reducing waste, and adopting eco-friendly packaging and distribution methods.

Sustainable game development can serve as a role model for other industries and demonstrate the commitment of game developers to environmental responsibility.

Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality Games

Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) games offer immersive experiences that can give players a first-person perspective on important issues, which helps to build empathy.

These technologies provide an opportunity to bridge the gap between the virtual and physical worlds, allowing players to interact with virtual ecosystems and witness the consequences of their actions in real time.

AR and VR games can educate and raise awareness about environmental challenges, encourage conservation behaviours, and inspire players to take real-world action.
A flat graphic of ar and vr games
A flat graphic showing how trees offset carbon

Action from Players, Action from Developers

We are seeing this trend where developers are linking real-world conservation efforts to in-game actions. Many developers want to create a positive impact, and this approach allows them to involve players in real-world conservative efforts.

Such as our game Bleached Az, where in-game revenue and rewards went to carbonneutral, which has planted 250+ trees since October 2019.

Focus on Fostering Collective Action

Environmental challenges are complex and require collective action to address effectively. Future environmental games will foster collective action among players, encourage collaboration, and create virtual communities dedicated to environmental causes.

These games can serve as platforms for players to connect, share ideas, and collaborate on real-world projects. By emphasising collective action, environmental games can empower players to make a tangible difference in their communities and contribute to broader environmental movements.
A flat graphic depicting collective action
An isometric graphic of people in a brainstorming session  - Chaos Theory | Serious Games Developer, Australia

Alternate Reality Games (ARGs)

Alternate reality games (ARGs) are narrative-driven experiences that blur the lines between fiction and reality by creating a fictional game narrative in the physical world. ARGs often involve players solving puzzles, uncovering hidden clues, and collaborating with others to progress in the game, often utilising websites, physical print, and phone lines you can call.

ARGs can be designed to simulate real-world environmental issues and challenges in environmental games. By engaging players in a compelling storyline and incorporating environmental themes, ARGs can motivate players to explore real-world solutions and actively participate in environmental initiatives. These games are a good chance for various organisations and communities to build and collaborate.

Environmental Games Examples

As mentioned above, environmental games are a powerful medium that combines entertainment, education, and environmental awareness. These games leverage technology and storytelling to immerse players in virtual worlds where they can explore, learn, and take action to protect the planet.

With an increasing need for sustainability and environmental consciousness, environmental games can aid us in the quest for a greener future.

There are many strong examples of environmental games in this past decade.
Some games we can highlight are:
A screenshot of Beyond Blue an environmental game

Beyond Blue

Theme: Ecological Education
Beyond Blue is a single-player narrative adventure where players explore the mysteries of our ocean through the eyes of Mirai, a deep-sea explorer and scientist.

Beyond Blue also offers an in-game encyclopaedia, a collection of all the ocean creatures you encounter on your journey. It features insights and footage from the award-winning documentary Blue Planet II, and encourages the player to learn about and reflect on the incredible vastness of our ocean.

Save A Rhino

Theme: Wildlife Conservation
Save a Rhino is a mobile game about escaping the dangers threatening rhinoceros and what is being done to prevent the species' extinction.

Rhinos are hunted and killed for their horns, which sell for enormous amounts on the black market. Save a Rhino aimed to raise awareness of the rhinos’ dire situation and raise funds for the Perfect World Foundation’s preservation efforts.
A screenshot of Save a rhino an environmental game
A screenshot of Save the park an environmental game

Save the Park

Theme: Environmental Education
Save the Park is an endless runner arcade game that aims to inspire players to volunteer and make a difference at the National Park Service’s 400 national parks, monuments, and historic sites in all 50 U.S. states.

Launched as part of the campaign to celebrate the 2016 National Park Service Centennial, Save the Park seeks to inspire and encourage a new generation of park lovers to take an active role in helping preserve these important natural and historic resources for future generations.

Never Alone

Theme: Cultural Awareness and Environmental Education
Never Alone is an atmospheric puzzle platformer. You play as the young Iñupiaq girl Nuna and her Arctic fox. Together you solve puzzles that swap control between Nuna and the fox.

The game was built in partnership with the Alaska Native community; it delves deep into the innate relationship the Iñupiaq people of Alaska share with the world around them. Never Alone invites a global audience to experience a unique culture through complex storytelling and fascinating gameplay.
A screenshot of Never Alone an environmental game
A screenshot of world rescue an environmental game

World Rescue

Theme: Global Management
World Rescue is a narrative, research-based video game inspired by the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations.

Set in Kenya, Norway, Brazil, India, and China, players meet and help five young heroes and help them solve global problems—such as displacement, disease, deforestation, drought, and pollution.

There's plenty more!

You can visit the full list of 20 incredible environmental games through the link below.
Read The Blog
screenshot examples of environmental games

Crab God: Mother of the Tide

In our 12 years of game development, we’ve had a passion for creating impactful experiences. Our vision has always been to help “inspire a more sustainable future through the magic of play”. Crab God: Mother of the Tide is our latest eco games portfolio title exploring environmental issues. Players are invited to restore life to a devastated ocean world in a crab-centric god game.
A screenshot of Crab God, an environmental game by Chaos Theory
A screenshot of Crab God, an environmental game by Chaos Theory
Crab God aims to create an immersive experience showcasing extreme climate change circumstances. We aim to raise awareness for two UN Sustainable Development Goals - Climate Action and Life Under Water. The themes in-game heavily relate to these goals, from the gameplay loop of restoring coral reefs and bringing back endangered species to in-game rewards that will translate to real-life conservation actions. 
Check out the latest developments for Crab God: Mother of the Tide as we continue to create this environmental game!
A screenshot of Crab God, an environmental game by Chaos Theory

Bring Your Environmental Game to Life Today!

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