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Green screen | Gamers globally plug-in for environmental content

Wed 20 Jul 2022 | 11:40 am GMT
Rob Hutchins | Products of Change Writer

Alba: A Wildlife Adventure was among the winners of this year's Web Awards for its social impact and advocacy for biodiversity

Social impact, environmentalism and video gaming are terms you once upon a time may never have expected to meet; whether you’re a retro gamer of the arcade scene or a first-person shooter millennial, the natural world and the rules of the pixelated ones seemed destined to never have to meet. That’s all changed, of course, because today best practice and social impact in gaming is beginning to pull in some pretty heavyweight recognition. Well, when you’re a media with an audience of quite literally billions, a bit of environmental drum-banging is bound to make a whole load of unavoidable noise. It’s fantastic. For Us two Games, the latest dose of media recognition arrived in mid-May this year when the team’s environment-focused title, Alba took home the award for Best Public Service, Activism, and Social Impact at the 26th annual Webby Awards. Putting players in control of a young nature explorer and her quest to preserve and document the local flora and fauna, Alba: A Wildlife Adventure is a widely-celebrated RPG in which the natural environment and its biodiversity is celebrated and explored to encourage real-world impact among its fans. In fact, Us Two Games  - now a certified B Corp itself - has set a real-world target of planting a forest of one million trees through the engagement of its fanbase. A target it is well on the way to hitting.
Alba: A Wildlife Adventure is a widely-celebrated RPG in which the natural environment and its biodiversity is celebrated and explored to encourage real-world impact among its fans.
Alba shared the winner’s podium this year with Gameloft Brisbane’s The Oregon Trail, a title that has been celebrated for its historically accurate and respectful representation of Native American culture as players traverse the game’s beautiful yet unforgiving terrain. It’s a game that has set a new precedent for representation and equality, bringing for the first time in gaming history, playable Native American characters and stories that celebrate the history and cultures of North America’s native people to the video gaming audience. Both titles deliver wonderfully on their people, planet, and purpose alignment while the popularity of each only highlights the scale of the audience and opportunity for video gaming with a conscience. But that’s something the United Nations’ Playing for the Planet Alliance already knew. At least, it had a pretty strong hunch. Gamers want to be empowered to make a difference through the games they play. Running alongside this year’s Green Game Jam – a now annual event in which mobile, console and PC game studios put their collective brains together to cook up ‘green’ activations to implement in some of the largest video games on the planet – the Alliance has issued its first players survey to measure just how important real-world environmental action is to gaming audiences around the world. The full results of that survey are scheduled to be published later this year but suffice to say that early readings look good. According to results taken from a cross-section of more than 50,000, 83 per cent of gamers globally believe that gaming can help you learn about the environment, while 52 per cent want to see more environmental content included in their games. A sizeable 68.5 per cent of those surveyed via each of the 42 studios involved in the Playing 4 the Planet Alliance, are motivated enough to actually pay for environmental content within their games.
Gameloft's The Oregon Trail was the joint winner of The Webby Awards' Best Social Impact video game for its emphasis on equality and representation.
It should be noted that a small percentage of 8.7 would go out of their way to avoid games with environmental content included. But then again, some people just want to see the world burn… “Until now, we’ve run with the hypothesis that players like and want to see more environmental content in their games, but it’s always just a hypothesis,” Deborah Mensah-Bonsu, founder of the UNEP’s Playing for the Planet Alliance, tells Products of Change. “This is the first year we’re running players surveys with the studios in the Alliance to confirm it all… hopefully.” The outlook is, naturally, good. Playing for the Planet Alliance’s Green Game Jam has grown year on year since its inception in 2019 – at the height of the pandemic. What started out as a collective of 11 mobile gaming studios in year one of the project, has now grown to 42 studios from across mobile, console, and PC gaming and includes some of the biggest publishers and biggest titles on the planet. “Ubisoft has been coming out really strong year-on-year for instance and, this year, had 14 of their different studios involved,” said Deborah. “The Green Game Jam has really captured the industry’s imagination to take action and enable players to take action through their games. It works so well simply because gaming is a place where you can create empathy rather than sympathy. Players have to make decisions, and when you build-in the environmental content, they can make decisions that have a real-world impact.” To date, the Green Game Jam has engaged more than 250 million players in ‘green content’ while the potential reach is an audience size ‘easily over one billion.’ That’s big numbers. Achievable only because the Green Game Jam understands only too well that big impact won’t come from new launch titles themed around the environment, but through the AAA games of now building in environmental content and tapping into already existing fanbases. “A lot of people who think about gaming, think ‘hey, we’d like to have more environmental content out there in gaming, I’ll just make a game about the environment…” explains Deborah. “But what they don’t realise is that everyone is trying to make a massive game, and they are spending millions of dollars trying to get there. “So, rather than trying to make a new game about the environment you hope will be a big hit, why not use the studios and the games that already have that success and large audience, to innovate and tweak those titles to incorporate that kind of content instead? “This is not about coming up with new content, it’s about trying to reach people now, as opposed to potentially in about four years’ time… if the new game launches… and if it becomes a success.” For the Playing for the Planet Alliance, success looks like three things: Real-World Impact and how well the activation is set up to make real-world impact through shifting behaviours or environmental practices; Innovation and how bold, brave, or creative the activation is; and Education, how well the importance of food and forests and its relation to climate change, sustainability, and the environment is explained. The Green Game Jam 2022 Winners  This list was revealed on the Playing for the Planet website and detailed via the video game industry title Games Industry Biz. Best in Food and UNEP’s Choice Award: Hay Day (Supercell)
The Hay Day Cookbook included a two-page spready about regenerative farming and everyday behaviours players can adopt, as well as a recipe from a sixth-generation regenerative farmer.
For the farming game’s 10th anniversary, developers brough in a time capsule to educate players about regenerative agriculture via an in-game event and digital cookbook. Players had to reach the community goal in a global Truck Event to unlock a donation to the non-profit Rodale Institute, which will help train real life farmers in regenerative farming practices. It means that thousands of acres of farmland will be converted to more sustainable practices as a result. The Hay Day Cookbook included a two-page spready about regenerative farming and everyday behaviours players can adopt, as well as a recipe from a sixth-generation regenerative farmer. Best in Forests: Imagine Earth (Serious Bros) Through the addition of a Steam Achievement to this game in which players must stop a global civilisation on a single planet from falling into a climate crisis, players can now plant real trees through their in-game actions. Serious Bros also held a week-long Steam Sale through which ten trees were planted for every game sold. So far, the team has planted almost 15,000 trees with Eden Reforestation Project. Player’s Choice: June’s Journey (Wooga) Wooga re-run its tree-planting partnership with Ecosia to plant 200,000 trees around the globe this year through an activation that ran on June 5th, World Environment Day. Wooga has also invited its community to complete a forest-themed quiz where they can learn more environmental facts. Finally, the studio also encouraged players to download the Ecosia search engine, which helps plant trees with every search. Media’s Choice: Riders Republic (Ubisoft Annecy)
The live event will immerse players into wildfires on the outskirts of the map when booting the game. The sky will be orange and fog/smoke from the fire will be present in the whole game forcing players to wear a gas mask.
Ubisoft Annecy’s Riders Republic is a massive multiplayer game centred around some of the US’s most iconic national parks. Early next year, the game will promote strategies to reduce the frequency and size of wildfires and aim to impact players emotionally about their consequences. The live event will immerse players into wildfires on the outskirts of the map when booting the game. The sky will be orange and fog/smoke from the fire will be present in the whole game forcing players to wear a gas mask. Part of the map will not even be accessible due to unbreathable air. The whole game will be "in alert" and players will have to join efforts to save Sequoias from going up in flames by identifying the most fragile areas of the park (using the photo mode which will display real-life data) and they will have to reduce the risk of fire spreading. Participant's Choice: TerraGenesis (Edgeworks Entertainment)
Terragenesis from Edgeworks Entertainment has players create a paradise with in-game carbon impact points to earn
Tilting Point's Terragenesis included both food and forests in their activation, giving players a permanent “Tree-derboard” (leaderboard) and in-game Carbon Impact Points. Most Adoptable: Brawlhalla (Blue Mammoth Games, A Ubisoft Studio) The idea which participants feel is most adoptable to be implemented into other games was Brawlhalla's activation “The Brawlhalla World Tree Initiative” by Ubisoft's Blue Mammoth Games. Their in-game charity item's proceeds go into planting trees and through a charity stream they will raise awareness and drive further donations.  First to Implement: Carbon Island (Tencent) Last year, it was Tencent-owned TiMi, this year it's Tencent Games with Carbon Island: an environmental simulation game for popularising the concept of carbon neutrality that has taken the award for fastest implementation. Players will play the role of a volunteer in the game to help rebuild and transform the impoverished carbon island, and finally achieve the goal of carbon neutrality. In this event, the game will launch a blue-carbon version, which will teach players about ocean carbon sinks. Each time the players watch the advertisement, they can not only get multiple rewards, but the game team will also donate one cent to public welfare projects.
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