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February 25, 2021
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Not Game Over: Game Developers Tackle the Climate Crisis

by Paula Escuadra on 02/16/21 09:17:00 pm   Featured Blogs

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The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

Original post written by Paula Escuadra and Hugo Bille, with amazing support from Rebecka Pettersson, Mark Videon, and Arnaud Fayolle.

 

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • The climate crisis impacts our ability to keep making and playing the games we know and love. We as game makers and players have significant power to take truly meaningful action against this existential threat.
  • To ensure our video game ecosystem’s survival, we need to increase the sustainability of our products and supply chains. We also need to increase access to information so that we can learn from each other quickly and avoid rebuilding the wheel.
  • This month (January 2021), the IGDA Climate SIG is thrilled to kick off its 2021 workstreams focused on building a Climate Guide 101 for game developers; game design patterns; industry benchmarking; and climate council advocacy. Each of these workstreams are designed to enable all of us to work towards solutions that make sense for our interests, skill sets, and available resources.
  • If you’re ready to act — or even just a bit curious, sign up for our mailing list and join our Discord to connect with a warm, growing community of game developers, researchers, scientists, educators, and enthusiasts passionate about leveraging the power of games to help solve the climate crisis. #say-hi! We’re a friendly bunch :)

Video games can be the only way to experience natural environments for a growing number of people. Screenshots from Forza Horizon 4 (Playground Games/Microsoft, 2018)

BREAKING THE EXISTENTIAL DREAD

Building a climate movement in the games industry in the middle of a raging pandemic has come with its own set of challenges. After the UN Playing for the Planet Alliance launched in 2019, we had initially planned to convene developers and publishers at GDC. After COVID-19 hit, we all needed to take time to adjust to the realities of the global pandemic. It can be very difficult to think about creative solutions to big, seemingly insurmountable problems like climate change when basic needs like health and safety are at high risk. Rising sea levels seem like a faraway problem when you’re worried about your next paycheck, or your family getting sick. Rapidly decreasing biodiversity seems intangible when you’re surrounded by 4 walls and have forgotten what it’s like to go outside without restrictions.

Despite the difficult brain fog that results from dealing with overstimulation and trauma, our biggest win in 2020 was the emotional triumph of finding each other. The Bat-Signal of the International Game Developers Association (IGDA) caused smaller cells of eco-conscious game developers, researchers, and scientists to come together and sync up. We experienced this striking realization that we’re not in this alone — recognizing we can combine our efforts to do something truly transformative, something real that could enable us to keep making and playing the games we love on this beautiful blue dot we all live on. For many of us, the Special Interest Group (SIG) has been a rare chance to find community in lockdown, and rally around the changes that have been revealed as absolutely necessary as we move into the new decade.

Daring to hope requires a lot of energy. Climate action can’t happen unless we also create safe spaces for fun and self-care. Above are photos from our virtual holiday events, which involved Eco, Fall Guys, and MacGyvered baked goods!

We, as the newly formed IGDA Climate SIG, convened AAA and indie game designers, writers, programmers, financiers, climate scientists, researchers, students, general video game enthusiasts — you name it — through our Discord channel. We worked through our hopes for our industry’s future; challenged ourselves to concretely define the blockers preventing us from fulfilling those hopes; and dared ourselves to think of tangible solutions that could help us get there — one step at a time. This led to the development of clear goals and data-informed projects for 2021, deeply enriched by an increasing number of incredibly brilliant people committed to harnessing the power of video games to create real world action with clear outcomes.

WHY BUILD A GREEN GAMES INDUSTRY?

With less than 12 years left before the damage caused by climate change is irreversible, consumers, media, companies, and governments are starting to pay attention. In the past few years, the younger generations that form the bulk of our gaming audience have taken on the mantle of climate action in a big way — not because they want to, but because they feel they have to in order to protect their futures. It may sound dramatic to think about, but Millennials and Gen Z live in the space in between our modern culture of consumption and the painful awareness of what we face as a result of how quick and how much we consume. They have strong expectations around instant access to content they want, and they’re also more climate conscious than any generation prior. Meeting them where they are means showing them that we, as an industry, take the climate crisis seriously.

Alba, a Wildlife Adventure (UsTwo, 2020) uses gameplay mechanics to raise awareness to biodiversity.

This is also very much a matter of self-preservation: we can’t play games if our energy grids can’t handle the load, and aren’t prepared for fire risk. We can’t make games if our homes and cities are flooded. We, as an industry, can’t increase our reach into new markets if those most vulnerable communities lose access to food or clean water, let alone electricity and the internet. Needless to say, everyone benefits from a stable and livable planet.

We as an industry can’t play games if our energy grids can’t handle the load… We can’t increase our reach into new markets if those most vulnerable communities lose access to food or clean water, let alone electricity and the internet.

If we want to be able to keep making games and engage players who are willing to pay money to experience them, we urgently need to make our infrastructure more efficient, give players more control over their energy usage, and inspire each other to act. It’s clear to us that we can do this without sacrificing players’ gameplay experiences.

It’s no small task, but major publishers and developers are recognizing the opportunity and have already started to put in the work. Microsoft is planning to be carbon negative by 2030. Sony is working to achieve zero environmental footprint by 2050. Unity has pledged to reduce carbon emissions and introduce green nudges into game design. Many more are offsetting their operations, and even connecting their acquisition to regenerative projects.

We are just seeing the beginning of a major shift in how our industry operates. As a $64B industry, the carbon footprint of gaming is significant — and growing. We have significant traction, and we’re doing work to enable other companies and individuals to apply the solutions that work best for them, but we still have a long road ahead of us. To help our industry take steps closer towards a more climate conscious and resilient future, our 2021 workstreams are focused on delivering the following this year:

Full Video Transcript below. For next steps, scroll to the bottom!

Climate Guide 101 (to establish the what and why)

To establish the what and the why, we’re starting with the Climate Guide 101 — A living guide developed specifically for game developers to contextualize the climate crisis, concretely defining the business, policy, and social-environmental justice case for immediate action — both at an individual and organizational level. This resource can help us lay the groundwork for climate action — what it is, why it matters, and what we can do about it.

Industry Benchmarking (to establish the how, re: calculating carbon footprint)

Once we’ve established the what and why, we’ll work on establishing the how. An analysis and pilots of carbon calculators and best practices. This will also be in support of the benchmarking efforts established by the UN Playing for the Planet Alliance.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution for reducing carbon footprint — and we all need the ability to define what works for us on our terms. In this workstream, we’ll work to establish a baseline for “what good looks like” for individuals and teams of various sizes and capacities. Taken a step further, we hope to make these tools more accessible, especially for developers who are new to doing this!

Game Design Patterns (to establish the how, re: gameplay and behavior)

It’s both critical and powerful to know that climate action will require more than just optimizing your energy consumption — it requires mindfulness, awareness, and longer term behavioral change that can help us be more resilient to future environmental threats.

The game design patterns database will explore all the ways that games can make a difference, from educating players on climate solutions to telling inspiring stories from future worlds where humanity has regained balance with (and adoration for!) the weave of life that surrounds us.

We are crowdsourcing learnings from different games and interactive experiences already in the market that grapple with the planetary crisis in both simple and profound ways, all of which will be pooled into an accessible design patterns database, a creative treasure trove where (we hope!) any developer would be able to find something they can do with their next or current game to effect change — all of which will be backed or informed by science.

It’s important to note that this work will also have a ripple effect on the other problems our world faces today. Climate change is connected to many other crises, from biodiversity loss and soil erosion to racism, sexism and economic inequality. Making games that address one crisis opens the door to addressing more of them — separately, or many at the same time.

Climate Council Support (to establish the how, re: organizational influence)

With the first three workstreams, we established what the climate crisis is, why our industry needs to matter, and some ways in which we can think about designing solutions. The last workstream is really focused on helping developers activate that work. Last but not least, a living best practices guide, pilot program, and peer support for game developers looking to successfully advocate for climate action on their own teams and/or companies.

Now, in many ways, game developers are already well trained in sustainable thinking. Programmers know how to optimize their code to run more efficiently, and designers know how to create complex systems that don’t spin out of control even after hours and hours of play. We all understand the value of working together to hack away at an overwhelmingly large problem and deliver the impossible. Still, sustainability itself is separated from much of our development and business operations. It often takes the form of side projects, taken on by individuals who are passionate enough to act — but have to advocate uphill for visibility and resources. This can also be exacerbated by an absence of diversity also — true value lost due to the absence of safe spaces for women and people of color — populations most marginalized by the climate crisis. We need an opportunity to build support so that they can, too, share their leadership and experience.

This last SIG workstream is working to get sustainability embedded, establishing climate councils in game studios of all shapes and sizes, forming an industry-wide network of climate advocacy to ensure our collective learnings reach far and wide. We’re working to engage our first pilots in 2021 — hopefully at your workplace!

MOVING FORWARD

Games provide a way for us to meet needs that may not be met in the real world. A sense of competency. Discovery. Social connection. Meaning. Games are an integral part of many people’s lives, including our own. Games aren’t going away. So — it’s not about stopping game development. It’s about what we can do to radically reduce waste, increase efficiency, and still deliver great experiences that can delight (and, perhaps, help us care for each other on this planet).

Climate action is a sprint and a marathon running side by side. Decarbonizing our own industry represents a huge opportunity in the new decade, and, as we gaze further into the future, we must also grow into our role as an increasingly dominant cultural force on the planet — shaping the hearts, minds, and even behaviors of 2.7 billion players worldwide.

Like every industry, we have an inescapable responsibility to reduce harm towards vulnerable people, the ecosystems within which we live, and future generations — now. Gaming is a lynchpin in the whole tech sector and where we go, others will follow — because they are inspired by our progress, or simply because our supply chains are inextricably entangled. Either way, our potential for positive change is in fact greater than the damage we deal to the planet.

Joining the SIG in 2021 is your chance to influence how we as an industry decide to tackle the planetary crisis. We invite everyone to contribute — no matter whether you’re a seasoned climate advocate, or completely new to the space. We look forward to welcoming you to our community, and bring forward new paths to a brighter future we define for ourselves.

“Thank you for helping us help you help us all.”

/GlaDOS

READY TO ACT, OR EVEN JUST A BIT CURIOUS?


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