Green Games Gain In Popularity

On August 17, 2011, in Items of Interest, by Ashkin Group

August 17, case 2011 – The fate of Earth is often at stake in popular video games, pharmacy such as the sci-fi space sagas Halo and Mass Effect. But a growing movement of ecologically conscious games deals with the real destiny of our actual habitat.

Eco Mania, a recycling sortable game for iPhone and iPod Touch, has players match items on a conveyer belt with the proper recycling bin. In between rounds, recycling tips are offered up.

In the PC strategy game Fate of the World, players try their hand at juggling sociopolitical events, energy consumption, population growth, food production and natural disasters. As the head of a fictitious world environmental organization, the goal is to improve the global climate-change patterns over the next 200 years.

Sounds simple, right? But an obvious strategy to wean countries off fossil fuels, for example, can result in an outcry as the economies of some nations suffer. “The players’ exploration will be revealing to them the complexities” of climate change, says Ian Roberts, creative director of the U.K. studio Red Redemption, which created the game ($9.99, after finishing the Flash-based Web game Climate Challenge for the BBC in 2006.

PHOTOS: Games that help you go green

“We didn’t want to make any game that didn’t have something relevant to everyday life,” Roberts says. “We felt that games had a great ability to inform and that most of the games we played taught you how to be really good at things that were fantastical or fictional.”

Roberts and Red Redemption are not alone. While unlikely to overshadow the steady stream of mainstream video game releases, the growing green game wave is spreading from computers to home console systems and smartphones.

As the cost of development has dropped, games have gained in popularity as a method to spread environmental messages. “Many different organizations want to put out green messages, be associated with the environmental movement and develop competence and conviction in saving energy,” says Clark Aldrich, author of Learning Online with Games, Simulations, and Virtual Worlds and director of the Serious Play Conference to be held next week in Redmond, Wash.

The rise and effectiveness of environmentally conscious games will be among the serious games discussed at the conference, where Fate of the World is a finalist in the Games for Good category. Other topics: health care, military simulations and education.

Serious games with environmental and ecological themes are becoming a tool for non-profits and governmental groups because, “This is an issue that resonates with the next generation,” Aldrich says. “Both the inclusion of emotion and engagement make the messages stickier, and it speaks the language of the students.”

Where green gaming began

Modern-day green games had some predecessors. The PC gaming classic SimCity, released in 1989, had environmental underpinnings in that “pollution and congestion were main issues,” Aldrich says. “Some critics of the game believed the mechanics overemphasized public transportation.”

More recently, 2009’s visually arresting Flower, a downloadable game for the PlayStation 3, lets players control the wind and blow petals across landscapes — transforming the environment. The developers meant to deliver a green message of “harmony between urban bustle and natural serenity,” says Jenova Chen of Thatgamecompany. “As a medium, you can use a video game to express many things.”

A look at some new and upcoming green games:

Recyling apps. In the iPhone/iPod Touch game Face the Waste (99 cents), players sort trash into the correct recycling bin as villain Toxic Tim tries to thwart them. The aim: help people better understand the environmental issues around them and how to reverse the harmful effects of our society’s daily habits,” says developer Jake Walker.

Another recycling sortable game for iPhone and iPod Touch, Eco Mania (99 cents), also has players matching items on a conveyer belt with the proper recycling bin. In between rounds, recycling tips are offered up. “It will help kids understand what is recycled where,” Aldrich says.

Web games. A wide variety of free-to-play Flash-based games address environmental issues. In the game Yard Sale, players must price items so that they will sell and be reused. The game, says Aldrich, “highlights a real process that kids can follow, and then allows participants to engage in some basic practicing of real skills that they will need.”

The international repercussions of the fast-food industry play out in The McDonald’s Game. A satire of the actual food chain, the game educates players into “what goes into a fast-food business,” Aldrich says, “including clearing rain forests, killing sick cows, and marketing fast food to children.”

Downloadable games. Like Flower, the upcoming game Okabu will be available on the PlayStation Network (later this fall).

London-based studio HandCircus, developers of the mobile game Rolando, were inspired by an episode of the BBC TV series Planet Earth that focused on the Okavango Delta in Botswana. The show chronicled an entire season of the delta and how “from this barren desert, this beautiful ecosystem bursts from it,” says company co-founder Simon Oliver.

In the colorful, cartoony game Okabu, pollution has reached the land of the cloud whales and two are sent to Earth to help the nature-loving race called the Yorubu offset the environmentally exploitive Doza race.

Like Avatar and the Japanese animated film Princess Mononoke, the game has “an implicit rather than an explicit message,” Oliver says. “One of the things we really wanted to do with the game was build a lot of love and affection for the world. By creating a world that is very endearing, (we) hope that would encourage players to want to do these actions in other situations, to heal the environment itself.”

As realistic simulations or abstract exercises, video games can raise awareness, says Roberts of Red Redemption, which plans to release a Macintosh version of Fate of the World— and an update to the PC game — next month.

“We don’t really have the ability to use our world as a sandbox,” Roberts says. “We only have one of them, and we can’t try out things. In a game, we have that ability.”

Article originally appeared at USA TODAY. By Mike Snider.

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