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Climate activism and video gaming
September 20, 2023 | James Lin
Image by StockSnap from Pixabay
What’s this about a video game webinar?
On December 9, 2022 the Yale Center for Environmental Communication held an online panel discussion titled “Climate Activism and Attitudes in Videogaming” (click to watch the recording). Two of the three speakers were also authors of a report from the Yale Program on Climate Communication from August 2022.
So what is the link between climate change and video games, you ask? Well, many video games feature dystopian settings, from desolate borderlands of a distant planet, to the last of us surviving in a zombie-infested world, to an island vacation that is a far cry from the expected paradise. Video gamers could therefore have increased awareness of how our real world is approaching the fictional ones, due to humans progressively going Tiny Tina on the environment.
Before proceeding, it is worth mentioning that the aforementioned report and panel discussion use “video games” as an umbrella term that includes mobile games as well.
Main points of the webinar
There are a lot of video gamers out there
Any video game-related messages, or messages embedded within games, are speaking to a potentially huge audience.
Video games are a relationship-building tool for those who play them
There are many untrue stereotypes about video games, one of which is that they are an antisocial activity. Your correspondent has met friends through a video game specifically designed for social settings (Jackbox).
Some games incorporate real-life experiences
Pokemon Go is a typical example, providing in-game rewards for real world fitness and exploration. This could be a way to draw in people who would not normally partake in video games.
Gamers are willing to take political action to fight climate change
Such actions include signing a petition, donating time or money to an organization, and contacting or meeting with elected officials. There is thus potential to motivate gamers from simply talking about climate action to taking action.
What does this mean?
Video gamers, who are not typically associated with climate change action, seem to in fact be prime candidates for just that. They may not be aware that there are other gamers who share concerns about climate change, hence the potential usefulness of the webinar and report. Video gamers’ shared interests can then serve as a rallying point for awareness and action over humanity’s mass effect on the planet, and the need to slow runaway emissions (a blue shell is unlikely to work, unfortunately).
So if you are a video gamer, what can you do? Well, you can bring up the topic of climate change with fellow gamers, in the context of post-apocalyptic settings towards which the real world may be heading. This is a way to talk about things one would not normally talk about, and to think about things one would normally not think about, and is a first step towards increasing public consciousness and encouraging change.
As one of the webinar speakers put it, video games present a chance to have fun while saving the world!
Since you read this far…
Here are some jokes for your amusement.
 The authors in question are Jennifer Carman (Deputy Research Manager, Yale Program on Climate Change Communication) and Maria Psaros (Head of Sustainability, Unity Technologies). Deborah Mensah-Bonsu (founder, Games for Good) was the third webinar speaker. Lynn E. Fiellin (Professor, Yale School of Medicine) was moderator.
James is the son of INZ founder Charles. He has a PhD in economics from the University of Alberta.