(NEW YORK) – As the effects of climate change spur greater global greenhouse gas emissions reductions and lower energy consumption, every industry faces scrutiny of its impact. on climate and the environment.
Video game, media and entertainment companies, in particular, need a significant amount of energy to run powerful computers, high-speed internet connections and cloud-based technologies.
One study estimated that games around the world use the same amount of energy as 5 million cars. Game consoles or computers also contribute to the 50 million tons of electronic waste produced each year, of which only 20% is recycled, according to the United Nations Environmental Program.
But video games also have a large audience of gamers, fans, and commentators around the world. And the United Nations saw an opportunity to reach both the industry and its audience with a message about the importance of tackling climate change.
“Three billion people play games. Nearly one in two people on the planet is either on their phone or on their console at home. This medium is therefore the most powerful medium in the world. And so we think working with this industry to make a difference can unlock all kinds of different changes in people,” said Sam Barratt, head of a unit at the United Nations Environment Program that works to engage young people. in environmental issues.
“So for us, I would say the climate crisis is everyone, everywhere, all at once trying to make a difference, that’s why the video game industry needs to have their sleeves on this. , that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Barratt said he was inspired to reach out to video game developers after seeing how much time his kids, especially his 12-year-old son, spend playing games like Minecraft, FIFA or Roblox.
“He spends a lot of time in games, and that made me think, how can this medium not only entertain people, but also give them the opportunity to make a difference? So we came up with the idea of playing to 4 The Planet just to explore what was possible in the game,” Barratt told ABC News.
Since its launch in 2019, Barrett said Playing 4 The Planet Alliance has worked with more than 40 companies and industry groups to set standards aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions and plastic pollution. They also use initiatives such as their Green Game Jam developer competition to incorporate environmental messages into small educational games and large franchises.
Alenda Chang, assistant professor of media studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara and author of Playing nature: ecology in video games, said there was a lot of potential in using games to change the way people perceive the environment.
Chang said that many video games treat nature as a beautiful backdrop or source of resources, but the interactive and immersive nature of the games could allow players to experience and learn about the impact humans have on the world. natural world as a living, breathing ecosystem in a way that sticks with them more than just hearing or reading about it. She pointed to games like Shelter, where players play as a mother badger protecting her young, as a way to help players empathize with a non-human perspective or games like SimCity that can demonstrate the large-scale impacts of human society.
“I think the biggest takeaway is that the game really matters. This game isn’t some kind of frivolous or escapist side realm,” Chang said, adding that’s what many adults are led to believe.
“But as a professor who studies and writes about video games…to me it’s very clear that the solutions and some sort of collectivization around climate change and other environmental issues are social.”
Sony Interactive Entertainment, the parent company of PlayStation, has launched a conservation campaign with one of its biggest game releases of the year, Horizon: Forbidden West. The game revolves around the main character, Aloy, as she attempts to save a future Earth from threats such as diseased land, enemies including hostile animal-like machines, and worsening storms.
Kieran Meyers, senior director of environmental and social governance for Sony Interactive Entertainment, said the game inspired the company to highlight the real importance of natural ecosystems.
“The game shows them seeing these post-apocalyptic scenes where nature takes over. And basically this narrative is really about our world where we all want to make a difference,” Meyers told ABC News.
Sony has partnered with the Arbor Day Foundation to plant nearly 300,000 trees in areas affected by deforestation or wildfires in California, Wisconsin and Florida.
“[PlayStation] met their customers, they met their network where they are, doing what they love to do: play games. And they found a creative way to engage and inspire them, to be part of advancing our shared goals of planting trees and doing something great for the planet,” said Dan Lambe, Director of Arbor Day Foundation, at ABC.
Lambe said planting trees alone would not solve the climate crisis, but it is a good start.
Meyers said Sony had also set goals to achieve a zero environmental footprint by 2050, including reducing greenhouse gas emissions in their workplaces and supply chain, eliminating using virgin materials and phasing out materials that pose environmental risks.
This year on Earth Day, the UN’s Green Game Jam competition will judge the competing games on how well they incorporate these environmental messages. The United Nations initiative hopes to reach hundreds of millions of gamers through the campaign.
One of the 2021 Green Game Jam winners, Anno 1800, used in-game events where players were forced to clean up pollution from invading armies and challenged players to build a new society without damage too many natural resources.
The game’s publisher, Ubisoft, also used money from the game’s paid content to fund efforts to plant more than 300,000 trees.
“I think overall, maybe ultimately, the goal is to see how we can translate online actions into real benefits for the planet, our communities and our players. And that’s something that no other type of media can do,” said Ubisoft’s director of environment and social governance, Nicolas Hunsinger.
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