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Video game culture provides overlooked opportunity to engage with climate change

New report ahead of the UN’s COP26 recommends seven ways to engage gamers

Organisations wishing to have an impact on climate change shouldn’t overlook the opportunities presented by working with the breadth of video game culture, according to a new report from the global entertainment and research charity Opening Knowledge across Research & Entertainment (OKRE) and commissioned by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).

Ahead of the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) next week, Iain Dodgeon Director of OKRE said, “Video games are a global cultural force. Relentless technological and creative innovation alongside the core consideration of the player in the game design process has propelled the sector’s expansion. No other media exhibits quite such a mutability of form and purpose.”

You can read the full report here.

How we live with games

As video games have evolved, so too has how people engage with them – not just playing video games, but playing with them in other media and in other areas of our lives.

Iain Simons, co-author of the report and curator-at-large for the National Videogame Museum said, “Because so much of the industry marketing around them is about technology – ‘faster! more realistic! better than last year’s model!’ – it’s tempting to think that games are just hardware and software. The most interesting and important part of video games is how we live with them. They’re a fantastically rich place for public engagement, both in the games themselves and in the cultures we build around them.”

The most interesting and important part of video games is how we live with them.

Iain Simons, The National Videogame Museum

As games such as Fortnite have become social destinations in their own right, they provide a significant and mostly untapped opportunity for public engagement. Rather than focusing on developing a single game with climate themes, the report identifies seven broader strategic opportunities for public engagement with climate science through videogames:

  1. Embracing the breadth of video game culture
  2. Harnessing interest in video games to inspire engagement with STEAM skills and careers
  3. Utilising no-code game design tools to open up participation and creative expression
  4. Prioritising local and hyper-local engagement
  5. Incorporating digital and non-digital access points
  6. Deploying site and time-specific games
  7. Improving understanding of the potential of video game culture to engage underrepresented audiences

Opportunities expanded

These opportunities include embracing the breadth of videogame culture in both digital and non-digital spaces. This culture includes streaming, fan communities, fan-fiction and cosplay, and provides a rich and collaborative space that can reach diverse audiences.

Harnessing interest in video games to inspire engagement with a wide array of STEAM skills and careers is another area of focus, and the report says practitioners should particularly try to understand their potential applications in other sectors, such as future innovation around climate change.

Enabling a more diverse range of communities to creatively explore opportunities for climate action is also key. One recommended way to go about this is by utilising no-code game design tools to open up participation and creative expression, removing a requirement for technical skills. Organisations should also prioritise local and hyper-local engagement, focusing on social and environmental concerns of more direct relevance to these communities who are often underrepresented in public engagement work.

One opportunity for doing this is through the creation of site and time-specific games – projects that are uniquely relevant to different communities and calendar events, and which can enable people to interact with their area in new and exciting ways.

Digital exclusion is a key concern, and OKRE’s report recommends that both digital and non-digital access points should be included in any programme, with public engagement practitioners embracing board games, card games and other physical games alongside video games to maximise engagement and access.

Organisations can create lasting impact in their public engagement work.

Iain Dodgeon, OKRE

Exciting potential

Dodgeon said, “By embracing the breadth of opportunities available to engage with video game culture, organisations can create lasting impact in their public engagement work. This is an area that has been overlooked until now, so there is really exciting potential for organisations to work in fresh ways.”

The report brings to light past and present examples of video games engaging with climate change and work being done within the industry in a bid to mitigate its own carbon footprint. It concludes that engagement with climate change should not focus on the development of a single game with climate themes, but rather consider the opportunities available within wider videogame culture to engage diverse communities and increase impact.

Written By

Steve is an award-winning editor and copywriter with more than 20 years’ experience specialising in consumer technology and video games. With a career spanning from the first PlayStation to the latest in VR, he's proud to be a lifelong gamer.

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