Video Games: A Guide to Sustainability Issues?

By Anthony Harris

VideogamesWhen it comes to video games and the effect they have on societal issues the context is usually negative, especially in relation to violence. Is it possible these much-maligned forms of virtual entertainment could help alleviate our planet’s current and future sustainability issues with climate change, drought, pollution, and more? Yes, according to OSU New Media Communications instructor Shawna Kelly, who co-authored a recent concept paper in the journal First Monday with Bonnie Nardi, an anthropologist with the University of California, Irvine’s Department of Informatics.

Kelly says video games have the potential to teach the public and encourage them to develop strategic and creative ideas to deal with social, economical, and environmental challenges.

In the article, they highlight four distinct areas where video games could encourage sustainable habits. For example, they recommend gamers move away from growth as an end result, since uncontrollable growth isn’t always sustainable. Secondly, a gamer should attempt to scavenge as opposed to fight for resources, instead interacting with each other and the environment for survival. Players should also opt for social interaction and collaboration, besides the “us vs. them” mentality. They should strategize with their resources that consider future consequences and interdependencies regarding resource usage.

The pair referred to existing games like EVE Online and DayZ as examples that already incorporate some of the elements discussed in their research, such as long- and short-term goals and scavenging. Kelly and Nardi say these present challenges many problem-solving gamers and their network of peers want to take on. However, they’re not so naive as to believe that gamers want to play games specifically developed for addressing sustainability concepts or ones that are educational. Kelly recommends making the issues accessible to the gaming population and seeing what happens from there.

You can see their paper here: http://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/5259.

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