GREENER EP ICS

EDGE - - STRANGE SKIES -

While the cre­ators of block­buster games are wary of be­ing seen to of­fer po­lit­i­cal com­men­tary, a hand­ful of stu­dios have tack­led the sub­ject of cli­mate change head-on. Ever the con­tra­dic­tion, the Gears

OfWar se­ries has spent years mod­el­ling the de­cline of a hu­man so­ci­ety hooked on a fos­sil fuel ana­logue, Imul­sion. GearsOfWar4 even made Sera’s rav­aged cli­mate in­te­gral to its gun­play, with storms pow­er­ful enough to rip pieces of cover apart, though The Coali­tion was re­luc­tant to ex­pand on the implications of this when we spoke to the team in 2015 (the stu­dio de­clined to be in­ter­viewed for this fea­ture). Arkane’s Dis­hon­ored games, mean­while, are steeped in the pu­tres­cence of the In­dus­trial Rev­o­lu­tion, from the rats in the sew­ers to the whales sus­pended from slaugh­ter­house roofs. This is meshed with the game’s ar­ray of story out­comes – to de­cide the fates of key char­ac­ters in Dis­hon­ored is also to de­cide how dis­eased you want the land­scape to be. to how A Light In Cho­rus rep­re­sents Earth as a be­nighted back­wa­ter – later evolved into an ex­trater­res­trial fan­tasy.

“I think a big part of the fan­tasy sci-fi set­ting was con­vey­ing a ‘stranger in a strange land’ type of ex­pe­ri­ence,” Pri­mate says. “We wanted the player to start from scratch, and have to ex­plore and ex­per­i­ment in or­der to learn the lan­guage of a new land, and from there we could es­tab­lish rules.” Play­ers are also, he sug­gests, “more will­ing to en­gage with some of these con­cepts when they are re­moved from the pol­i­tics of the real world”, a stance that echoes Aven Colony’s com­mit­ment to the broader stage of his­tory, though there’s lit­tle of Mother­ship’s op­ti­mism to be un­earthed in

Rain World’s tor­rid, preda­tor-stalked fast­ness. “We can all be shocked at the wan­ton eco­log­i­cal de­struc­tion of

Rain World’s strange alien so­ci­ety, with­out get­ting wrapped up in the di­vi­sive minu­tiae of, ‘Well, coal could em­ploy this many peo­ple in my home­town’ sort of thing.”

Rain World is to some de­gree a lin­ear jour­ney, in which you travel from bolt­hole to bolt­hole be­tween apoc­a­lyp­tic down­pours, dig­ging into the se­crets of a van­ished race whose traits are sum­marised as our own, dam­ag­ing cul­tural foibles put through a fun­house mir­ror so we can see them for the grotesques that they are. On a more pro­found level, how­ever, it is also a game about learn­ing to live with an en­vi­ron­ment rather than merely over­com­ing it – its lengthy, colour­ful ros­ter of preda­tors spawned partly at ran­dom and thus dif­fi­cult to ‘game’, their be­hav­iours shaped by a va­ri­ety of shift­ing fac­tors. “The ini­tial con­cept of the game was 100 per cent sand­box-ter­rar­ium ecosys­tem,” Pri­mate com­ments. “The evo­lu­tion into the cur­rent form was, to a de­gree, a re­sult of player in­ter­est, and also just the clas­sic ques­tion of, ‘How do we get play­ers to ac­tu­ally see all of this stuff?’” It’s still pos­si­ble to play it that way, set­ting up shop in a rel­a­tively safe re­gion where there’s a boun­ti­ful sup­ply of slug-cat vict­uals, such as bats or fruit.

Many would ar­gue, of course, that the last thing an emis­sions-prone Earth needs is more videogames. The con­sole busi­ness in par­tic­u­lar has been cen­sured by Green­peace for its car­bon foot­print and use of non­re­new­able ma­te­ri­als; re­cently, the charity also took man­u­fac­tur­ers to task over the ris­ing en­ergy cost of down­load­able soft­ware. But if the game in­dus­try is hardly eco-friendly, it of­fers an enor­mous plat­form for the dis­sem­i­na­tion of eco­log­i­cal nar­ra­tives and val­ues, from the slightly sin­is­ter sunny up­lands of Aven Colony to the phan­tas­magor­i­cal mi­crogames of Ciara Bur­kett. In the process, de­vel­op­ers them­selves be­come sub­ject to a po­tent cock­tail of as­pi­ra­tion and pes­simism, hope and de­spair. “What I find in­ter­est­ing to ex­plore about cli­mate change is the way it touches our lives in ways we don’t ex­pect,” Bur­kett sum­marises. “The me­teor is out­side my win­dow, so to speak, but I don’t no­tice un­til my rose gar­den starts to singe. This is part of the tragedy of hu­man­ity, but it doesn’t mean the world ends with us.”

RainWorld has been marked down for its un­pre­dictabil­ity, but this is per­haps the price one pays for a game that sim­u­lates a volatile weather sys­tem

In GearsOfWar4, most hu­mans live be­hind mas­sive fortress walls, re­ly­ing on a scrappy mix­ture of re­new­able power sources

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