GREENER EP ICS
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