Africa’s first Green Games Summit wraps with call to action on nature

April 22, 2024

With more than 3 billion people playing video games worldwide, there is huge potential to reach outside our traditional networks to mobilise video gaming and digital communities for the planet” said Susan Gardner, Director of Ecosystems Division at UN Environment Programme (UNEP), as she opened the second day of the Green Games Summit.

That spirit of working together with new partners in new innovative ways was echoed by many across the two-day Summit with case-studies of all genres of games paraded to an audience both online and in the room with one participant - Brian Diang’a, “The Beast” Africa Gaming Ambassador - riding for 10 hours from Kampala on a motorbike to be in the room. 

Brian just had to be there, saying “Attending the Green Games Summit was an incredibly moving experience for me. Interacting with industry leaders and having the opportunity to share insights was both humbling and empowering. The impact of the summit on me was profound; it reignited my determination to showcase the transformative power of video games. This event was not just a success, but a testament to the boundless potential of gaming to inspire change and drive innovation.” 

The ask from UNEP at the start of the day was to consider three things:

  1. How can nature be something that games come together to fight for in the real world?
  2. How can games listen to their players and support them with the chance to express their agency?
  3. Finally, how can UNEP use some of the best practices from this industry and share that learning with other entertainment mediums?

No small ask. But already so much is happening on this agenda and the Summit showcased what more can be done.

First up was Jane Campbell and Lili Ibrahim from ustwo games who gave a sneak peak behind the scenes in their game Alba: A Wildlife Adventure. Alba was made with the intention of showing players how every action, no matter how small, can make a difference with the lead character repairing what she owns, picking up other people’s rubbish and learning about all the wildlife that surrounds her. 

Franziska Elsaesser from Google built on the theme of how small actions do make a difference through the 2022 introduced eco routing option on Google Maps where they empower every user to make more sustainable choices. In the first year alone, this feature mitigated the equivalent of taking 250,000 cars off the road for an entire year. She also spoke about the potential of carbon free game development as a target for the industry to consider, with Google already running their data centres on approximately 64% global average carbon-free energy and new ideas in support of the Playing for the Planet Alliance being considered.

Beyond the theme of green game development, there was a new discussion around a new partnership between international studios and Africa with Salim Busuru, Founder and Creative Director, Avandu Vosi Studios saying “The Green Games Summit was an eye-opener to the inherent power in gaming for the betterment of the planet. Learning that in Kenya we use 93% renewable energy was quite an inspiration. We can and are doing something. A proper inspiration to remind us that we have the capacity to make effective adjustments locally and inspire internationally.” 

Participants also left with a clear sense of what was possible and what could come next with Iminza Mbwaya, Museum for the UN - UN Live inspired to think about what more other entertainment mediums can do to get involved: "It's inspiring to see cultural strongholds, particularly gaming, recognized as a powerful way to engage the public on environmental impact. I look forward to seeing how we can amplify this reach through collaboration with other mass culture avenues, like music and film."  

Researchers were also in the room, thinking about new angles around how games can support citizens to make new choices on sustainability with Julia Hammann, Senior Associate, Busara Center for Behavioral Economics saying:  “I am a true believer that gamification of scientific information will be able to change behaviour and ultimately be a "game changer" to protect our planet. I never thought that “betting” in games could ultimately be a powerful tool to simulate decision making of smallholder farmers given the unpredictable weather conditions in Kenya which is what I discovered through a game workshop hosted on Sunday.” 

The conference ended with Michael O’Brien of Nature4Justice providing closing wisdom on what he thought games could make the greatest difference on, which was nature.  Without it, life can’t be lived, but judging by the discussions held at the Green Games Summit held with a rooftop view across the city of Nairobi, this industry is more than ready to help.