Green Game Jam Workshops teach studios to connect existing games and IP with real-world action

April 22, 2024

The theme of the 2024 Green Game Jam is Small Actions, Big Impact, an ethos that aims to encourage 1 million players to take action for the planet by building green activations into existing games and metagame spaces

To help studios connect the real world with the digital, we brought in three experts in environmentalist game design - Arnaud Fayolle, Clayton Whittle and Trevin York. Over the past three weeks, they’ve been demonstrating to our participants the theory and psychology behind designing activations that will empower players towards pro-environmental action.

But you don’t have to be a Green Game Jam participant to be able to incorporate these principles into your game design. These resources are for everyone. In this blog, we’ll take you through the key beats of each talk, and provide links to the workbooks each speaker designed to help you apply these principles to your game and associated media.

How can you build environmental messaging into an existing game?

Watch the full session here | Save the workbook here 

You might think that to make a game that has a green message, you need to start from scratch. But every game can encourage players to think about and take action on environmental issues, regardless of themes, genre and player base. But not every game can take the same approach.

Or so argues Arnaud Fayolle, veteran art director and co-founder of the IGDA Climate SIG and member of Ubisoft Positive Play. Kicking off the series at the end of March, he explained that there are three key areas to look at when determining what he calls a game’s unique impact potential to change minds and inspire action: themes, gameplay and audience.

It is a sad and often overwhelming truth that the causes of climate change are deeply rooted in every aspect of our modern society, and they impact everyone on the planet. But to Arnaud, this means effectively all games can have a thematic connection to one or more of UNEP’s 17 sustainable development goals.

Different gameplay mechanics can also help connect your game to an environmental focus. Arnaud identifies three interlinked strands of climate action: living sustainably, transforming the system, and resisting against the planet’s destruction

Different genres of games will be able to find inspiration for unique gameplay potential within one of these three “verbs”. For example, how can management or building games imagine sustainable structures of production? How can life sims and exploration games incorporate sustainable living, hunting and farming? How can RPGs and shooters give us something to fight for?

Considering the demographics of your audience, where can you slot them in along the axis of awareness (from unaware or uninterested to actively involved in environmental action) and agency (from high to low - for instance, the difference between adults and children/teens)?

Different players play for different reasons, and so will be motivated differently by different environmental tasks. If we consider the various player profiles as outlined by the Quantric Foundry Gamer Motivation Model, we might imagine that social players might be motivated by cleaning up garbage for the good of the community in games like Alba: A Wild Adventure. Meanwhile players from the mastery cluster might be more interested in how the game prompts them to use garbage and debris to optimise their gameplay, like in Under the Waves.

How do we empower people to take action for the planet through video games?

Watch the full session here | Download the workbook here

Every game can encourage players to think about environmental issues. 

But how can we influence them to take that crucial step from thinking about an issue into doing something about it? Clayton Whittle, co-founder of Climate SIG IGDA and educator at the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, answers that question in his talk on converting awareness to action. 

Action is a broad term, and not something we can teach directly. First of all, it requires actionable knowledge. This is more than knowledge that a problem exists, and includes knowledge of what to do about it. Non-actionable knowledge can cause climate anxiety, which can even paralyse people from acting against climate change. It also requires intent, a self-sufficient desire to enact change and felt impact, an expectation that they will see or feel a tangible result.

We can’t magic up action, but we can inspire behaviour. Behaviour is a short term isolated event, like throwing a can in a recycling bin. ‘Action’, Clayton explained, is more long term, like buying a recycling bin and making the decision to implement it into your day to day life.

Pro-environmental behaviour can be influenced by three “predictors” which determine how likely someone is to carry out such behaviour:

1. Knowledge and understanding of the system the behaviour forms a part of and why that behaviour is going to work.

2. Pro-environmental attitude. This is a complex element and depends on a lot of personal and social factors, but it can be nurtured and supported by fostering a connection and empathy to either the natural world or to a specific location/cause.

3. Perceived self efficacy, which is built directly from perceived success. Perceived success can, in turn, be developed through small wins. That is why this year’s Green Game Jam focuses on small actions. When we complete many small actions, our perceived self-efficacy increases, making it more that we’ll keep acting.

But how do we incorporate these pro-environmental predictors into the design of our games and activations?

Clayton explained we have to think about the game itself

What are the goals of the game? For instance, Mario’s goal is to rescue Princess Peach.

What are the obstacles to this goal? For Mario, it’s Goombas and other enemies.

What are the means to overcome the obstacles and achieve the goals? Again, for Mario, his means are jumping, ducking, running and catching mushrooms.

Now how do these connect to the goals, means and obstacles of carrying out pro-environmental behaviours?

Clayton also pointed out other ways we can increase behavioural predictors through elements of our game. For instance, narrative connects predictors by offering emotional experiences that spark real-world empathy. The roleplay of acting like an environmentalist can also give people the confidence to extend this behaviour to the real world, while making powerful in-game choices can boost their perceived self-efficacy. 

Mechanics and game design can help with the knowledge side of things by helping players to learn by doing, instead of dumping information, while the social and metagame spaces of a game can be socially supportive spaces where players can build up knowledge and develop environmental social norms. They are also focal points for organising and promoting real world events for players to come together under the same cause.

How do we create opportunities for action by connecting the digital and physical worlds?

Watch the full session here | Download the workbook here

Bringing together the core game idea, audience, platform, transformational goal and strategy allows us to think more tangibly about practical, real-world opportunities for players to participate in pro-environmental action.

Trevin York, founder of Dire Lark (a Games for Change Studio) explained how it’s done in the final talk of the series by splitting techniques into touchpoints, imaginaries and rules

Touchpoints are places where game teams are able to interact with their players. This could be within the digital space, in online communities and in physical spaces. Participants were also encouraged to think about ways they could communicate with their players but currently don’t.

Imaginaries are shared hopes and visions for the future. Giving examples of Puerto Rico’s solar transformation in the aftermath of the devastating 2017 hurricanes, Trevin explained that powerful change happens when a shared goal is both widespread and flexible enough to be reimagined in different ways. What better world are you asking their players to imagine? What are the different ways players might approach it?

Finally, participants were asked to think about how the player-facing rules and systems rules can be designed so that every outcome ensures the target impact is met, even if the player fails or the game breaks down. 

The aim is to create multiple opportunities for players to respond in their own way within the rules of the imaginary you’ve created, in the touchpoints where you meet them.

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