Where are all the climate change games? Locating digital games’ response to climate change

Central Queensland University
Publication Type:
Journal Article
Transformations, 2017, 30 pp. 74 - 94
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The burgeoning genre of climate fiction, or “cli-fi,” in literature and the arts has begun to attract both scholarly and popular attention. It has been described as “potentially [having] crucial contributions to make toward full understanding of the multiple, accelerating environmental challenges facing the world today” (Buell). Implicitly, these works confront the current orthodoxy about where exactly the issue of climate change sits in domains of knowledge. As Jordan notes: “climate change as ‘nature” not culture is still largely perceived as a problem for the sciences alongside planning, policy, and geography” (Jordan 8). In this paper we ask where is, or alternatively what could climate fiction look like within the field of digital games? Even a passing familiarity with the cultural output of the mainstream game industry reveals the startling omission of the issue – with very few games telling stories that engage with climate change and the unfolding ecological crisis (Abraham “Videogame Visions”). Finding a relative dearth of explicit engagement, this paper offers an alternative engagement with climate change in games by focussing on the underlying ideas, conceptions and narratives of human-environment relationships that have been a part of games since their earliest incarnations. We argue that it is possible to read games for particular conceptualisations of human relationships to nature, and offer a description of four highly prevalent “modes” of human-environment engagement. We describe and analyse these relationships for their participation in or challenge to the same issues and problems that undergird the current ecological crisis, such as enlightenment narratives of human mastery and dominion over the earth.
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