Sustainability And Online Gaming: Playing For Change And Changing The Players


Many stakeholders involved in education and popularization fields use games and online gaming for everyone understands the economic, social and environmental challenges that mankind has to face. Despite of some adverse effects, online gaming is a real opportunity to ensure a sustainability mind-set.

Online gaming is an area that shouldn’t be neglected especially regarding teenagers and children: it seems that online gaming could have tangible effects on young people’s behaviors. A 2012 report (desk-research methodology; 60 studies from 12 different countries) says that the kind of food displayed in online games could lead to unhealthy food habits. The researchers who drafted the report have called again to regulate these online games (or “advergames”) in May 2014. A 12-month further study on the subject will be launched this year by the Executive Agency for Health and Consumers – Consumers and Food Safety Unit of the European Commission.

However, the results of this 2012 report could be looked through another perspective: online gaming is also an opportunity to help us to change our behaviors for the common good. Moreover, there is a little likelihood that over-regulating online games would stop the brands: they already counterfeit direct advertising via “advergames”. Improving the pedagogical aspect of these online games seems to be an appropriate balance between laxity and overregulation.

The economist Garrett Hardin said something interesting in his 1968 paper : some decisions need, indeed, “non-technical” solutions. In other words, some solutions need human values rather than natural science techniques to be effective. Even though overpopulation and common use of resources were the main subjects of Hardin’s paper, sustainable living could clearly be considered as a field which needs “non-technical” solutions. Sustainability is a matter of human values and online gaming is a way to develop the skills to achieve it.

Several stakeholders like universities (for example Solar Tycoon and Fishbank) have seized the opportunity to use online gaming to teach sustainability. For instance, researchers from University of Central Florida conducted a study that has demonstrated the increase of teamworking and critical thinking skills. As a key stakeholder regarding climate change and sustainability issues, United-Nations launched Stop Disasters, an entertaining game with online resources to understand how to face natural disasters. The initiative “Games for Change” is also interesting to mention. Social impact is at the core of the project of this organization with a festival, awards and an online community. Parenting, migration and history are some examples of subjects discussed in this award-winning game.

As many brands have launched online games on sustainability, the main concern is the fact brands could use online gaming to do greenwashing or maybe worse, using these games to promote their own products…again. Changing the players may also mean to adapt brands’ behaviors to sustainability.

About the Author Marina Pambou

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