Educating future game designers to make the game industry more sustainable
A multi-disciplinary research group investigates how to make future game developers include sustainability. At the workshop, NASG Un-Jam, held at the IT University of Copenhagen, 23 European students contributed to the project by developing prototypes of environmental and cultural friendly games.
The videogame industry does not have the best sustainability track record, being notorious for its crunch culture and its historic lack of workplace diversity, and negative impact on the environment. A study
estimated that the annual carbon-dioxide emissions caused by gaming in the US is equivalent to that of 85 million refrigerators or over 5 million cars. Nordic Alliance for Sustainability in Gaming
The Nordic Alliance for Sustainability in Gaming is a research group consisting of 12 researchers from five Nordic countries that explores how games can become part of the solution to sustainability issues, rather than just contributing to the problems. Supported with grants from Nordplus Higher Education, the research group discuss the environmental impact of the games industry and the cultural implications.
- While games contribute to the wellbeing of millions of people worldwide, working conditions in the games industry have faced strong criticism. Rampant sexism, often unhealthy working hours, and age-old portrayals of gamework as a labour of love are some examples of this. The aim of our project is to explore how we can make the industry more in sync with for example the Sustainable development Goals (UN’s SDG’s red.). We organize a workshop for game development students to explore possibilities for combining games and sustainability, says associate professor at the IT University of Copenhagen, Hanna Wirman, who is co-hosting the workshop, NASG Un-Jam. NASG Un-Jam
At the workshop NASG Un-Jam, held at the IT University of Copenhagen from June 5–9, 2023, the The Nordic Alliance for Sustainability in Gaming hosted 23 European university students to develop games prototypes promoting sustainability. The jam is different from a standard game jam. The focus is on providing a friendly and supportive environment where diverse ideas are embraced, crunch discouraged, and the game prototypes created by participating students will be presented but not graded or ranked. This appeals to the Swedish master student from University of Skövde, Mio Jernström:
- I really like it. We get a lot of freedom to express ourselves instead of just focusing on the industry, which is often the case. I think this should be a part of all game educations because it helps game developers to see their work from a bigger perspective, she says. Five prototypes
On the last day of the workshop each of the workshop’s five groups presented a prototype of a sustainable game:
1. ‘If everyone had wings' presents a world where everyone else has wings except you, the player. As such, the game provides an experience of living as a person with a disability where the world grows increasingly more difficult as other people move their daily lives to the sky.
2. ‘Eat the rich’ is essentially an anti-capitalist game in which the players are given roles of PR managers to a billionaire and ‘hungry crowd’ who are after those billionnaires. Your task as a player is to either reveal the secrets of the ‘rich’ or to protect the interests of your employer.
3. ‘No more fish’ is a multiplayer game for four players and explores challenges of overfishing and the negative impacts of corporate-led fishing.
4. ‘Got water?’ shows the contrast between the world today, where our relationship with water is casual and fun, and the future, where to obtain water one might need to be ready to kill others.
5. ‘Ecoloids’, the only physical board game created at the jam, explores the dynamics of a fantasy ecosystem that the player aims at keeping in balance with other players.
Hanna Wirman is impressed about the sincerity and seriousness that went into the development of the prototypes. Each game addresses a unique angle to sustainability and finds a matching way to present it in the form of a game.
- I also felt we formed a community of likeminded people in these five days of working and discussing difficult topics. What will be a big challenge for the future, is to integrate something similar to the Games MSc curriculum at ITU and elsewhere. As a Head of Study Programme, this will be a strategic task for me, but it also needs help from everyone teaching with us, says Wirman. More information
Learn more about The Nordic Alliance for Sustainability in Gaming on the research group’s webpage