Video game industry levels up on climate change

Want to capture the attention of millions of young people and raise awareness about the climate emergency? Then talk to the video gaming industry.

Levelling up, going faster, scoring higher and taking on the impossible is not just what it takes to achieve gaming stardom. They are exactly what it will take to confront urgent global challenges.

A recent report by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and partners analyses the impact of the Playing for the Planet Alliance, an initiative that taps the power of the gaming industry to encourage action on climate change. Supported by UNEP, GRID-Arendal and Playmob, the alliance brings together  29 major gaming companies, which can reach over 1.2 billion players.

In 2020 – a year in which many were confined to their couches – more than 110 million players were also supporting green initiatives like tree planting through activations in games like Angry Birds and Subway Surfers, promoted in the Google Play Store. And Sony Interactive Entertainment surpassed its own energy efficiency standards, launching the Play Station 5 with reduced power consumption modes.

“The games industry is now probably the biggest entertainment medium of our time,” explains Sam Barratt, Chief of Youth, Education and Advocacy at UNEP and Alliance Co-Founder, noting the potential of the industry to reach one in three people on the planet. “Their reach and engagement powers are unprecedented. If supported in the right way, the sector can be a major partner in shifting the environmental debate.” 

Companies that join the Playing for Planet alliance make commitments to climate action, ranging from integrating green activations and storylines into games to reducing their emissions to sharing lessons learned with others in the industry.

Two-thirds of the alliance’s member companies have committed to reducing their carbon footprint, with a new industry calculator to be created in 2021.

In 2020, Playing for Planet held the Green Game Jam, led by Space Ape and Sybo. The jam encouraged individual commitments to combat climate change such as powering down, going meat-free on a Monday, walking and taking public transport, and reducing the consumption of fast fashion. The 2021 edition of the ‘jam’ will explore how the industry can collectively take action on protecting the world’s forests.

“With a major climate summit looming in Glasgow in 2021, we are hoping to reach 1 billion people to generate not just awareness but action from gamers on this agenda,” says Barratt. 

In 2021, the Alliance will also be looking to commission new research on how gaming can influence offline choices from players as well, with a new study by Google Stadia due out later this year.

Not only is the work having an impact on climate change, but also, on how the world sees environmental challenges.

“Playing for Planet has helped unlock a spirit of collaboration rather than competing to win. This alone is one of the most significant outcomes,” says Barratt.

UN Environment