Transcript of conversation: Deborah Mensah-Bonsu, the founder of dmb crew and Games for Good on TEDxLondon’s Climate Curious podcast.

Transcript: Climate Quickie: How video games inspire climate action 

Deborah Mensah-Bonsu, TEDxLondon Climate Curious

Listen now: Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Google Podcasts | Stitcher | RSS | Android


Ben Hurst: There are more than 3 billion gamers on the planet. How do we get them on board with climate?

In this week’s Climate Quickie, we hear from Deborah Mensah-Bonsu, the founder of Games For Good, and the organiser of the Green Game Jam – an event which brings together people to come up with a new game idea that will inspire climate knowledge, education and action. 

So, how are people playing for the planet?

Let’s get into it with Deborah.

Stay Curious!

Episode starts

Deborah Mensah-Bonsu: Hi everyone. I’m Deborah. I run a consultancy called Games for Good. My focus is on games and social impact.

The reach of gaming

As an industry, our reach and potential influence is pretty much unparalleled. I’m really a believer of meeting people where they are and there are more than 3 billion gamers on the planet. So video games are the biggest entertainment medium of our time.

Why games are a powerful tool for climate action

So why are video games such a powerful tool? Not just in the climate movement, but I think in general, games are just different to any other medium. So they’re not passive. They give players agency. That means there’s a greater ability to empathise, but then also to learn new concepts and systems and try things out.

They’re a space to, to problem solve, right? To imagine different and better futures. Something I always say is that as game makers, we have the two most valuable things anyone can really have.

We have people. time and we have their trust. And I believe if you respect your players, then you can really change the world for the better together.

The Green Game Jam

There are tons of different games out there that are trying to tackle different environmental subjects. One thing that I particularly focus on is something called the Green Game Jam. That’s a yearly initiative where studios kind of tweak and innovate on their existing games with existing audiences to try to reach them about environmental themes.

With this Game Jam, we’re actually trying to use games that are already out there in the wild, that have, millions of players, and then trying to tweak and innovate on those games to try to reach players.

Now as opposed to later, because especially when it comes to the environment, we are a bit short on time.

2023’s theme – wildlife

This year the theme is wildlife and we have nearly 30 studios. So you know everything from Ubisoft and Supercell Bandai. Tencent Roo, who are all trying to find ways to help conserve three wild ecosystems across the globe, and that’s together with their players. We’re trying to protect the habitat of three mascot species.

We’ve got the Harlequin toad, the snow leopard, and the mantaray, that are living respectively in the Amazon Himalayas and then Western Indian Ocean. And we are gonna submit around Earth Day in April, and then players will actually get to see this content live around World Environment Day.

Green Gam Jam player research 

Through the jam, last year we actually had the opportunity to gather four pieces of research. We managed to ask more than 300,000 gamers about their attitudes towards the environment.

And then also more specifically, like green activations or within games.

Almost 53% of gamers say that environmental issues are already affecting them now.

And then another 26% said, um, that it will affect them at some point in their lifetime. And there was only a really small percentage like. 0.7% of those, you know, more than 300,000 that said they didn’t think they would be impacted. And then, uh, almost 80% of gamers believe that gaming can help you learn about the environment.

More than 35% say they would like to see or see more environmental content in their games. And then 46% said they’d also like to see if it fits within the games like universe or narrative in some way.

More than a third said they would choose a game with green themes over one without, uh, which we thought was really interesting.

32.5% said they would be more likely to play games that incorporate green themes and then that actually rose to 46.3% in the post survey. So that was run after the green content. Um, so it’s interesting to see that, you know, once people get a taste of it, they want more, which I think is really cool.

Green activation response showed that players were more likely to commit to an action again after playing the content.

The huge potential of the green gaming industry 

So it was 72.7% before, and then that rose to 81.5% after. After playing some of the content. So I think with this, still in the early stages of what the potential of even this kind of research could unlock.

we’ve kind of just scratched the surface

I really believe that like all games have the potential to incorporate some kind of environmental messaging, within their games, right?

Climate game recommendations

When it comes to more, climate focused games? One is Riders Republic. It’s a really beautiful game about sports and active life in national parks.

So players within the game got to participate in a climate march, which I thought was really, really innovative. And then, they’re also creating another piece of content around wildfires.

Ubisoft Mines is also another great example. It’s a city builder, but the team actually turned the game mechanics on their head, so players would have to make more sustainable decisions in order to be rewarded in the game.

There’s another one called Terra Nil from the Developer Free Lives out of Cape Town, and they’ve created this eco conscious strategy game, you sort of are turning a wasteland into a new and thriving ecosystem.

Once you’re done, you kind of recycle everything so you don’t leave a footprint , which is quite cool. Then another studio out of Switzerland called Straton Studios is called the Wandering Village. You’re building a society you are on the back of.

Massive wandering creature called an Enou. I’ve seen just more and more of these kinds kind of pop up that are really trying to make you think about how you exist within like the context around you and how do you, uh, not harm the context around you.

So if you’re interested in finding out more, you can check out the Playing for the Planet website. You can check out Games for Good as well.

Episode ends

Listen now: Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Google Podcasts | Stitcher | RSS | Android

Follow Deborah on Twitter
Follow Deborah on LinkedIn
Check out Games for Good
Check out Playing for the Planet
Check out Green Game Jam
Read the Green Game Jam Player Research
Check out the IGDA Climate SIG 

Deborah’s recommended green video games:
Terra Nil
The Wandering Village
Riders Republic

Listen to more Climate Curious episodes on creativity: 

Xavier Cortada, What is an eco-artist? 
Emma Stewart, How your Netflix and chill can save the world
Kumi Naidoo, What is artivism?
Kumi Naidoo, How culture can help us win the climate war 
Katharine Hayhoe, Why talking is the most important thing you can do to fight climate change

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