Play Your Way to a Better World? 9 Video Games That Can Help Solve Environmental Issues
Playing video games is a fun way to pass the time, but what if you could change the world while you’re exploring virtual universes? As it turns out, there are plenty of games out there for just about every platform, from smart phones to web browsers to game systems, that allow gamers to make a difference.
We’re plagued with many environmental problems today, from biodiversity loss to global warming to a deep dependence on plastic. Game developers are hoping to bring light to these issues and even call on citizen scientists to help solve the biggest challenges of our time through video games.
Ready to play your way to a better world? Check out these nine games that help fight climate change and other major environmental issues.
1. Beyond Blue
For adventurous gamers, Beyond Blue takes you through stunning deep-sea dives through the perspective of character Mirai, a scientist and diver. You navigate through the oceans with unprecedented technologies to interact with and learn more about aquatic creatures, while also unlocking mini-documentaries that uncover secrets of Earth’s oceans. You’ll learn about coral reefs, pollution, acidification, and more.
Beyond Blue is available for $19.99 on a variety of gaming platforms, including Nintendo Switch, PS4 and Xbox One, among others.
2. Bee Simulator
In Bee Simulator, you play as a bee collecting pollen from flower to flower, fighting off wasps and preventing your hive from being destroyed. You can also play in multiplayer mode, where each person has a dedicated map to navigate. All the while, you’re learning more about the importance of bees in our world and the threats they face.
Bee Simulator varies in price from $19.99 to $39.99, depending on your gaming system. You can play this game on your computer, Nintendo Switch, PS$, or Xbox One.
Plasticity offers a wake up call on plastic and waste management. You play as Noa, who must complete puzzles and sometimes make irreversible decisions in a world overwhelmed by plastic pollution in the year 2140. Ultimately, your actions impact how you play the game and Noa’s future, a stark parallel to real life.
This student-created game is completely free to play on PC.
4. Climate Quest
Old-school gamers will love the 8-bit-style Climate Quest, where your mission is to save fragile ecosystems across the U.S. The game map projects environmental disaster forcasts across the U.S., and you must lean on the game’s four heroes — the urban planner, the ecologist, the agricultural scientist or the climate scientist — to solve each problem. To earn high scores, you’ll have to choose the most suitable expert for each climate disruption.
Climate Quest is available for free for iPhones, Androids and PC. The developer, EarthGames, also offers several other science-related games to explore if you enjoy Climate Quest.
Here’s your chance to help real scientists map vulnerable coral reefs. NeMO-NET is a game created by NASA, where you paint different parts of coral reefs. Your actions help train a NASA supercomputer to better identify coral reef systems in any image. As you explore and classify various corals, you can level up in the game’s food chain.
“This extraordinary project combines revolutionary remote sensing technology, cutting-edge artificial intelligence, and strong citizen science in a true trifecta for our world’s threatened coral reefs,” said Woody Turner, NASA’s Ecological Forecasting program area lead.
NeMO-Net is available for Mac and Windows computer systems as well as iOS and Android.
6. The Climate Trail
Based on the popular game, Oregon Trail, The Climate Trail sets you in a post-apocalyptic world following the worst of climate change of 4°C, 5°C or 6°C warming — each temperature doubles as the game’s difficulty level. You play as a band of climate refugees moving to escape a hellscape in the U.S. to reach a more livable location in Canada. You’ll face crop shortages and hunger, extreme weather events and more. Your reactions to each problem determine if you survive your journey.
The Climate Trail is available on desktops, iPhones, iPads and Android devices for free.
7. Unseen Empire
If you’ve ever dreamed of studying wildlife up close and personal, Unseen Empire will make you feel right in the action. It’s based on the real-life, 10-year camera trapping project conducted by University of Oxford zoology Professor David Macdonald. Your job in the game is to identify rare species in the camera trap photos, plus you work to open new research sites, place new camera traps, meet other researchers and influence policymakers to protect clouded leopard habitat.
Play the game for free on PC, iOS or Android.
In CrowdWater, you help other citizen scientists collect hydrological data and ultimately help experts better predict future water-related events, like droughts and flooding. Your objective is to review images and data to determine water quality and improve it if needed. The game includes 28-day championships, where players can compete to win prizes like T-shirts, cups, seat cushions and more.
CrowdWater is free to play via PC, iPhone or Android.
Another wildlife-focused game, QuestaGame gets players out in their local environments to take photos of the wild critters surrounding them. Every photo is geotagged to help researchers track and conserve biodiversity. In the game, you can submit your own sightings, review and identify other players’ sightings, join quests, challenge other players or join a clan that works together to identify more species and gain more points.
QuestaGame is a free citizen scientist game you can play via smartphone app or web browser.
Based in Los Angeles, Paige is a writer who is passionate about sustainability. Aside from writing for EcoWatch, Paige also writes for Insider, HomeAdvisor, Thrillist, EuroCheapo, Eat This, Not That!, and more. She earned her Bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Ohio University and holds a certificate in Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies. She also specialized in sustainable agriculture while pursuing her undergraduate degree. When she’s not writing, Paige enjoys decorating her apartment, enjoying a cup of coffee and experimenting in the kitchen (with local, seasonal ingredients, of course!).