Household name entertainment companies and start-up game developers assembled for this year’s Green Game Jam to showcase new “green activations”* in 33 new and live games, aiming to highlight to hundreds of millions of players worldwide the critical role of forests and oceans in the fight against biodiversity loss and climate change.
The 2nd annual Green Game Jam — organised by the UN-facilitated Playing for the Planet Alliance — follows the inaugural event in 2020, which featured 11 mobile game studios. The aim of the Jam is for studios to innovate on games with existing player bases, or those which are soon-to-be-released. This year, 26 studios spanning PC, console and mobile games submitted entries, with brainstorming and sharing sessions between different teams taking place virtually. Entries to this year’s Jam include the first-ever video game climate walk, “plant a tree events” that lead to real world restoration efforts, and flipping a game’s rules upside down to reward sustainable choices.
Video games have become one of the most powerful entertainment mediums on the planet: by the end of 2021, there’s forecasted to be over 2.9 billion video game players worldwide. This enormous reach presents an opportunity to engage vast global communities in the theme of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration — to prevent, halt and reverse the degradation of ecosystems worldwide.
In March this year, the studio teams convened for a series of educational workshops to learn more about the importance of conserving and restoring forests and oceans, the theme of this year’s Jam. Workshops were conducted by experts from the UN Environment Programme, as well as leading minds such as Peter Wohlleben, Dr. Elizabeth Bagley and Kristian Teleki. Participants then went to work and submitted their “green activations” at the end of May, with the entries judged across five categories including a “Player’s Choice” award, which saw almost 100,000 votes from the video games community.
Jane Campbell, Studio Operations Lead at ustwo games, winner of the Participants’ Choice: “One of our goals with the Green Game Jam was to inspire our fellow developers in their efforts against climate change. This support from our GGJ peers means a lot and in turn inspires us to aim higher with our activation.”
Sam Barratt, Chief of Youth, Education and Advocacy at the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), commenting on the UNEP Choice winner: “This year’s Green Game Jam brought together a cadre of best-in-class game designers who’ve shown an unbelievable amount of creativity to adapt their games on the theme of restoration, and Anno 1800 really stood out from a high quality field. As studios now move from ideas to implementation in game, we’re excited to see how their activations create new conversations among their vast player communities, helping to inspire a future where online actions can deliver offline impact for nature.”
Full list of winners of the Green Game Jam 2021:
1. Player’s Choice (voted for by the player community)
Activation: As part of a special event in June’s Journey, players can buy in-game tree decorations, and for the trees they purchase, Wooga will pledge to plant trees in the real world. Thanks to the feature where players can visit each other’s islands, they’ll see the in-game trees planted by others.
2. Participants’ Choice (participating teams judging each other’s activations)
Studio: ustwo games
Activation: In an upcoming activation in Monument Valley II called “Lost Forests”, players will go on a journey of interacting with and learning about the importance of trees, encouraging them to support a forest conservation petition called Play4Forests.
3. Most Adoptable (concept judged by participating teams on its ability to be adopted by other games companies)
Publisher: Perp Games, Developer: Breaking Walls
Activation: In Away: The Survival Series, the planet has been devastated by global warming. To emphasise the importance of taking real-world environmental action, the developers will include a reforestation zone in-game, which is themed around the Play4Forests petition, as well as linking to the petition and playing out a unique scene from the game via an Augmented Reality integration on the game’s physical box.
4. First to Implement (first participant to go live with their Green Game Jam entry)
Studio: TiMi Studio Group
Activation: With the activations already live in two games, TiMi reached players in China with engaging interactive content and educational information, guiding the players to explore the relationship between humans and nature. In Craz3 Match, where 10 million players joined in 3 weeks, TiMi Studio Group and Tencent for the Planet partnered to create a HTML5-based game campaign where players overcome challenges to save wildlife in the forest.
5. UNEP Choice (judged by a panel from UN Environment Programme)
Studio: Ubisoft Mainz
Activation: In Anno 1800, which takes place in the era of industrialization, players interact with and take advantage of the environment around them without repercussion. To highlight the importance of sustainability and the interdependencies of ecosystems, the team will introduce a new game mode with upside-down game rules focusing on these themes.
Other entries included:
- Subway Surfers (SYBO GAMES), a mobile game with 100 million monthly players and over 3 billion downloads, which will create an event where the player can unlock rewards for using a new green hoverboard with seeds and leaves, as well as including green motifs in the city theme and season hunt.
- For the first time, PAC-MAN™(BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment) for Mobile’s Adventure Mode will focus on the theme of reforestation. The event is scheduled for 4+ weeks, starting around mid-September 2021.
- Enabling players to show their support for sustainability efforts, the team (Niantic) behind the global phenomenon Pokémon GO activated a special avatar item for a player’s in-game character to wear around the timing of Earth Day.
- Standing shoulder to shoulder with some of the biggest names in entertainment are start-ups such as Zimbabwe-based ShiftSpace. Their August event in the soon-to-be-released iThemba: the last hope will highlight the environmental impact of activities such as poaching, gold panning and deforestation.
The collective work of the studios is set to reach hundreds of millions of players as activations are rolled out over the next 12 months, with selected entries — such as the Pokémon GO activation — having already gone live. In addition, participating studios will also have their work featured on online game platforms, as well as showcased at industry events and future Playing for the Planet Alliance summits.
The Green Game Jam is an annual initiative by the Playing for the Planet Alliance, a group of 30 video games companies — many of whom took part in this year’s Jam — who have made specific, time-based and increasingly ambitious climate action commitments, which are reviewed on an annual basis. As facilitators of the Alliance, UNEP works with these hugely influential companies to harness the collective impact of their platforms and their communities. Other initiatives by its membership include working on new decarbonisation tools, which will be rolled out industry-wide and give companies the resources to analyse the carbon impact of their operations.