Calling Northwest Game Devs!

At Earthgames, we’re always asking the question: Can games change the world?  And we’re inviting you to help us find the answer!

Solving environmental problems and playing games may not seem compatible, but perhaps they can be.  To find out, we’re planning a fun and inspiring evening called EarthGames “On Tap” at ImpactHub Seattle on Thursday, May 18 from 6 – 9PM. This event will bring together both UW researchers and local video game developers to spark collaborations on new games for change – specifically, video games that are good for people and the planet.

This creative and highly collaborative event is a first of its kind in Puget Sound and will leverage the interdisciplinary connections of the College of the Environment. It will consist of talks by devs and researchers working toward environmental, educational, and social change.   We are also inviting devs from the region to submit games for consideration to be showcased at the  event!   All showcased games will be evaluated by a panel of expert judges who will be awarding valuable prizes.      

We are currently curating a selection of 8-10 games who take inspiration from environmental themes or whose aim is to expand audience awareness for environmental issues.   If interested, please email earthgamesuw@gmail.com with links to your game description, a trailer or play through video, and short bio about your studio and yourself.  

Submission deadline is April 18th, 2017.

Game Review: WARNING – LAMP ADVISED!

In the year 2971, humans launch a ship into space in the hope of preserving their species. Global climate change has disrupted ecosystems and sea levels are rising. This ship returns to Earth thousands of years in the future to find a planet entirely submerged in water. Humans are extinct, but the aquatic flora and fauna have flourished. As the last human, it is up to you and your trusty submarine to explore the ocean’s depths and unravel the mystery behind the disappearance of humans.

From the moment you hit the water you are immersed in a new world that combines enormous subaquatic life with futuristic human technology. The sea seems peaceful at first, until you are equipped with a harpoon gun and are forced to fight a colossal worm trying to eat you. Designed by YCJY, The Aquatic Adventure of the Last Human (AALH) will challenge your reflexes, ingenuity, and perseverance as you combat unique sea creatures and solve puzzles in the open underwater world.

AALH follows the basic Metroidvania template to create a beautiful, 2-D sidescroller with fantastic atmosphere, electronic music that amps up boss fights, and a dire warning about climate change. The entrancing, sprite-like graphics look hand-drawn and are bursting with personality. This is a brutally difficult game, so you will die frequently, but this makes your victories much more rewarding. AALH also has some graphic content, so I would not recommend it for young audiences.

The entire story is told silently through the scenery and forgotten journal notes called holo-tapes. Holo-tapes provide extra information remaining from the last civilizations, but you must piece together the subtle clues to see what happened. One billboard reads, “Water levels are expected to rise by 200 meters in coming years.” A holo-tape alludes to the relocation of coastal refugees. The environment is teeming with life and algae-covered infrastructure, including marine current turbines and solar panels. SPOILER ALERT: Piecing this together, you discover that humans could not end their oil dependency in time and sea levels rose much higher than expected so they were forced to live underwater while searching for other habitable planets. Only at the end of the game do you discover the true reason for human’s demise – population growth.  

AALH delivers a competitively fun game based on important global issues. However, this game is clearly focused on gameplay rather than climate change communication; the game would be a poor classroom teaching tool. That said, AALH still has value as an introduction of the potential consequences of climate change to a casual gamer with less exposure to the topic. Climate change and sea level rise are very real threats to the future of human existence. AALH allows you to explore a post-apocalyptic world in a somber, yet vicious story where you are forced to shred through leviathans, but for what purpose if humanity is already doomed? Perhaps this is just a commentary on humans creating their own monsters. Personally, I find climate change to be more frightening than monsters. All in all, AALH is a fun game with a cautionary tale about our future.

Summary
Gameplay/Fun: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Educational: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Scientific Rigor: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Accessibility: Ages 13+
Platform: Steam ($10)

Game Review: Never Alone’s “Kunuuksaayuka” – A journey through an Iñupiaq folk legend

Never Alone, by Upper One Games, is an incredibly engaging experience that blends ancient storytelling techniques with modern digital media to create an emotional saga that is something special. As a tribute to the Iñupiaq tribespeople of Northern Alaska, this game is a simple puzzle-platformer which features 24 short video documentaries about various aspects of the Iñupiaq culture, which are unlocked throughout the game.  This is much more than a typical video game as it calls upon personal insights into culturally significant folk legends to deliver a powerhouse of a historical fiction story.  

You play as a little girl named Nuna and an Arctic fox (optional co-op mode) who follow the storyline of the Iñupiaq folktale “Kunuuksaayuka” to solve the mystery behind an abnormal blizzard where myths become very real threats. This functional relationship presents a metaphor for the connection between humans and the environment for Native people. Nuna and Fox work creatively together using unique talents and abilities to solve puzzles throughout the game. As you embark on this adventure, you will reclaim fragments of the Iñupiaq culture through evocative videos that elicit powerful emotions through the themes of community, storytelling, and a connection between humans and nature.

The Iñupiaq tribe, like most other Native tribes, greatly value community, respect for nature, and storytelling. All of these aspects of their culture are apparent through the plot and videos in the game. Unfortunately, many tribes face the loss of their culture to American culture and a generational disconnect, so the Iñupiaq tribe resorted to game design to save a lifestyle from melting away along with the ice that they live upon. By sharing environmental issues through a video game, the developers are appealing to the emotions and personal connections of its audience to inspire positive change.

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In one of the documentary clips, the tribe shares their concept of Sila. They explain that Sila is everything beyond the Nuna (the Earth); the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the animals we eat. Never Alone demonstrates a crucial connection between people and Sila through the helpful spirits that you can control to help solve puzzles. Native people have great respect and understanding for nature, so climate change has become a very serious threat to them. Citing changes in bird migrations and precipitation regimes, the tribe noticed a changing climate even before scientists fully understood the phenomenon. Some of the videos touch directly on the evidence they have observed for climate change, as well as how it impacts their way of life. This game provides an inspiring platform for learning about climate change through new perspectives.

Never Alone creates a shining example for how games can convey the emotional side of environmental issues by sharing personal stories. It seamlessly ties together the history of Alaska Natives, a poignant folk legend, and the threats of climate change using modern media. It is a beautiful, sad, and hopeful tale about a little girl and a fox that serves as a historical relic. A quote by Baba Dioum comes to mind, “In the end we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught.” This game has opened my eyes to a culture that I knew nothing about, and inspired me to fight climate change just as I am sure it will inspire countless others.

Summary
Gameplay/Fun: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Educational: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Scientific Rigor: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Accessibility: 1-2 players, Ages 10+
Platform: Steam