Icebergs off the western coast of Greenland. (Photo: Lela Cooper)

Distraught looking polar bears, melting ice caps, and drifting sea ice; we have all seen images like these along disheartening headlines about climate change. For most of us, the Arctic is a very distant landscape, yet something we see discussed globally on a regular basis. The polar regions and the charismatic animals that call these frigid landscapes home have become icons for the climate movement in many senses, but the reality and severity of Arctic climate change can be more difficult to accurately grasp, without visiting the Arctic and trying to view the impacts of climate change in real time.

As most of us are trapped inside, and possibly having run out of things to do as our quarantine baking phase has passed, here are some fun games to help you explore the Arctic from the comfort of your own couch, while learning more about the greening of the Arctic and its impact on the region’s communities and creatures. 

Greenland Melting 

With the advent of VR technology, immersing players in far away locations is easier than ever. Greenland Melting, a VR experience created in collaboration with Blueplanet VR, PBS Frontline, The Emblematic Group, Realtra, NOVA, and NASA, provides an immersive view of Kangilerngata Sermia, a glacier in west Greenland. Working with NASA’s Ocean’s Melting Greenland (OMG) project, Greenland Melting provides an unprecedented view into both the world of NASA scientists and the dramatic scenery of Greenland. Throughout the game players tag alongside two NASA scientists who explain their work, as well as why the Greenland ice sheet is retreating. Together, the Antarctic and Greenland Ice Sheets contain an estimated 99% of the planet’s freshwater. With climate change, the Greenland Ice Sheet is now melting faster, and if it melted completely, it would lead to roughly 20 feet in sea level rise. The changes the Greenland Ice Sheet has gone through in the past century are not always easy to visualize, allowing Greenland Melting to help give an immersive understanding of Arctic climate change. Greenland Melting can be found for free here. Additionally, for more information on the NASA OMG Project, global sea level rise, and Greenland’s melting ice sheet, visit the OMG Project website

Gameplay from Greenland Melting, showing the retreat of a glacier in Greenland from 1900 to present day, as players stand on a boat alongside a NASA scientist. Image source: https://store.steampowered.com/app/1012510/Greenland_Melting/

Rievssat

Video games also provide the ability to see the human implications of Arctic climate change and environmental changes, from the eyes of Indigenous people in the region. One such game, Rievssat allows players to play as a willow ptarmigan (riekko) flying over its Sámpi homeland, a region of Northern Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia, and the home of the Sámi people. 

Through Rievssat, players are faced with eight environmental challenges as the seasons change, and humans interfere with the environment the birds depend on. As the game designers reference, this scenario of increasing environmental hostility makes it almost seem as if the riekko no longer belongs in its own homeland. With increasing development in the Arctic region alongside climate change, other creatures, including other Arctic birds also face increasing difficulties to survive. Some species of birds across the Arctic are experiencing stresses involved with both foraging and reproduction, especially as some of their prey such as arctic cod, snowshoe hare, and lemmings are experiencing population declines. Rievssat was created alongside other great games exploring Sámi culture as part of the 2018 Sámi Game Jam in Utsjoki, Finland.

A visual from Rievssat, giving players a view of the human-imposed struggles a willow ptarmigan faces in its native habitat in Northern Finland. Image source: https://zhamul.itch.io/rievssat

A Caribou’s Tale

The changing climate and increasing human development in the Arctic not only impacts the animals that call the region home, but also pose threats to the people that rely on these ecosystems for their way of life. Arctic Indigenous people, living in both coastal and terrestrial environments face risks to their traditional livelihoods. Reindeer herding is important to many people in the Arctic, including the Sámi, Yakut, Inuvialuit, and many more people across Eurasia and North America. As the Arctic is greening, threats on species such as reindeer/caribou can be seen through changing vegetation, more pesky bugs, and increased rainfall, making the lichen that caribou like to eat even harder to find. For the people that rely on reindeer and caribou, either as a food source or source of income, these environmental changes pose both risks to their well-being, but also preservation of culture and traditions. 

Gameplay from A Caribou’s Tale, where players learn about the greening Arctic and the daily difficulties of a caribou.

One of EarthGames’ own games, A Caribou’s Tale, focuses on this conflict, through the eyes of Boo the Caribou, as she has to find a way to survive in an increasingly hostile world, with some help from humans along the way. While reindeer herding as a means of livelihood may be able to survive the trials of climate change, there remains a concern that under the pressures of climate change and other competing land use and economic threats, intergenerational knowledge may be sacrificed.  

Never Alone: Kisima Ingitchuna

Indigenous communities across the Arctic have found new ways to preserve their traditional cultures, amidst a history of oppression, and some more recent climate-imposed risks to traditional ways of life. One such game, Never Alone (Kisima Ingitchuna), released in 2014, was the first video game created in conjunction with an Indigenous people. Players play through the eyes of Nuna, a young Iñupiaq girl and her Arctic fox sidekick to try and solve the mystery of an endless blizzard endangering their local community. Produced by the Cook Inlet Tribal Council, Never Alone was created through integrating generational storytelling passed down through Alaskan Native communities, allowing players to experience an immersive cultural story through both a video game and documentary approach. Never Alone, and its expansion, Never Alone: Foxtales provides a glimpse into Arctic Alaska Native culture, while being both educational and entertaining. 

An image from Never Alone (Kisima Ingitchuna) where players have to solve the mystery of an eternal blizzard, while unlocking insightful video interviews from the Alaska Native community. Image source: https://store.steampowered.com/app/295790/Never_Alone_Kisima_Ingitchuna/

Inuit Uppirijatuqangit

Another great game giving players an opportunity to learn about Arctic Indigenous culture and mythology is Inuit Uppirijatuqangit, created by Pinnguaq Association, a non-profit STEAM learning organization located in Nunavut, Canada. Inuit Uppirijatuqangit gives players the opportunity to virtually explore Nunavut, from the town, local terrestrial landscape, and seaside. As a hidden object game, players get the chance to explore their surroundings, uncovering Inuit myths, and gaining a better understanding of Inuit culture, and what living in the Canadian Arctic is like. 

Gameplay from Inuit Uppirijatuqangit, where players get to explore the world of Nunavut, Canada and learn Inuit myths along the way. Image source: https://pinnguaq.itch.io/inuit-uppirijatuqangit

For more projects exploring STEAM learning, as well as Inuit culture and language, check out Pinnguaq Association’s game and app development here

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