Screen and Green: A Survey of Environmentally Themed Video Games. (Consumer News)

By Chadwick, Benjamin | E Magazine, May-June 2003 | Go to article overview

Screen and Green: A Survey of Environmentally Themed Video Games. (Consumer News)


Chadwick, Benjamin, E Magazine


For computer nerds, the most satisfying twist of the last five years is the emergence of video games as a major market force. If you don't know a confessed video game player, and if the very thought of video games makes you break out in hives, then listen to this: Video game sales are beginning to eclipse Hollywood box office receipts. In 2002, the games brought in $10.3 billion, beating the movies by almost $1 billion. About 60 percent of Americans (average age, 28) are playing video or computer games, and two fifths of them are women.

Most of the software involves pitched battles between good and bad guys, or races to nowhere, but there is an occasional game with a green theme.

Environmental Games for Kids, 4 to 10

Children leave a poorly designed game with no sense of what they were supposed to learn. The best games combine focused teaching with a spoonful of fun--otherwise they'll be forgotten quicker than a history lesson on Memorial Day.

Several educational websites, including the Discovery Channel online and the Superkids website, rate educational software. Syndicated columnist Jinny Gudmundsen also offers many reviews at her website, www.computingwithkids.com. All the sites have links to outlets still offering the games, although some of the links are out of date.

It appears that programmers create about one quality environmentally themed game per year. Unfortunately, the market for children's educational software has shrunk, so some of the best games date back as much as four years and may be hard to find in stores.

Lucas Learning's 1999 release "Star Wars Episode I: The Gungan Frontier" (ages 8 and up) is one such example. Players control an ecosystem of fantastic creatures from a galaxy far, far away. Children are forced to consider many aspects of nature in an attempt to maintain a sustainable system; life cycles and natural disasters add challenges. An additional creative mode allows players to sculpt their own creatures. The game can be purchased directly from the source; a demo is available from Download.com.

For slightly younger kids, Montparnasse Multimedia's "The Living Sea" offers a gentle introduction to undersea life. There are three separate aspects: an adventure, a group of basic games and some simple dictionaries and creative features for making postcards. The software also offers physical rewards, a popular feature in games for this age group. By completing certain missions, kids can use the computer's printer to produce art they can frame or color. Developed in 2001 by French programmers, this game has a certain meditative, Parisian feel, augmented by tranquil music. It's available by direct order.

Last year's "JumpStart Animal Adventures" is one of the few nature-based children's games you re likely to find in stores or on the Internet. Like the "Living Sea"--but set mostly on land--it offers fun facts and vocabulary lessons about animal life. "Animal Adventures" frames its fact-centered games around a larger mission, and also provides printed rewards. The game has come under criticism for its somewhat violent explorations of animal life: one game pits two crabs against each other; another makes a deer defend his territory (and not by diplomacy).

Environmental Games for Teens, 10 to 16

Veggie Games, a newly formed nonprofit Canadian company, recently announced plans to release "Steer Madness" in late 2003. The player controls a steer that's escaped from the slaughterhouse on a quest to bring vegetarianism and environmentalism to the world. Veggie Games is probably the world's first specifically environmental video game company, and it's staffed by volunteers working for grant money, so the plans to release "Steer Madness" for the PC, Mac and Playstation are certainly ambitious.

In 1993, Capcom released a shooting game, "Eco Fighters" selling it to arcade operators with the slogan, "They clean up the planet. …

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