Jun 30, 2022 - Technology

Ubisoft plans in-game forest fire to highlight climate issues

Video game screenshot of a dirt-bike and its rider in mid-air in front of a purple sky

Riders Republic. Screenshot: Ubisoft

Players who log into Ubisoft video game Riders Republic at some point in the coming months will discover that part of the extreme sports game’s virtual forest is on fire.

Driving the news: The in-game wildfire, which the publisher says won’t be announced in advance, is one of several initiatives video game companies are using to raise awareness about threats to the environment.

  • Many of those plans were showcased today by the Playing for the Planet Alliance, a consortium of game studios that formed in 2019 to work with the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) to promote green messaging through games.
  • The Ubisoft idea won a media-selected award at the Alliance's annual Green Game Jam, in which studios are invited to pitch ideas that can promote eco-friendly ideas to players.

Details: The Riders Republic plan, dubbed Phoenix, is designed to shock players over the impact of uncontrolled fires.

  • When players log in, they’ll see that the in-game sky has turned orange and their character is wearing a gas mask, according to a description of the effort posted by Ubisoft.
  • Sections of the game’s map, which is set across the Western U.S., will be blocked off from players. The idea is that nearby fires make it impossible to breathe there.
  • Players will then be able to reduce the spread of the fire through in-game activities during a “short and intense live event.”

More efforts: Many game jam efforts involved planting trees in real life, an action tied to in-game accomplishments in Sony’s Horizon Forbidden West, Wooga’s June’s Journey and PixelFederation’s Port City Ship Tycoon.

  • Other initiatives feature tree-themed video game levels in games as disparate as Pac-Man and Total War: Warhammer 3.
  • The UNEP’s top pick for the jam was an in-game event in Supercell’s popular mobile title Hay Day. It focuses on teaching players about regenerative farming that avoids the use of toxic pesticides and synthetic fertilizers.

Between the lines: The jam’s projects are all realizable but also quite polite, focusing on the science of ecological problems without pointing fingers at the people or policies responsible for climate crisis.

  • On the edgier side is Imagine Earth, a planetary colonization game about trying to establish a healthy world and protect it from environmental collapse brought on by corporate recklessness and failed regulation.

The big picture: Game companies big and small are increasingly vocal about environmental causes.

  • Larger corporations such as EA and Activision have begun listing climate change as a risk to their business, while Ubisoft and others now regularly report their emissions — if not yet identifying successful ways to significantly drop them.
  • It’s unclear how impactful in-game messages are, but they're now a staple of game studios who say they care about being Green.

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