Video games get a new boss monster, The virtual city of Hightower will drown next year in an epic flood.
What happens next will be up to players who pick up “Highwater,” the latest entry in the growing genre of climate-influenced video games. Characters in the game will get the chance to make friends, fight enemies and scavenge for supplies — all while navigating a drowned digital city that bears an intentional resemblance to post-Katrina New Orleans.
“The premise of the game is you’re just normal people living in this place hit by a flood,” said Igor Simic, founder of Demagog Studio. His gaming and animation company is partnering with Los Angeles-based Rogue Games Inc. to release “Highwater” early next year.
It’s anyone’s guess, however, whether “Highwater” and games like it will inspire players to take action in the real world.
Video games get a new boss monster, Simic said the developers didn’t want to make the game “preachy.” But the industry does want to make games that are relevant, experts say. In some cases, that means developing content that reflects real-world social, economic and environmental challenges — not in a ripped from the headlines way Marvel D23 Event, but with nuance, intentionality and, yes Video games get a new boss monster, fun.
“The big thing for us is we create entertainment. None of this is overt messaging about climate or politics. What’s ‘revolutionary’ is we’re creating games that simply take reality into account. It’s not purely escapist,” said Simic, 34.
He said his Belgrade, Serbia-based studio’s roughly 20 creators are encouraged to see world events through an unconventional, and sometimes comedic, lens. “There’s no guilt-tripping,” he said.
And in fact, there’s a risk in doing so, said one industry official.
The “more dystopian games, they bum people out,” said Marina Psaros, senior manager for sustainability for Unity Software Inc., a San Francisco-based platform for interactive digital content.
But she added that titles such as “Highwater” are part of a broader shift in the video game industry in which virtual and real-world experiences are more closely linked.
“Games are really custodians of culture Video games get a new boss monster,” Psaros said. “I think for younger generations, like my kids, their understanding of their digital selves and real-world selves is really enmeshed.”
While much of that meshing happens at the player level, where the thrills and chills of gaming are felt individually or within player groups, questions around the gaming industry’s role — or potential role — in addressing challenges like climate change are ripening because gaming has global reach like few other industries. The creative and business minds shaping the gaming industry now extend across every continent.
At the 2019 United Nations Climate Action Summit in New York, officials launched the Playing for the Planet Alliance, a volunteer partnership between the UN Environment Programme and more than 30 game studios to set “ambitious, specific and time-based” commitments to meet sustainable development goals. In July, the alliance announced its 2022 “Green Game Jam” awardees in categories such as “Best in Forests,” “Best in Food” and “UNEP Choice.”