Taking the fun out of videogames

Enough of these family-friendly, green, fat-burning games — let’s get back to slaughtering zombies.

Roderick Brown

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News that greens have turned their attention to the world of videogames should surprise nobody. After all, we live in an age where videogames are deemed to have such power that they can make kids knife each other on street corners, and where the videogames industry is being touted as potentially bigger than Hollywood. So it is no wonder that environmentalists want a piece of the action, too.

So now, the UK indie games developer Red Redemption has launched Fate of the World, a game that puts, well, the fate of the world in your hands, challenging players to grapple with the thorny issue of climate change. We are encouraged to ‘decide how the world will respond to rising temperatures, heaving populations, dwindling resources, crumbling ecosystems and brave opportunities’.

The Malthusian and anti-progress slant of the game is obvious. Red Redemption says the game ‘features a dynamic set of scenarios based on the latest science covering the next 200 years. You must manage a balancing act of protecting the Earth’s resources and climate versus the needs of an ever-growing world population who are demanding more food, power and living space. Will you help the whole planet or will you be an agent of destruction?’

The challenge of the game, in other words, is to come up with ways of reducing our carbon footprint and to stop being selfish, polluting bastards.

Even videogames industry figures concur with Fate of the World’s themes. Speaking about it to the BBC, Tom Chatfield, a games expert, spoke of the benefits of ‘learning through games’. Here, ‘learning’ stands for educating people to do away with their bad, destructive habits, such as demanding more stuff (like videogames?), more food, more energy, nicer houses, and so on.

Fate of the World is not the first videogame designed to educate players into changing our habits and becoming ‘responsible citizens’. Nintendo got the ball rolling with various games designed to give us healthy minds, and then healthy bodies, and they enlisted an army of celebs to promote these agendas – with everyone from Patrick Stewart to Johnny Ball getting their tuppence worth.

In the process, suddenly, videogames went mainstream. No longer were they the preserve of smelly, sunlight-dodging, girl-shy adolescents – mum and dad could play them, too! Out of the bedroom (or bedsit in my case) and into the living room. But then, your living room is no longer that. Instead, in the era of Nintendo Wii, it has became a family-friendly workplace where a sweet, computerised voice coaxes you into getting your five-a-day and 30 minutes of exercise – all in the name of entertainment, of course. This is a far cry from the traditional world of videogames.

Like many others of a certain age, I had a misspent youth that involved bunking off school and stinking up the local arcade. These were the places to be. Cigarettes were smoked, cheap bottles of supermarket cider were shared around, and every man-jack of us helped to contribute to a national shortage of 20-pence pieces.

We were rebelling, finding our own space. Parents were unwanted in this world. If anybody had dared mention the benefits of ‘learning through games’ or tried to discuss the demographic figures that show a rise in the average age of gamers (50+), they would have had their head flushed down the proverbial toilet.

Videogames used to be pure escapism, involving everything from battling zombie Nazis to living out fantasies of being an evil overlord milking the peasantry for more taxes and beating up those who resisted. There was a time when you could stagger back from the pub, fire up your Xbox and plunge the world into nuclear annihilation.

Nowadays, you risk tendonitis or a slipped disc from trying to swing a computerised tennis racket back and forth across your living room. Instruction booklets bombard you with the dangers of too much screen time, whilst recently our old friends at the British Board of Film Classification have warned us – for our own good – that games ‘might contain virtual blood’.

Fate of the World is not just a boring game, and limited in its ambition, it is predictably depressing. And, after all, which self-respecting rebellious teenager wants to associate themselves with something that has the Guardian’s seal of approval?

Roderick Brown is a final year history student at Dundee University. He has no blog or twitter page.

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