Combating Climate Change Nihilism: Emotion-Centric Design

Designing play experiences to explore the lasting emotional impact of games for social and political change.

Games can educate, advertise and entertain. We have non-violent, non-competitive games like Journey. Games that families can play together. Educational games. Political games. Games that offer diversity and inclusion and welcome everyone. Games that persuade. Games that can change the way we think that stay with us, like a good book.

What was your earliest experience with games, and what was the first time you found yourself thinking about a game you played hours, days or weeks after you played? I still think about the themes of some of the earliest games I played and how they impacted my childhood. Civilization heightened my love of history and gave me a sense of community and friends to play with. Sanitarium explored intensely dark themes, where the lines between delusion and reality blurred, and I spent a long time thinking about how the developers created such a gripping and horrifying narrative. A generation of gamers fell in love with the characters of Final Fantasy VII. Avalanches fight for the planet and Barrat’s passion to save the planet and the future spoke to me; Aerith’s death had a surprisingly emotional impact. But The Cat Lady and other games around mental health had the biggest impact on me, as well as discovering the inspirations and motivations of the indie game developers that made them.

“That’s the best thing about creating games! Being able to reinvent yourself and make something new every time you start a project! For me, these new ideas for the visual side of the game come mostly from experimenting with new techniques” (Remigiusz creator of The Cat Lady, 2012).

Can we apply new techniques and new experiments to games combating the issue of climate change? Can we create a lasting impact on players?

How Do Games Change Us?

Do you feel a game has shaped who you are, have you found a new interest in history, writing, and science through playing a game? Have you ever felt differently about social and political topics like mental health and climate change after playing a game? 

There were many songs, photographs, and stories that shaped my interests and ideologies, but games were special for me. The way you can use games to immerse someone in an interactive story where you feel the characters of this virtual world and their fate is in your hands. I felt intimate responsibility or curiosity as I clicked through my favourite point and clicks. Now, some years later, VR and AR technology have opened a whole new world of gaming.

Fig 1. Shadow of The Colossus

I want to explore the formula for emotionally impacting moments that last and what game design strategies, storytelling techniques, art and aesthetics are most effective in persuading players to think critically about important things like climate change.

Why Combat Climate Change Nihilism? 

According to the latest reports, climate change is far worse than expected (IPCC 2022), and yet, if we act now, we can save ourselves the rend of apocalyptic violence. My project will explore combating climate change nihilism because the world needs more than just recycling; we need to understand eco-nihilism, get involved in politics and push for more action. 

What are Green Games?

Fig 2. Alba: A wildlife adventure

Fig 3. Monument Valley II: An Enchanted Forest

Fig 4. Endling: Extinction is Forever

Games about climate change are diverse and wide-ranging and growing. Games that include game mechanics for sustainable actions (Alba) are as important as games that promote knowledge and love for rare plants (Strange Horticulture).

Why Explore Game Design Strategies for long-lasting impact?

My aim is to evoke emotion for transformative climate change reflection, action and activism to combat climate change nihilism. 

So that we can save the world, so we can save the games.

Previous Projects:

Fig 5. Screenshot of Eudaimonia

Project: Exploring Anxiety and Hope for Persuasive Climate Change Game Design: A Solarpunk, Card and City Building Adventure – This project explores western perceptions of climate change and the emotion associated with environmental decisions.

Fig 6. Word Cloud of player emotions while exploring decisions in Eudaimonia

Talk to me!

If you’re interested in my research, want to collaborate or just want to chat about games, follow my Twitter @sarahdotgames or contact me at [email protected]!

List of Figures

Figure 1. Shadow of The Colossus

Figure 2. Alba: A wildlife adventure

Figure 3. Endling: Extinction is Forever

Figure 4. Monument Valley II

Figure 5. Screenshot of Eudaimonia

Figure 6. Word Cloud of player emotions while exploring decisions in Eudaimonia

Links and Extra Resources

IGDA Climate Change SIG

IPCC Sixth Assessment Report (2022)

Monument Valley II Adds a new chapter

Playing 4 the Planet



Final Fantasy VII


Shadow of the Colossus

The Cat Lady