With every passing day more of us move into cities, isolating ourselves from most other species of life and often from the very idea of an interconnected ecosystem. This robs us, and our children, of one of the clearest predictors of pro-environmental behaviour: sheer exposure to natural systems. Many parents fight this instinctively, we try to give our children that sense of awe and wonder that comes with discovering the natural world; through field trips, urban gardening, nature documentaries. Used right, immersive videogames can be another crucial tool, building a small “nature away from nature” that can create the same type of emotional bond and sense of connection with a greater whole.
For example: games that let players explore pristine environments with rich wildlife simulation, bonding with other species – be it animals, plants, fungi or something else entirely
WHY IT MATTERS
Nature documentaries have a long history of fostering wonder and awe with natural systems. So do modern zoo’s, aquariums and conservation organizations.
Joshua Wright’s research on social groups is relevant here, getting people to form an in-group where they and “nature” are part of the same group, creates kinship. “Bonds” can take the form of perceived kinship, like many indigenous peoples speak about nature in familial terms (brother, mother etc).
Connection with Nature may mean the same thing as perceiving oneself as a small part of a greater whole or even a greater sentience, the web of life. If this can be achieved, it frees people up to act for nature out of emotional instinct (essentially self-defense) instead of having to spend vast mental resources on doing it out of a sense of duty.
“I am the rainforest, recently emerged into consciousness, defending myself” John Seed
DO’S & DON’TS
Part of this is probably about making the player feel small (relates to Lauren Woolbright’s forthcoming Outer Wilds analysis shown at Ecogames Symposium 2021), also older discussions of the sublime and Skyrim?
Portraying ecosystems as unthreatened may be a mistake, especially if it’s real ecosystems. Consider David Attenborough’s documentaries in recent years that consistently cut away from the beautiful illusion of a functioning ecosystem to explain why it might not be around in a couple of decades.
Take every opportunity to encourage REAL excursions into nature and not just digital – acknowledge that playing games can be a DETRIMENT to this action. Should the game openly mention its own shortcomings and encourage real excursions?
Photo modes may help facilitate this, as per Stefan Werning’s research which he explained at Ecogames Symposium 2021 where he related it to landscape photography.