The climate change crisis is covered in media in various ways — from adamant deniers to viral depictions of a catastrophic future. Now climate change is being found in video games such as Civilization VI: Gathering Storm. Launched on February 14 of this year, Civilization VI: Gathering Storm is the latest expansion in the Civilization franchise and invites its players to fight climate change with their own strategy in its gameplay.
The Civilization franchise contains a group of turn-based strategy video games where players build a civilization from early exploration stages to cultivating land and creating empires. The recent Gathering Storm expansion brings a larger emphasis on natural disasters and how humans affect the environment they are living in.
“No longer is a map simply a blank canvas, waiting for the player to fill it up with cities and farms,” IGN’s Dan Stapleton wrote in his Civilization VI: Gathering Storm review. “It’s now a living place, one that is heaving and resisting human occupation at every turn.”
Civilization VI: Gathering Storm prompts its players to think critically about the implications their civilization-building decisions have on the environment they inhabit. Each decision carries a different weight of impact when it comes to how it can change the planet, something Civilization VI: Gathering Storm’s developers wanted players to face as they began to build their own civilizations.
“We really wanted to dive into the interaction between mankind and the planet in both directions — the way the planet has throttled or shaped civilizations, and then how mankind has left its own imprint on the planet,” Civilization lead designer, Ed Beach, told PCGamesN.
Building a successful civilization has even more challenge with the launch of Civilization VI: Gathering Storm. A move for bigger or quicker benefits such as burning resources like coal for fuel will also have larger impacts on increasing CO2 levels in the world and sending it closer to catastrophe. Players’ go-to strategy may change with the new environmental effect on gameplay, just as decision-makers in the real world have had to look for alternative fuel options to combat the climate crisis.
The risk-versus-reward gameplay adds a new level of complexity. There are increased perks for choosing to build a civilization in a dangerous territory, such as land near a volcano that can erupt unexpectedly. The primary goal is not to build the biggest civilization in the shortest time possible, but to do so in a way that is sustainable for the civilization and the environment it is built in.
Where popular games like Minecraft Earth and Pokemon Go have users interact with reality with its gameplay, Civilization VI: Gathering Storm does something similar when users are faced directly with climate change. It’s easy to feel defeated when trending headlines on news sites and social media platforms come off as catastrophic and world ending. With Civilization VI: Gathering Storm, players have the opportunity to push past that helplessness and actively fight climate change with every turn they play.
“We felt that a player shouldn’t be able to exist in a vacuum alongside the gameworld,” said Beach. “Rather we wanted a relationship between the two where every turn and every decision can have lasting — and global — impacts.”
While engaging in the gameplay doesn’t have a direct impact on the real-life climate crisis, inviting players to interact with a simulation of climate change brings acknowledgment of society’s impact on the natural world. It showcases how humans can combat the crisis with our decisions just as Civilization VI: Gathering Storm players can take preventative measures to halt a climate crisis. By being included in such a popular game, the hope is that the climate change conversation will reach a larger audience and incite a call to action.