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The art behind video games and the subtle lessons they can teach us

As we travelled along our exploration of art and nature, we recently came across a genre we haven't yet talked about and would like to share with you. If we shift our perspective of games from the pure act of gaming to the position of an observer of audio-visuals and the topics treated, there are many wonderful things we can explore.

The interactive nature of video games, as well as their unsquared presentation, makes them an experience of unparalleled immersion. The Assassin’s Creed series, for example, has arguably achieved the best recreations of ancient civilizations and even inspired history teachers to use it as a tool in their lessons. The last three iterations of the series even include a mode that eliminates all gaming elements and thus delivers an experience that surpasses that of any history museum.

Video games are generated in real-time on the user’s machine. Therefore, technical limitations historically have been an obstacle to creating realistic virtual environments. Designers have often been forced to come up with ingenious new visual styles to work around this problem creating even more unique game-styles.

Many present-day associations with video games show a distorted image of young people addicted to ego-shooters. These, sadly, overshadow the many highly creative and artistic games that submerge the player into wondrous, magical or educational worlds. They could give us experiences unreachable within the realm of the real world. They can be seen as no less a form of art than a painting is. Games are creative, intellectual, and present an emotional form of expression and engagement, as fundamentally human as any other. Behind most games creativity is a key driver, which is why large teams of creative professionals (illustrators, concept artists, music composers, environment artists, etc.) are involved in their creations.

Raising awareness

Today's society has shifted and now accepts video games as a medium of entertainment for young children. These days it is not uncommon to see a young child, not old enough to walk yet, sitting in its pram and holding a phone or tablet between its stubby little fingers. In only a few years they will be playing more serious video games on a PC or console. Since young people are quite impressionable, this also brings great opportunities to raise awareness of certain issues, such as our environment, endangered species, and climate change.

“Alba: A wildlife adventure”, for example, is a successful example that shows us that combining entertainment and raising awareness at the same time can be possible. Whilst the player guides the character “Alba”, a young girl visiting her grandparents on a Mediterranean island, around the map they find themselves confronted with animals in danger and in need of help.

Accompanied by beautiful music composed by Lorena Alvarez, the player can walk around the island and take photos of the many animals to be found. Every time a new animal is found, the game creates a small notebook filled with important and interesting facts about this certain species. These handcrafted visuals on every corner of the island are a real treat for the eye.

This game, however, also combines another very important element. With the support of the players, the game studio behind “Alba: A Wildlife Adventure”, Ustwo games, have set a goal to plant, in total, 1 million trees. For each and every copy of the game downloaded or sold, one tree will be planted until this goal has been reached. For that enterprise, they have partnered with Ecology, a reforestation project in Madagascar run by the non-profit Eden Reforestation Projects, who have already planted 385 million trees globally.

Restoring mangroves is a very effective, natural climate enhancing solution. Mangrove forests are known to capture up to four times as much carbon per acre than tropical rainforests, and are a natural barrier for coastal erosion, providing habitats for tropical fish. Mangroves also help to filter pollutants out of the water.

An increasing number of games are emerging, which aim to combine awareness-creation with fun and which, at the same time, aim at finding ways to bring benefit to our planet. Games are a powerful means to achieve more social and environmental change since the player is actively involved in making the decisions. This relationship between the player and the game displays similarities to the relationship between a piece of art and its observer. The painter William Blake once said of art, it is a means to “hold infinity in the palms of your hands and the eternity in an hour”. Just as children can and as Miyamoto does.

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