If there’s a buzzword that virtually every company has its eye on right now, it’s “Green.” Environmental and ecological awareness among consumers has gone mainstream and now we’re inundated with products ranging from coffee beans to cars that are marketed as being environmentally friendly, ecologically sound or just plain Green.
One of the last frontiers for mass market Green-pitches has been video games. When I picked up a press release from Brighter Minds media, referring to the company’s Venture Arctic (from Pocketwatch Games) as “the ultimate ecological game,” the claim piqued my interest.
By definition, video games are played on energy-sucking consoles or computers. The ultimate ecological or Green game could be the one that uses zero CPU and screen power. By this definition, a case could be made that 1982’s E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial for the Atari 2600 could qualify as the first Green video game; then again the truck loads of unsold E.T. cartridges reportedly dumped in landfills would more than offset any gains due to lack of playing. Or, if you consider the environmental impact of pressing a disc, packaging and shipping it, a good case could be made for marketing direct download games as being Green.
You can download Venture Arctic either as a demo or fully playable version, but the game is also available in stores in “Go Green Packaging” which is claimed to be made of 100% recycled material. When I opened the review copy up, sure enough, there was no plastic to be found (other than the CD itself, of course) and the packaging was minimal. The game itself is a nature sim, which takes the concept of Green gaming to another level- actually participating in an ecosystem simulator that allows the player to balance natural forces, human and environmental interaction and a wide variety of native species, all in an environmentally sensitive area -the Arctic. There was only one person in my household fit to run this thing through its paces: my 8-year-old daughter Natasha, the Queen of Zoo Tycoon. More on Venture Arctic after the jump.
One of my favorite digs in the Venture Arctic promo material is the line: “You won’t have to build hot dog stands, hire janitors or balance your checkbook.” Zing- take that Zoo Tycoon!
Lack of hot dog stands notwithstanding, people still make their presence known. The first level Tasha played with involved a disruptive oil drilling rig and pipeline in the Alaskan tundra. The game pushes players to find a balance between animal behavior and ecological factors to bring their ecosystem into a state of harmony. Even at the less challenging Kid’s level, young players can begin to understand cause and effect in the environment. Lack of snow cover on the ground means less spring melt, which in turn impacts plant growth, leading to stresses on animal populations that feed on that plant, for example. Tools allow players to interact directly with the environment, blanketing areas in snow, increasing sunlight and even directly encouraging population growth via a Pregnancy tool. Scenarios include "Long Seasons," "Climate Change," "Extinction," and "Deforestation." Woven through the game play is a sense of Inuit culture, which is reflected in artwork, story lines and ambient music. This adds nicely to the game. There are 22 land and aquatic animals available, including some of Natasha’s favorites: Narwhales, Orcas and Polar Bears.
The review copy was a Windows version, which I ran on my Mac via Boot Camp (there is a Mac native version available). The hardware requirements are not demanding and the graphics reflect this. While immersive, especially the landscapes, Microsoft scores one on the animal modeling detail. I noticed a few pop-ups and other graphic glitches as well, but in all fairness I can’t be sure that this wasn’t caused by Boot Camp’s XP drivers. Not that Natasha noticed these details, and I’m assuming that at 8 years old, she’s more in the game’s demographic target group than I am. As a matter of fact, the modest requirements (2GHz Pentium III and 512MB RAM) make this a perfect game for the older system that any households have spun off for the kids’ use.
And the big question, how was the game play? Is it another Green game as in Atari’s E.T.? Well, after spending the better part of a rainy Saturday playing Venture Arctic, Natasha gave it a very enthusiastic 9 out of 10. For a $20 game that’s entertaining and teaches you something, you could do a lot worse. Educational discounts are also available. Venture Arctic has picked up a collection of awards, including being named Sim Game of the Year by Game Tunnel.
Wired: Ecological message, balanced gameplay for kids.
Tired: Last-gen graphics.
$20, Pocketwatch Games.