ustwo's Jennifer Estaris on gaming's potential for positive change

The game director took to the stage at Pocket Gamer Connects to discuss climate activism

ustwo's Jennifer Estaris on gaming's potential for positive change

Pocket Gamer Connects’ Industry Vision and Values track on day one was rife with passionate industry insiders speaking about how game makers and players can inspire positive change. People worldwide are growing increasingly concerned with global matters, whether that’s institutionalised discrimination, economic inequality, or the climate, and game makers need to do more than simply acknowledge this, they need to address it.

ustwo game director Jennifer Estaris took to the stage to discuss activism in games, and how even small actions on the part of gamers and game makers can help inspire global change.

Estaris identifies three key forms of activism which have proven effective over history: Non-violent direct action, armchair activism, and creative action.

Non-violent direct activism, such as peaceful protests and letter-writing campaigns, not only make the news, but have proven twice as effective as violent action. Although direct action can also include violence, Estaris stresses that such actions do more harm than good, and may sour people on the issues at stake.

Armchair action, despite often being criticised as lazy by many, can prove effective if executed correctly, and includes some of the world’s most famous protests such as the Montgomery Bus Boycotts, the NoH8 campaign, or #Blacklivesmatter.

Crucially, Estaris states that “armchair action can lead to direct action in safer areas”, since often those in certain areas may face significant danger for direct action. As such, armchair activism can inspire greater action and raise awareness in a way other forms may struggle with.

Finally, Estaris discussed creative action, or art which inspires action and seeks to educate the viewer. Quoting the Copenhagen Experiment, Estaris stated that “Creative activism is more effective, in part because it is more affective, than conventional forms of activism.”

The power of play

One notable segment of creative action is what Estaris refers to as Playtivism, or the use of games to inspire change. Specifically, Estaris notes global initiatives such as Playing for the Planet and Green Game Jam, and the success such initiatives have achieved. Estaris cited the Green Game Jam survey which found that 81 percent of 389 thousand respondents wanted to see more environmental content in gaming if it was relevant to the experience, while 80 percent were open to changing their habits and making more environmentally friendly choices after playing green content.

A further 61 percent stated they were motivated to pay for such content, indicating that gaming can have a major effect on the world by affecting change and bringing our attention to important matters.

Estaris also notices that gaming can bring attention to important matters in other ways, noting the rise of inclusive character creation and the ability to hold Black Lives Matters rallies in The Sims during the pandemic, allowing the immunocompromised or those with disabilities to participate in the movement. As such, gaming can not only inspire change, but empower people to participate.

Estaris ended her talk on a positive note, stating that small numbers can inspire change. While protests may not necessarily draw massive participation, almost all non-violent protests have achieved their goals upon reaching a participation threshold of just 3.5 percent of any given population. A small group of people can inspire greater change, and video gaming may have a greater part to play than many could have anticipated.

We listed ustwo as one of the top 50 mobile game makers of 2022.

Staff Writer

Lewis Rees is a journalist, author, and escape room enthusiast based in South Wales. He got his degree in Film and Video from the University of Glamorgan. He's been a gamer all his life.