Earth Day is a great time to celebrate the beauty of the world around us and the importance of protecting our earth. Most of us have a favorite video game and in-game environment that we love to see each time we play. Video game art is a very specialized technique where environmental artists train for years to create the worlds we happily play in. The art itself has evolved and has become even more complex, as the technology and the platforms for video games have advanced, thus producing more realistic art for real world environments that really come to life – especially in 3D games.  The game world environments can look stunningly real. You can immerse yourself in the deepest oceans, climb the highest mountains, or find yourself lost in a scary, dark forest. 

Earth Day 2021 - Play, Protect, Preserve

Many environmental artists get their inspiration from the world around them where colors, textures, and all areas of the earth offer rich scenes that are reimagined in the video games they create. The earth and the environments help set the tone for the game. As artists research the world for concepts and ideas, there is a deep connection with the earth, so much so that the video game industry has been working with many environmental organizations (including the United Nations) to help support environmental awareness. So, this April, we celebrate Earth Day and the importance of preserving it for future generations.  

The First Earth Day

Did you know that Earth Day turns 51 this year? U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson established Earth Day in early 1970 in order to put the issues of environmentalism and sustainability on the radar. Later that same year, Congress began to see the nation-wide demonstrations on April 22nd that were executed by over 22 million people for raising awareness for a clean environment. Congress then realized the pressing importance of the issue, and officially created the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, known as the EPA. Author Jack Lewis of the EPA writes about what the “spirit” of the first original Earth Day was like, and the dire issues leading up to the establishment of the EPA and of Earth Day. Lewis describes how at the time, the incessant air pollution in major urban cities like Los Angeles and New York was so horrible, that it resulted in many ongoing illnesses.

Senator Gaylord Nelson with Presidential candidate John F. Kennedy; Photo from Medium

Senator Gaylord Nelson with Presidential candidate John F. Kennedy; Photo from Medium

April 22nd of 1970 was one of the largest, peaceful demonstrations in history, and thankfully, for many, the subject of the demonstration had a long-lasting impact on them and on our earth. Since 1970, The Environmental Protection Agency has drastically cut the United States air pollution – by 74%, actually. The Earth Day demonstration that took place in Washington, D.C. was easily the most concentrated and most powerful national demonstration. Thousands gathered around the iconic Washington Monument to engage and to hear speakers voice their passions regarding the environment, one of which included the famous environmentalist advocate and author, Denis Hayes. 

At this same demonstration, Denis Hayes said these poignant words…

 “If the environment is a fad, it’s going to be our last fad…We are building a movement, a movement with a broad base, a movement which transcends traditional political boundaries. It is a movement that values people more than technology, people more than political boundaries, people more than profit.”


Thankfully, since Earth Day’s establishment in 1970, the cause for environmentalism has not been viewed in retrospect as a “trend” or a short-lived movement. According to the EPA website, since that momentous day, the poll percentage of Americans who vow to care about the environment has steadily increased as time has progressed. Of course, environmentalism and conservation does span across a bevy of subjects, and, the world of gaming has been initiating programs that help players learn about conservation and environmentalism.

The 2019 Australian wildfires; Photo by World Weather Attribution

The 2019 Australian wildfires; Photo by World Weather Attribution

The gaming industry making a difference when mayhem strikes

In 2019, horrific wildfires spread across the continent of Australia, and continued to spread until March of 2020. Seeing the beast of uncontrollable natural disaster sweep throughout Australia was heartbreaking. Watching footage of entire forests and rich vegetation become burned, helpless animals and wildlife being violently uprooted from their homes within nature, and Australian civilians fleeing their burning properties was painful to witness from so far away. In the wake of the tragedy that was happening in Australia, Space Ape Video Games took action from afar, as this article from the UN Website states.

Seeing the horrible fires ravage Australia, Space Ape immediately reached out to the United Nations and asked what they could do on their end to alleviate some of the issues. Soon enough, Space Ape then put their desire to help into tangible action, and included an in-game purchase for several of their mobile games. Those funds from the in-game purchases were then distributed to local humanitarian efforts, wildlife efforts, and miscellaneous organizations in Australia. Only four days into the fundraising efforts, Space Ape Video Games raised $120,000.

The UNEP West Asia Offices; Photo by UNEP

Additional milestones for environmentalism and gaming collaborating include the August 2020 unveiling of massive game titles announcing their environmentally-based missions and themes that will be included in games like Angry Birds 2, Golf Clash, and Subway Surfers. Missions in these games would include solving obstacles to protect endangered species and finding ways to fight off global warming.

The UNEP West Asia Offices; Photo by UNEP

Protecting our precious environment only has positive benefits, and that’s why conservation efforts are pivotal. The air we breathe, the water we drink, the produce we eat, and the invaluable wildlife that we so dearly care for all are completely dependent on keeping our planet clean. Maintaining our environment and keeping our planet clean helps to inspire us all to create art, like the art we see in our favorite games.

Nature inspiring the art in our games

My close friend and concept artist, Tony Duan, spoke with me about what helps spark inspiration for him before and during a work project.

“When I think of what sort of art project and game I want to help make art for, I first think of what inspires me personally. I am very inspired by the nature I see around me. The ocean inspires me to make art more than any other form of nature. In the end, my inspiration stems from the earth around me and from the writer, too. It’s important to work well with the creative director and the game writers. As an artist, I have to follow their directions closely.”

Waterfall; Concept Art created by Tony Duan

Waterfall; Concept Art created by Tony Duan

The environments in video games are constantly moving, and as we celebrate Earth Day and the art that showcases the beauty of our earth, let’s look at some top-tier game art that is inspired by nature. This official roster showcases the award-nominated environments from video games in 2020 – the winning title from The Game Awards is formally named “Best Art Direction”. Of course, even the high-fantasy and sci-fi art that we love in games draws inspiration from real-world scenes.

Additionally, here is a list written by Garden Collage of 7 visually-breathtaking video games that showcase incredible game art and earthly inspirations:

  1. Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag
  2. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
  3. Grand Theft Auto V
  4. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
  5. Battlefield 3
  6. Ori and the Blind Forest
  7. Never Alone
Elder Scrolls: Skyrim; Photo from Pinterest

Elder Scrolls: Skyrim; Photo from Pinterest

Many Nancy Drew games involve cases where the mystery centers on preserving and protecting the environment and species, like Danger on Deception Island. For this game, the creators explored the San Juan Islands in Washington to help inspire the story and art for the environment.

The video game’s mysterious story gives players an opportunity to explore and to learn about marine life within our ecosystem. Video game content is another reason why games are important for Earth Day. Games are actively showing how visual content can highlight the world we live in, which ultimately raises both awareness and appreciation. The ocean is easily a central concern in environmentalism. According to this page from the Environmental Justice Foundation, our oceans cover 70% of our planet, and it provides income for over 3.5 billion individuals. Thus, teaching oceanic conservation to players while solving a mystery is an example of how video game content is used for fostering a sense of care for our waters.

Check out these games that offer Earth Day learning while solving the case as Nancy Drew;

From Nancy Drew games, to the amazing art in games like The Ghost of Tsushima, next time you play a video game, think of what may have inspired the artist. Then step outside and enjoy a hike, or go for a walk on the beach. Think of ways that we can all be responsible for preserving the earth we live in and the earth we see in the games we play.

The Ghost of Tsushima visual graphics, Photo by GameRant

The Ghost of Tsushima visual graphics, Photo by GameRant

The gaming industry is the biggest entertainment sector on planet Earth – with over 3.1 billion active “gamers” recorded in January of 2021. So, this combined effort of video game engagement and environmentalism could have an invaluable impact on protecting and prolonging our earth.

The United Nations Environment Programme Chief of Education and Advocacy Sam Barratt voices in this article that “Video gaming is one of the biggest communication mediums on the planet. We aim to support the industry to encourage gamers to be educated, inspired and activated around the wider environmental agenda, and so far it seems to be working.”

Another tangible effort for video games and environmental awareness is the UNEP’s Playing for the Planet Alliance, which launched in 2019 and now contains over 970 million players. What exactly does this alliance do to help? Since its creation two years ago, Playing for the Planet Alliance has made lasting change by pledging to drastically reduce carbon emissions within game production, as well as implementing “green” activations within their games, as stated here.

Mount Cook, New Zealand

Ultimately, the way we care for our beautiful planet will affect our gameplay! Nature inspires us all and connects us all. So, caring for our ecosystem through environmentally-centered gaming efforts will bring further beauty for gaming and concept artists to draw inspiration from! This symbiotic relationship is one that all gamers should turn their ears to.

Mount Cook, New Zealand

-What are your favorite video game art scenes that celebrate Earth?

-We would love to hear how you celebrate Earth Day. Please share your suggestions for ways we can all do our part and as this year’s 2021 Earth Day theme states, help “Restore the Earth.” 

Share this
As seen on CBS News, FOX, and CBS News

Follow Us