Best environmentalist games for 2023

A gibbon jumping across the forest in Gibbon: Beyond the Trees.

A gibbon jumping across the forest in Gibbon: Beyond the Trees.

It's rare to find a game that places the environment at its centre. So many action-packed, triple-A releases are about the complete opposite: razing your surroundings of their natural beauty to form battlefields, or taking those resources to craft man-made structures. Fortunately, we've compiled a list of the best environmentalist games to provide an alternate perspective.

In this list, we'll run down five games that have either explicit or implicit environmentalist messages in their stories or themes. From triple-A titles to underplayed indies, you can dive into these games and combine an important cause with gripping gameplay. If you combine them with the Gratitude subscription service, you can play green games while also affecting positive environmental change!

While you're here, you can also check out our review of Gibbon: Beyond the Trees. On top of that, read up on how to feed animals in Dwarf Fortress, as well as some key apple locations in Genshin Impact.

Here are the best environmentalist games

  • Gibbon: Beyond the Trees
  • Kirby and the Forgotten Land
  • Subnautica
  • Strange Horticulture
  • Ark: Survival Evolved
A gibbon swinging across branches in Gibbon: Beyond the Trees.
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Gibbon: Beyond the Trees

First on our list is a 2022 indie game that'll tug at your heartstrings like nothing else. With a taut and concise one-hour story mode, Gibbon: Beyond the Trees lets you play as one of three eponymous apes. It's a dialogue-free love story showing the daily life of these gibbons in the jungle before they're brutally torn apart by industrial-scale deforestation.

The gameplay is more of a setup for its touching message, as you manually swing using the triggers of your controller, gripping branches, bouncing to propel upwards, and grabbing loose vines to pick up speed. It has the same momentum-based swinging as Insomniac's Spider-Man games but injects it with the frantic desperation of needing to avoid the carnage of poachers.

The message is undeniably tragic, but an important one nonetheless. It gives a much more personalised viewpoint to the plight of wildlife living in forests, showing just how damaging our environmental practices can be. For a short indie game, Gibbon: Beyond the Trees packs an almighty punch.

Kirby exploring a desolate beach in Kirby and the Forgotten Land.
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Kirby and the Forgotten Land

The most recent mainline Kirby game, this title is considerably less direct with its environmental messaging. Instead, the subtle theme of our imperilled natural landscape permeates the stunning world design, with lush green vistas devoid of natural life.

As with Gibbon: Beyond the Trees, this game argues that rampant industrialisation is a one-way route to eradicating our planet's natural beauty. Kirby and the Forgotten Land pits the pink blob against warped versions of recognisable animals, driven to a frenzy after the destruction of their homes.

It's less forthcoming with its green message, but it's impossible to plod through the dystopian setting of the Forgotten Land without considering the gross environmental negligence that led us to this point. For a big triple-A Nintendo game, you'll be hard-pressed to find a more conscious environmentalist slant.

A dark underwater setting with a luminous octopus in Subnautica.
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While most games on this list focus on the environment in forests and earthy landscapes, Subnautica takes things underwater. It's more of an open-ended game than the other narrative-driven games we've seen so far, but instead highlights the sheer beauty and diversity of natural life that resides in our oceans.

In Subnautica, you're the only survivor of the moored ship Aurora, stranded on a planet almost entirely underwater. From there the story takes more of a backseat, as you venture across this rich landscape to build shelter, craft tools for your survival, and encounter a spectrum of diverse natural life.

In many ways, Subnautica is exactly what you want it to be: a deep survival sim, or a chance to fill your encyclopaedia with fictional aquatic life, both friendly and hostile. It shows just how stunning and expansive our oceans are, letting you quite literally dive in first-hand.

The 'Plant Identified' menu in Strange Horticulture.
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Strange Horticulture

Most management games are heavily focused on industrialisation and capitalism. Whether that's constructing a metropolis littered with factories, motorways, and oil or running your own theme park, it's often a practice in reckless industrial abandon.

Strange Horticulture is the antithesis of that formula. Instead, you run a small shop focused on plants and nature. Rather than a straight management sim, it's a card-based puzzle game where you collect new plants to uncover special abilities, ultimately working towards uncovering a dark conspiracy.

The eponymous plants really are the star of Strange Horticulture. As you uncover new strands and add them to your compendium, you'll gain new powers and abilities, which gradually build towards the deep, conspiracy-laden narrative. It's again quite subtle, but Strange Horticulture shows the power of the natural world against seemingly overbearing industrial evil.

The player character riding a raptor in Ark: Survival Evolved.
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Ark: Survival Evolved

Last on our list is another survival game similar to Subnautica, only this time with a sci-fi twist. In this setting, prehistoric creatures like dinosaurs never died out and now roam the land alongside humans. This game has less of a narrative compared to Subnautica, though previous expansions and an upcoming sequel look set to explore the various communities of warriors that roam this mysterious world.

What makes Ark: Survival Evolved more environmentally conscious than its contemporaries is how the game treats animals. Unlike other games where you hunt animals as prey, using their carcasses for crafting materials, Ark treats its wildlife as your equal. You'll learn to tame a range of 100+ creatures, both fictional and inspired by real life, to work alongside you, feed them, and battle together.

If you want a survival game that mixes a deep open world with a subtle message about our treatment of animals and the co-existence of humanity and wildlife in the environment, then Ark: Survival Evolved is for you!

That's it for our choices of the best environmentally-conscious games! If you want to complement these titles by also reducing the carbon footprint of your gaming, learn more about the Gratitude service to see how you can make a difference.

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