Playing Nature – Embracing the messiness

Advanced seminar and colloquium, Winter Term 2022
Dr Thomas Hawranke
Thursdays, 14:00 – 17:00, Studio Transmedia Space

Nature is a reoccurring topic throughout a large variety of games, ranging from triple A-titles that displays beauty and awe with slick framerates, to the more experimental play experiences in indie gaming. In this seminar, we will look at flora and fauna as a phenomenon in video games.  As a starting point, we will draw on the representation of different aspects of nature within game worlds: From the creation of photorealistic forest environments, over the staging of catastrophes and the forces of nature as design elements, to the representation of individual plants and animals and their roles as the representatives of livelihood in an artificial landscape.

Following north American philosopher Ian Bogost, play can be rendered as a general access to the world we live in – with a magic circle that has become brittle and a perpetual renegotiation of the rules for our game. We will try to understand play not as something that is detached from the world, but rather as something that takes in an active perspective in the eye of climate change, the mass extinction of animals or the individual losses of a dearly loved tree. In this grim reality we will use play as modus to bare our coming loss and to survive on our damaged planet.

Throughout the seminar we hopefully find answers collectively to challenging questions:  How can we as artists use the language of games as a specific form of protest and activism? How can we stage media in a playful fashion that will counter-narrate the green-washed stories of filthy cooperate identities? How can we display not only the beauty of nature but also its wonderful messiness? And maybe more zoomed-in: What is it like to be a dying forest dried out by the players of global fossil fuels?


  • Bogost, Ian. 2007. Persuasive Games: The Expressive Power of Videogames. The MIT Press Ser. Cambridge: MIT Press.
  • Chang, Alenda Y. 2020. Playing nature. Ecology in video games. Electronic mediations 58. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
  • Gray, Kishonna L. und David J. Leonard, Hrsg. 2018. Woke Gaming: Digital Challenges to Oppression and Social Injustice. Seattle: University of Washington Press.
  • Head, Lesley. 2016. Hope and Grief in the Anthropocene: Re-Conceptualising Human-Nature Relations. Routledge research in the Anthropocene. London, New York: Routledge.