Playing the outdoors

11 Mar


War, occupation, invasion and espionage are all perfect settings for action pumped games, but the total opposite settings can be equally action filled. I am talking about “the wild”, nature, the outdoors. To my recollection there haven’t been many successful games where you play in the wild nature, and must take action to survive against dangerous environments, poisonous and deadly animals or just avoid getting scorched by the sun. Since many people like being out in nature (hopefully more than those who enjoys action filled battles) it is a bit strange that game developers don’t use this interest and create games using this diverse and naturally dangerous setting.

Nature, our best friend and enemy

The nature itself is such a diverse setting that a multitude of game scenarios immediately come to my mind. There are open, green savannas, dense forests, mist shrouded mountain sides, icy polar areas, vast deserts, deep oceans, mystical lakes and many other naturally wonderful and exciting places and areas that could easily be used in video games. Since people have learned to live in most of these areas, except where physically impossible such as under water, the environments have gifts and rewards that can be searched for by players. On the other hand, all these areas also have their own natural traps, dangerous parts and other things that could serve as obstacles and challenges in games.

Animals and food

Most animals are equally scared of us humans as where of them, but there are quite many left who will attack or threaten us if we come close enough. Still fewer will actually attack humans to kill them, but they do exist. All areas in the above section have their own big collection of animals. Imagine meeting a mountain goat on a steep path up a mountain side, encountering a huge Grizzly Bear in a forest or standing face to face with a rhinoceros. All these moments demand different solutions and actions; sometimes you might just want to avoid the animal, but when the game has a “food-meter” you might need to kill animals in order to survive yourself.

Meeting a panther is most likely a frightening experience and would make a natural challenge in a game set in nature forcing the player to either avoid or kill it

Some games have already incorporated food-meters or similar statuses which you must replenish to avoid getting very tired and lose physical abilities like moving fast, fighting and so on. The food issue can be even more demanding and an out-right survival thing when it come to nature, if you are without tools to hunt, don’t know which fruit or berries are safe to eat and don’t know where to find fresh water.

A survival scenario

You are sitting comfortably in your seat on the plane, sipping on your tea, wondering which movie to watch on the in-plane entertainment system. Suddenly the plane starts shaking violently, the gas masks are released and the emergency lights are lit up along the floor. BANG! A wet feeling wakes you up. You open your eyes and realize you are lying half-way down into a river; can it be the great Amazon River? Fast forward a few hours; you have crawled up from the river-side, surveyed the surroundings and come up with the fact that you are alone in the dense forest. You have no extra gear, equipment or food on you except the clothes you are wearing, a pen in your chest pocket and a few coins in a pocket of your pants. Now the game starts!

You are faced with many challenges at once. First you have to find water that you can drink; you don’t dare to drink from the river (at least not yet). Even though it is very far from any big city which could pollute the river you are afraid of getting sick out here in the forest. Soon enough you face a snake that seems very poisonous; you do your best to avoid it but you have to wade down into the river to do so and there you catch the attention of a large, black caiman. You narrowly survive and after finally finding water that had fallen nicely in a huge leaf you head in one direction, probably south, hoping to find someone who can help you and find out what happened to the other ones in the plane…

Go outside!

If people start liking nature in games, they might be inclined to go outside more. I guess this can happen; since a lot of researchers say players can get violent after playing violent video games, why wouldn’t they start liking nature or want to go hiking after playing games that take place in the wild? A tip to the developers can be to view some of the TV shows about extreme survival where a person tries to survive for a long time in nature without almost any equipment. These shows are quite action filled and could serve as inspiration.

The problems

One of the problems developers face when they want to recreate natural settings is probably that it is hard to make the setting to seem natural. This also applies to for example recreating leaves, water, and other things we are used to see everywhere. Since these move quite randomly but anyway with some kind of flow it is hard to recreate so it feels natural to our eyes.

One the other hand, the physical and graphical engines of games are improving all the time, so recreating nature “digitally” is hopefully not so far away. This should be the next challenge for some fearless developer!


The nature setting has a big potential for games, especially since many people like hiking, traverse beautiful vistas or just appreciate the big outdoors, no matter the setting! I am hoping for some developer to take up the challenge and put us in the big outdoors instead of a battle field.

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Posted by on March 11, 2012 in Article


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