Lawrence May

Lawrence May, PhD, is a lecturer at the University of Auckland, New Zealand. His research explores meaning-making in player communities, the entanglement between videogames and the climate crisis, and the role of undead monstrosity within games.

Contact information:
l.may at

Ben Hall

Ben Hall is a doctoral candidate at the University of Auckland, New Zealand. His research primarily addresses videogames and the novel ways in which they produce and mediate space.

Contact information:
ben.hall at

Thinking Ecologically with Battlefield 2042

by Lawrence May, Ben Hall


The centrality of the climate crisis in Battlefield 2042 (DICE, 2021), a mainstream blockbuster videogame, offers insight into how players in the popular first-person shooter genre engage with the possibility of thinking ecologically. We argue that user-generated paratexts shared in online player communities capture and demonstrate users’ engagement with modes of ecological thought, reflecting the revelation of the co-existence and interdependence that make up life and death in the Anthropocene. We analyse a dataset of player-generated paratexts that were systematically gathered from three popular online communities associated with Battlefield 2042. Our analysis demonstrates the effect the game’s entanglement with contemporary climate anxieties has on its online communities and reveals the multiplicity of player encounters with different forms of ecological thought.

Keywords: climate crisis, ecological thought, Timothy Morton, paratexts, player communities, Battlefield 2042



The multiplayer first-person shooter Battlefield 2042 (DICE, 2021) features the contemporary climate crisis prominently in its gameplay, virtual environments and narrative. The game is set in the future -- 2042 -- following a decade of extreme climate change events that have caused massive global upheaval, including the collapse of governments and global powers, resource shortages and the displacement of countless climate refugees. In-game landscapes depict a ravaged and decaying planet, and gameplay is periodically interrupted by disastrous weather events such as tornadoes and sandstorms. Players are invited to play as different types of combatants whose traits are primarily shaped by their experiences surviving climate devastation. As Battlefield 2042 is an uncommon example of a triple-A videogame incorporating ecological collapse and climate crisis directly into its fiction and gameplay, we address the game as an ecocritical text.

Scholars engaged in ecocriticism, which seeks to “investigate the representation of the physical world rather than human characters in cultural production” (Bulfin, 2017, p. 144), are increasingly turning their attention to climate change. Such scholars interrogate the relationships between human and non-human actors, the “complex dynamics among people and their environments” to uncover the milieus surrounding cultural texts (Thornber, 2013, p. 208). The growing field of ecocritical game studies emphasises the importance of videogames in representing and engaging with the need for urgent action in response to the climate crisis. To lay critical foundations for this work, scholars have examined different ways in which videogames represent ecological states and dynamics (Chang, 2019) as well as providing taxonomical approaches to the different modes through which videogames model player-environment relationships (Abraham & Jayemanne, 2017). Highlighting the risk of a “selective, a-historic and therefore distorted discussion of ecology” in scholarship focused upon intentionalist and consciously ecocentric videogames, Hans-Joachim Backe (2017, p. 39) offers a framework that draws attention to the ecocritical potential of mainstream games through the lens of ludo-narrative dissonance. Examining the ecological dynamics at work in videogames uncovers new ways in which virtual representations of environments shed light on the complexity of contemporary ecological conditions. According to such analyses, the Pokémon franchise offers its players “a kind of theoretical petri dish for testing and exploring ways of interacting with the environment” (Bainbridge 2014, p. 409), the survival-crafting genre provides modes of interactivity with game environments that engage players in “a simplified and stylised re-enactment of industrialization” (Abraham 2018a), and Minecraft, through player acts of composition upon virtual environments, exposes how “technology, nature and space are intimately entangled” in the world beyond the game (Bohunicky 2014, p. 222). 

In the Anthropocene era, characterised by human activity and its impact on Earth’s climate and ecosystem, ecocriticism can help bear witness to, understand and perhaps negotiate the conditions that are driving human-induced ecological collapse (Bulfin, 2017, p. 142; Thornber, 2013, p. 208). Ludic texts can illuminate environmental questions and tensions (Chang, 2019, p. 11), and recent scholarship has focused on the ecological dynamics at play in videogames amidst climate crisis. Scholars have found that games can model and narrativise resource scarcity (Kelly & Nardi, 2014), offer compelling ways to inspire cultural imaginaries that prioritise renewable energy futures (Abraham, 2018b) and depict new modes of temporality that mirror the tensions of the Anthropocene (op de Beke, 2020). Other research has more closely examined the human-centricity of the crisis, including how videogame monsters reflect human complicity in, and anxiety about, ecological collapse (May, 2021b) and contending that games illustrate how humankind might, in fact, derive an unconscious enjoyment from the Anthropocene’s destructive conditions (Nicoll, 2023). At the same time, scholars have advocated for a “material turn” in game studies, which entails focusing on the physical conditions within and surrounding gameplay (Apperley & Jayemanne, 2012). This approach involves acknowledging the assemblage of human actors, computing hardware and ecological and geological systems that constitute gameplay, instead of viewing digital cultural objects as merely ephemeral (Ibid.; Abraham, 2022). Such an approach also brings attention to the environmental impact of these complex relationships, and highlights the role that videogames play in the perpetuation of anthropogenic patterns of production, consumption and waste.

Thinking Ecologically

Ecocritical game studies reveals how games are inextricably linked to patterns of production, consumption and destruction caused by human activity. While there has been considerable interest within game studies in determining whether and how games might persuade players to adopt particular ideological positions, we, the authors of this article, find ourselves agreeing with the contention that “trying to convince or improve an unspecified Player” with respect to climate change or ecological crisis is a futile exercise (Abraham, 2022, p. 56). Abraham observes that “deliberate, targeted interventions in players’ opinions” of climate crisis by videogames typically fail, or are only fleetingly successful, and appear hopelessly inadequate when compared to the scale of the cataclysm facing the planet (2022, p. 56). We turn our attention in this article to the relationship between the game text and the player not to identify patterns of “persuasion” or similar intervention, but rather to uncover the ecological dynamics that emerge organically through play. By tracing these dynamics through play experiences, games such as Battlefield 2042, through their less intentionalist engagements with ecology, can nonetheless contribute to the urgent work of raising awareness about anthropocentric patterns, and human/non-human relationships, that fuel planetary decay. To explain how games might raise awareness in this way, we engage with a concept that philosopher Timothy Morton describes as “the ecological thought”: a mode of thinking centred upon a growing awareness of the interdependence of and interconnection between all living and non-living things (2010, p. 7).

Ecological thought, through the emphasis it places on assemblage and complexity (rather than reductionism and separation), is important to addressing the current ecological crisis facing the planet. When one thinks ecologically, it becomes “strangely or frighteningly easy” to “join the dots and see that everything is interconnected” (Morton, 2010, p. 1). This perspective reveals that human lives are comprised by dense layers of overlap, interaction and coexistence with other human and non-human actors. Ecological thinking demands a “suprapersonal awareness of the impact and extent of one’s actions” and an understanding of the dynamics running across a network of ecosystemic inputs and outputs that shape objects, actions and experiences (Chang, 2019, p. 70). Thus, ecological thought also challenges the traditional concept of nature as separate from human society and culture, and instead draws attention to an immeasurably large “mesh” of interconnection (Morton, 2010, pp. 28-30). In this mode of thought, every aspect of everyday life invites inquiry and ultimately makes apparent the destabilising impact of human activities (whether individual or collective) upon the wider mesh (Morton, 2016, p. 9). 

Benjamin Abraham has applied Morton’s concept to videogames, proposing that an “ecological thought for games” offers a means to locate games and players within this very mesh (2018a). Such an approach also helps resist the tendency of game studies to “discount questions around impacts or connections beyond the game-space itself” when considering ludic environments and the connections of games to climate crisis (Abraham, 2018a). Through our analysis, we look beyond the game text to ask whether it is possible to uncover player expressions of ecological thought as a consequence of their encounters with gameplay experiences. Building on Abraham’s approach, we suggest that play experiences in Battlefield 2042 might encourage players to contemplate their own subjectivity -- surrounded, permeated and constituted by many other actors in a vast ecology -- and articulate an awareness of the interdependence that underpins life on Earth and drives climate crisis.

Battlefield 2042 and Convergent Catastrophe

Battlefield 2042, part of a series of first-person shooter games concerned with the thrilling action of historical, contemporary and futuristic conflicts, might seem at first glance an unlikely videogame to address the conditions of climate crisis. Indeed, very few games -- and certainly even fewer triple-A titles -- engage with this crisis directly (Abraham & Jayemanne, 2017, p. 74). However, in representing a planet that, less than two decades from the time of writing, finds itself in the grips of violent convulsions fuelled by the effects of extreme weather, collapsed ecologies, depleted resources and the mass displacement of people, Battlefield 2042 paints a prescient picture. Indeed, in a recent photographic essay (composed of in-game screenshots from Battlefield 2042) Gareth Martin (2022) draws attention to an “acute” awareness displayed within the game of the limits of -- and profound ecological damage caused by -- humanity’s global ambition (p. 25). Several factors that increase conflict risk globally are sensitive to climate change (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2015, p. 16), while a meta-analysis of 55 studies reports that deviations from average temperatures and precipitation patterns “systematically increase conflict risk” (Burke et al., 2015, p. 577). Epochs of both significant warmth and coldness across history have been linked to notable irruptions of political instability and warfare (Burke et al., 2015, p. 590). Climate change hastens our movement toward a state of ‘catastrophic convergence’, wherein our crisis of planetary health intersects with the “already-existing crises of poverty and violence” and these disasters compound and amplify one other (Parenti, 2011, p. 7). In attempting to portray the climate crisis-inflected future of armed conflict in Battlefield 2042, DICE anticipate what Christian Parenti terms the “politics of the armed lifeboat,” where global powers appear likely to respond to climate change by arming, excluding, repressing and killing (2011, p. 11). Battlefield 2042 invites players to engage in remarkably dark ecological thought. Decay and disaster have, by the time of this imagined 2042, rippled across the ecological mesh with devastating effect. The player must confront the worst consequences of interconnection in the era of anthropogenic hubris and come to terms with a realisation that nation states today are also grappling with: an urgent shift in the “focus of security from nation-states and international institutions to the envelope of the atmosphere itself” as destruction looms at a planetary scale and species level (Masco, 2018, p. 72).

Player Paratexts and Meaning-making

An exploration of ecological thought, as entangled and interdependent as the concept is, demands thinking beyond the “game itself as the appropriate unit of analysis” and examining play experiences outside the conventional textual boundaries of the videogame (Abraham, 2018a). An example of such ecocritical analysis is already to be found in work that addresses the creation of “ecomods.” These are technical modifications to games that conduct player-motivated ecocritical interventions upon the representation or functionality of a videogame (Bohunicky, 2017; Jansen, 2019). In this study, we embrace Abraham’s provocation “to think both bigger and smaller” (2018a) by turning our attention to user-created paratexts that highlight ecological thought among players. The term “paratext,” introduced to literary studies by Gérard Genette to describe the elements of a written text that accompany the main body of the work (1997), has since been popularised within game studies by Mia Consalvo’s examination of how “the peripheral industries surrounding games” (2007, p. 9). In her book, Consolvo draws attention to game paratexts such as strategy manuals and game magazines, arguing that they, too, shape the meaning of gameplay. Recent studies have built upon Consalvo’s focus to paratexts that many players themselves generate and share online as part of play (see Apperley, 2018; Carter, 2015; May, 2021a; Ruffino, 2022). Such user-created paratexts include text posts, videos, screenshots, fan art, roleplaying stories and numerous other forms of digital narrative, and are often shared publicly by players to internet communities (including on forums, social platforms such as Reddit, and YouTube channels) as well as in private communal spaces (including invite-only Discord servers and closed groups on messaging platforms).

Paratexts play an important role in the media ecology of videogames. René Glas observes that the core videogame text and its surrounding paratexts together “constitute how a game is ultimately experienced -- to play a game is to play it within its paratextual surround” (2016, p. 2). Consalvo identifies that formal paratexts could “provide challenges to sedimented meanings” in games (2007, p. 182). When encountered and consumed by fellow players, user-generated paratexts bear the same capacity to give new meanings to acts of play (Carter, 2015), negotiate textual meaning to incorporate players’ and communities’ emergent experiences (May, 2021a), and produce specific affective states (Ruffino, 2022). User-created paratexts complicate universalising assumptions that players will experience games in particular ways, or that they will internalise the ideological or discursive logics contained within games (Apperley, 2018, p. 3). Rather, user-created paratexts expose textual meaning and play experience as variable and defined by game text and player together. In light of our interest in ecological thought, the value of user-created paratexts is that they not only facilitate this enmeshment between player and text but that they also capture it -- paratextual artefacts “yield evidence of the textual, ludic and systemic patterns that have gone into emergent gameplay” and preserve otherwise ephemeral play experiences (May, 2021a, p. 87). As Adrienne Massanari argues in her comprehensive study of Reddit communities, the digital ephemera of new media deserves close critical attention, not least because these artefacts articulate “important aspects of our collective cultural heritage” (2015, p. 2). Within online player paratexts there lies the possibility to witness and reveal both individual and collective engagements with the urgent existential conditions of our ecological era.

A Method for Paratextual Analysis

In this study, we gather and analyse user-created paratexts from a number of online communities associated with Battlefield 2042. This approach adopts an ethnographic orientation in attempting to understand cultures (Schensul & LeCompte, 2012), and in common with other digital or internet ethnographies it seeks to illustrate how individuals and communities shape and are shaped by the digital spaces and objects with which they interact (Massanari, 2015, p. 11). More specifically, our approach accords with the often interchangeable methodological practices of ‘netnography’ (Kozinets, 2010), ‘online ethnography’ (Markham, 2015) and ‘social media ethnography’ (Postill & Pink, 2012), which adapt the principles and tools of ethnography to capture transient and ephemeral internet cultures and social communities. These three methods all have in common a focus on illustrating the nature of meaning-making, sociality and cultural production in the fast-moving worlds of online platforms and forums, which are otherwise often considered disposable and transitory in nature. 

Within this netnographic conceptual framework we adopt methods adapted from an existing study of paratexts in zombie horror videogame communities (May, 2021a, pp. 231-232). Examining three online research sites, we manually searched for user-created paratexts, then captured them in a database and coded them. These research sites were the three largest English-language online forums (in terms of either userbase or total number of posts) associated with Battlefield 2042: the Battlefield 2042 subreddit (, 213,000 users), the Battlefield subreddit (, 427,000 users) and the Battlefield 2042 Steam Community (, 20,659 posts). Paratexts were located using two approaches to searching and sorting within each of the three online communities. The first approach was a targeted search using each forum’s built-in search function, utilising a series of keywords related to climate crisis, climate change, environment and ecology. The second approach saw all posts within these communities sorted by popularity (i.e., number of “up-votes,” views and/ or replies to a post) and each post considered systematically for inclusion, until a threshold of declining popularity was reached. Relevant paratexts were identified for inclusion using an adapted version of Abraham and Jayemanne’s typology of modes in which games engage with environment relationships (2017, p. 77): environment and ecology as backdrop, as resource, as antagonist, or as textual resource for players (italics indicate adaptation from the original heuristic). As paratexts were identified and captured (using a web clipping tool that preserves webpages in their entirety), they were provisionally coded qualitatively, using the above typology. Once captured in the database, the corpus of paratexts was subjected to a more detailed qualitative content analysis (see Mayring, 2000). We conducted textual analysis on each captured text post, image, video or other type of paratext. From these analyses, a thematic categorisation was developed, based on the theoretical framings of ecocriticism and ecological thought already outlined. Patterns emerging from the data were revised and refined repeatedly in order to reveal main themes that reflected critical interpretations of topics and their interconnections, and exemplary artefacts (those considered to be particularly representative of analytical themes) were highlighted within the database.

Through this process, a total of 81 paratexts across five themes were ultimately identified as exemplary. The five themes identified were: resonance (accounting for approximately 35% of our artefacts), amplification (approximately 29%), dissonance (approximately 30%), abjection (approximately 18%) and weirdness (16%). Some artefacts accorded to multiple themes, and we elaborate on the meaning of these thematic labels in the following section. Because it is not feasible here to address each paratext individually, the following discussion will be shaped by the themes developed during the analysis described above, and generalised observations across the dataset will be made. In keeping with practices observed by other paratext researchers, we also take this approach in order to de-identify paratext examples. Just as Marcus Carter notes in his study of EVE Online paratexts, we believe there is no potential for damage or harm to the players who have created these paratexts for sharing in public, online sharing spaces in this analysis (2015, p. 316). However, the Association of Internet Researchers reminds those engaged in this kind of research that “user-generated content is generally published in informal spaces that users often perceive as private,” despite these spaces being, in fact, public and easily accessible (2019, p. 69). Discussing the dataset of paratexts in aggregate and de-identified ways means that we are also acting in accordance with Helen Nissenbaum’s concept of “contextual integrity” within studies of sociality, which highlights that different communities operate according to different “transmission principles” in their social and cultural output (2010, pp. 140-147). While these player communities adopt a “broadcast” transmission logic, their users often imagine those broadcasts as limited to the audience sharing the platform or forum with them. Although readers of this article may be able to enter the communities we have investigated and locate some of the analysed paratexts, we repeat the observation that by “by entering the collective cultural space of an online play community on its own terms,” readers would be aligning themselves with the intended audience of the paratexts, and contextual integrity would be preserved (May, 2021a, p. 10). 

Encounters with Ecological Thought


The first discursive theme identified among the paratextual data is one of resonance with ecological thought. Such artefacts demonstrate players recognising and affirming the chains of ecological cause and effect that lead from the present era to the imagined and cataclysmic future of Battlefield 2042. In one example, a user posts praising the direct relationship they perceive between the game and contemporary reality, seeing today’s political, economic and climatic problems incorporated into the game in ways they see as realistic, rather than parodic. To support their claim, the user includes an image montage of photographs taken during extreme weather events on Earth alongside in-game screenshots. These pairings include an immense dust storm charging into a suburban settlement beside the point-of-view of a Battlefield 2042 player observing from a helicopter side door a churning virtual sandstorm. In other posts, dated immediately prior to the game’s release, users discuss excerpts of gameplay shared by the developers in trailers and online developer diaries. In one post, a user articulates excitement about the prospect of encountering the game’s natural disasters and invites comment about the weather events others are most anticipating. The responses are numerous, and most of them demonstrate users reflecting on extreme climatic events they have witnessed themselves (either in person or through media coverage) and hoping to similarly encounter floods, forest wildfires, hurricane storm systems, blizzards and the consequences of sea-level rise in-game.

This resonance with ecological thought continues in other artefacts in which players of Battlefield 2042 demonstrate their recognition of specific ecological relationships and interlinkages that drive the game’s apocalyptic backdrop. One user shares their insight as a researcher engaged in studies of carbon dioxide deposits, noting that they see a plausible, and highly likely, path from our current planetary conditions of rising sea levels, diminishing water supplies and growing pressure on food sources to the game’s vision of resource conflict and mass displacement of climate refugees. A different paratext features a commenter identifying the “real” world’s late-stage capitalism, the automation and privatisation of the human experience, and an unchecked military-industrial complex as being directly complicit in the climate future rendered by the game. In another post, a player turns their attention to two specific playable maps within Battlefield 2042 -- Discarded (based on India’s west coast, on a beach used for stripping decommissioned maritime vessels) and Manifest (based on a container port on the island Pulau Brani, Singapore) -- to consider how the game illustrates the inequity of strategies for global adaptation to climate change. Discarded is a virtual landscape that communicates conditions of extreme heat, and imagines the collapse of civil society and a wide-scale depopulation of the Indian subcontinent. The user discusses how Discarded reveals a chain of events that we are likely to see ourselves in the not-too-distant future. Manifest depicts a far less brutalised virtual Singapore. On this map, the user identifies evidence of sea walls and other significant efforts by the city-state to use infrastructure to adapt to climate change, pointing out that the game appears to forecast the disproportionate devastation of the climate crisis upon developing countries. This ecological thought finds the contemporary era -- in which developed countries are increasingly adopting resource-intensive strategies for climate change adaptation while leaving their developing neighbours to fend themselves -- legible within Battlefield 2042. Such thought affirms the ways that the developers have extrapolated the consequences of these interconnections across the ecological mesh.

What also emerges in the paratexts is a view expressed by some players that while playing through the game’s apocalyptic climate conditions might not always be “fun” the conditions themselves are nonetheless an important and urgent backdrop to play. In a text post praising the game’s climate apocalypse-tinged atmosphere, one player identifies a comparative emotional distance felt when playing first-person shooters set in historical conflicts such as the First or Second World Wars. They suggest that Battlefield 2042 forces emotional engagement, through feelings of horror and urgency, and provide a sense of heightened stakes afforded by the game’s connection to contemporary conditions. In these moments of resonant engagement with modes of ecological thought, players engage with the reality that, along with melting polar ice shelves, climate change also “melts the narrative in which we still participate,” casting light on present ecological relations that ultimately mean “we are already living in the ruins of the future” (Collings, 2014, p. 116). Renata Tyszczuk traces a history of humans being “compelled to tell stories about our nightmares” and using such cautionary tales as a means for processing fears, paranoia, responses and possibilities (2014, p. 45). We find players turning to Battlefield 2042 and orienting themselves toward ecological thought, coming to recognise and affirm the game’s stark forecast about our planet’s future health.


A second discursive theme builds upon the resonant orientation of players toward ecological thought, and reveals a desire for the amplification of engagements with ecological thinking within play. A number of artefacts with this tendency show players eager to increase the variety, intensity and verisimilitude of the game’s limited array of virtual weather events. One user comments that future expansions to the game should more firmly embrace climate change, posting accompanying images of electrical storms, tsunamis, forest wildfires and an urban blizzard. Numerous other paratexts echo this call by offering lists of increasingly inventive and damaging meteorological disasters, whether in the form of “random sinkholes around the map,” “an earthquake that knocks down buildings” or even “coked up acid rain.” In other artefacts, users rail against the fact that the game’s tornados and sandstorms are not sufficiently powerful or threatening, ultimately posing no mortal threat to players’ avatars. In one post, a user suggests that the introduction of electrical storms could not only deepen the game’s climate crisis narrative but also extend the sense of jeopardy associated with these events. Summoning the image of “lightning crashing down and tearing people up,” this user imagines player fatalities caused by unpredictable lightning strikes, which would allow the game to more effectively reflect anxieties about climate conditions present for many in our lived world.

In a number of cases, the possibly of greater climatic nuance is also linked directly to ludic affordances. Several user comments propose weather events that reshape the game’s virtual maps midway through game sessions, thereby dramatically changing players’ approaches to combat. For example, maps could force players to use zip lines while traversing buildings in order to avoid dangerous floodwaters, or to circumvent rapidly spreading fires and flammable areas of the landscape. In other paratexts, players imagine new virtual maps shaped by the tactical and strategic limitations and opportunities of different climate disasters. Remarking that the game’s environments “don’t feel like part of a world ravaged by extreme climate change,” one user suggests Battlefield 2042 could simulate London buried by snowfall, Cape Town’s streets riven by earthquake chasms, and Rome drowned by tropical storms. Another user, who professes to having previously worked as a meteorologist in the armed services, praises the realism of some of the game’s extreme weather events. They acknowledge that in the cases of the game’s less realistic representations, climate change means that scientists are themselves struggling to predict and model the nature of future weather systems. However, they also characterise the in-game tornadoes as being “a bit ‘extra’” (suggesting, in colloquial terms, that this weather event has been unrealistically rendered). They suggest that any extreme weather events should directly interfere with the integrity of the player’s avatar, requiring players to adjust their uniforms and accessories in order to fight effectively.

A useful outcome for media focused on climate catastrophe can be that audiences take stock of the reality of their surrounding ecological conditions. This is because media are able to reveal in novel ways the complexity of the human condition and its close interrelationship with other planetary actors, and their upheaval (Tyszczuk, 2014, p. 55). Together, these paratexts concerned with amplification capture a kind of ecological thinking where users appear firmly aware of this complexity -- or the “overwhelming presence of processes and entities that one can’t shake off” (Morton, 2016, pp. 153-154) -- and require from the game a greater, more detailed acknowledgement of the “inextricable coexistence with a host of entities that surround and penetrate us” (Morton, 2016, p. 159). Morton describes ecological thought as an awareness of the spectres -- both material and immaterial -- that constitute us (2016, p. 125) and, in a sense, these users are articulating a recursive spectrality. Some of the spectres that surround us, and our enmeshed encounters with the human and nonhuman actors that comprise ecologies, are themselves illusory and absent in Battlefield 2042, appearing doubly spectral and unsettling. These users desire the game to amplify the relationships that ecological thought uncovers, bringing to the fore the perverse pleasure that suffuses our knowledge of our states of ecological interdependence and coexistence (Morton, 2016, p. 129). While ecological awareness is closely connected to sensations of guilt, the paratexts about amplification demonstrate how players seek greater gameplay fidelity, richer ludic engagement and the extended pleasure of play -- even if that pleasure is derived from ecological horror.


Dissonance is the third theme of ecological thought in our Battlefield 2042 paratextual evidence. According to such artefacts, players are to some extent sympathetic with the game’s imagined climate futures and the consequences it models as stemming from contemporary ecological relationships. The dissonance or divergence introduced in these players’ reactions relates, in particular, to how this story is told and how these imaginaries are articulated. In one paratext, a user acknowledges the likely significance of climate change on future conflicts but nonetheless demands to know where to find the “story” or the “lesson” in Battlefield 2042. Referring to their memories of playing an earlier title in the series, Battlefield 1, the user describes how the game’s World War I setting gave new life and substance to depicted historical figures like T. E. Lawrence. In contrast, they feel more narratively and emotionally distanced from Battlefield 2042’s virtual subjects. Another user expresses a similar desire to see the game generate a greater affective response, musing that the various virtual maps lack an engaging sense of atmosphere. The user describes a lack of affective charge compared to prior games in the series, recalling imagery from a previous Battlefield game where players stormed the island of Iwo Jima as United States Marines during the Second World War. Elsewhere, in a post shared to spark debate about the “social commentary” within Battlefield 2042, a user compares the game’s representation of the climate crisis to the fast-paced, glossy action of the blockbuster film series The Fast and the Furious, arguing that the subject matter demands far more cerebral treatment if players are to take in the weight of the topic.

Occupied by questions about appropriate forms of narrativisation, in-game atmosphere and the sensations associated with play, these paratexts capture dissonant modes of ecological thought and indicate a concern among users for Battlefield 2042’s affective register. This response to the game could be understood as a consequence of the way that climate crisis texts can unsettle the imagined relationship between humans and the world (Tyszczuk, 2014, p. 47) and disrupt perceptions of the physical, political and temporal relations that surround us, summoning up new, unfamiliar and intemperate renditions (Yusoff, 2022, p. 16). Anxiety, frustration and a tendency toward inaction can develop in the face of these unsettled accounts of our planet and our relationship to it (Tyszczuk, 2014, p. 52). In place of the “modernist assumption” of ever-increasing comfort, security and planetary mastery individuals are required to instead “recalibrate our senses, actions, and expectations” to these alien futures (Masco, 2018, p. 71). In the dissonant mode of ecological thinking and engagement, however, this demand for recalibration is reversed. According to these examples, it is the game rather than the player that must adjust and temper its expectations about ecological futures. Paolo Ruffino finds that paratexts are key sites for users to negotiate the meaning experiences of agency and narrative, with paratexts providing opportunities to discursively reconfigure elements of play that have triggered or exacerbated sociocultural anxieties (2022, p. 347). In these Battlefield 2042 examples, a different form of storytelling is sought, one in which the affective register shifts away from the ecological conditions of Battlefield 2042’s cataclysmic climate future and on to the more familiar narrative and experiential conventions and patterns that typically define military simulation videogames.


A fourth theme evident in the paratextual data is one in which players appear to reject (at times aggressively) the climate-conscious conceit that underlies Battlefield 2042. We identify these artefacts as examples of the abjection of player experiences. To those familiar with the game’s rocky reception by players and critics upon its initial release [1], the ecological (or rather, often anti-ecological) perspectives captured in this group of artefacts may appear entirely predictable. Some discussions among users centre upon the question of precisely what “future” the game represents, with players seemingly dismayed at the lack of technological innovation and progress evident in the weapons and materiel utilised by the game’s various combatants. These posts typically culminate in a concern that Battlefield 2042’s developers have focused too closely on the climate futures contained within the game’s fiction, at the expense of providing an accurate military simulation that, for many players, has defined the series to date. Elsewhere, users strongly criticise the perceived realism of Battlefield 2042’s imagined, ecologically horrific future. One player rails against the developer DICE in a lengthy post about their apparent attempts at brainwashing the game’s audiences with over-the-top and “cartoonish” representations of cataclysmic climate conditions. Unsure whether DICE are engaged in an act of elaborate satire or are earnest in their attention to the climate crisis, the author of the post and several commenters express anger at the price they have paid to purchase a game with an underlying “political” agenda. Similarly, additional paratexts allege that Battlefield 2042 has invited “politics” into the realm of videogame play. In one example, a user declares that the art of a videogame “dies” when “real life politics” are introduced to play. The user argues that developers should focus on visual and aural quality and, above all, the experience of “fun,” and leave players unburdened by political expression.

Offering a heady blend of apparent vituperation and dismay, these paratexts articulate a state of revulsed abjection some players experience through their encounters with ecological thought and climate crisis discourse. At first glance, these paratexts of abjection might seem to show how often players do not, or in fact choose not to, recognise, adopt or support the discursive positions found within videogames that are deliberately oriented toward particular ideological paradigms (Apperley, 2018, p. 5). Climate crisis discourse is contentious and, given the game’s initial popular and critical reception, it is hardly surprising that a significant proportion of comments in the dataset reject Battlefield 2042’s engagement with the subject. Yet, if we continue our journey into ecological thought and the various concepts surrounding it in Morton’s own work, it can become possible to read these paratexts, perhaps counterintuitively, as expressing a kind of ecological thought.

The logic of a “dark ecology” follows from thinking ecologically, wherein the ugly, messy and hidden substrates of ecological relations (including human complicity in cycles of waste and planetary destruction) becomes painfully apparent (Morton, 2016, p. 5). Witnessing the dark undercurrents of ecology can evoke what Morton terms The Shame: “a violent thrashing whereby I try to rid myself of the stain” (2016, p. 133). As David Collings suggests, climate change and its capacity to tear down the narratives that underpin the current era -- of human harmony with Earth, endless prosperity and the benefits of growth -- “is nothing less than an assault on who we think we are” (2014, p. 17). When confronted by the climate catastrophe’s anti-subjective challenges, it is a natural response to lash out with anger and rejection. Such messaging is riven by the knowledge of human complicity in the great crime of ecological collapse, and may even provoke a “shameful laughter” that masks (and reveals) guilt and attempts to “wipe away” the evidence of one’s own abjection (Morton, 2016, p. 133). Morton suggests that using ecological thinking to cross into the true darkness of ecological relations requires a “recognition of trauma, an acknowledgment that we never wiped away the vomit and never could” (2016, p. 133). We suggest that these negational paratexts gesture toward the possibility that some of their creators might be approaching, or even crossing, that figurative, discursive boundary. 

A weird weirdness

The final theme to emerge from the data is one in which the underlying weirdness of ecological thought. Comprehending the at times dark ecological relations that underpin the anthropocentric era can requires recognising the “weirdly weird” and the “strange loops” that surface across the figurative mesh of coexistence (Morton, 2016, p. 7). These “weirdly weird” events and objects are uncanny in their nature, are “strange of appearance,” and serve to introduce eerie, curious and at times ironic or jocular “asymmetrical contrary motion” into otherwise serious accounts of ecological awareness (Morton, 2016, pp. 6-7). This potential for uncanny weirdness in moments of ecological thought is one reason why Morton urges embracing less serious modes of thinking and talking about the climate crisis than the sterility of scientific data or the doom-laden portents of so much climate activism. What might instead benefit the conversation is broadening surrounding ecological thought to include “a politics that includes what appears least political -- laughter, the playful, even the silly” (Morton, 2016, p. 113). Expanding this discourse involves recognising that on our Earth, “reality fundamentally is playful, dancing, raving” (Morton, 2016, p. 153). In the face of the contingent and unstable experience of lives lived in vast ecological coexistence with other actors, laughter is as valid a human response as the anxiety, terror and activism that ecological awareness might otherwise provoke. Benjamin Nicoll, taking a psychoanalytic approach, argues that ecocritical videogames reveal an unconscious enjoyment (as in Lacanian jouissance) of the conditions of climate crisis (and our own involvement in it) (2023, p. 17). Moments of weirdness within ecological thought take this self-destructive pain and elaborate it into irony and jocularity, drawing comedy and tragedy together -- as they so often are in the history of literature and mythology. 

Among the paratextual data, the weirdness of ecological thought manifests in a number of light-hearted submissions by users. In one such post, a user shares an in-game screenshot from the Kaleidoscope map -- a section of a South Korean city hosting a United States military data centre, with untouched skyscrapers, perfectly maintained lawns and other striking cosmetic landscaping features. The screenshot depicts several water sprinklers feeding lush green lawns, while rain pours down around the player’s avatar. The author of the post observes that there is some irony in leaving sprinklers on during rainy weather amidst a war driven by natural resource shortages. This post’s droll observation prompts detailed discussion in its thread of replies: users point out that the image neatly symbolises the resource tension fuelling the game’s fictionalised climate conflict, that it accurately represents the everyday reality of how Earth’s resources are today treated and that the sprinklers are a reminder that persisting on “as if nothing is happening” in the face of a global catastrophe is second nature for humanity. In another series of examples, some paratexts highlight the seeming discordance between the random spoken dialogue of the game’s virtual combatants and the game’s grim environmental backdrop. Posts on this subject repeat a similar formula: a short description of the apocalyptic conditions that are visible within Battlefield 2042’s virtual reality, followed by one of the comically mis-timed lines of dialogue delivered, earnestly and with gritty resolve, by non-player characters. Examples include exclamations like, “what a time to be alive!” and “well, well, well, that was fun!” In the comment threads of such posts, users gleefully highlight the layer of irony introduced by this asynchrony in tone. 

Player Paratexts and Ecological Imaginaries

We have drawn attention to how the appearance of the climate crisis within a mainstream videogame might prompt players to exhibit forms of ecological thought. This can manifest as forms of awareness about the vast interconnection and assemblage that characterises ecologies and everyday ecological life, and which in the present age are shaping catastrophic outcomes for our planet. Five modes of engagement with ecological thought emerge in the communities surrounding Battlefield 2042, with expressions characterised by either resonance, amplification, dissonance, abjection or weirdness. The diversity and richness of player paratextual activity within these five themes counters the dominant view that a blockbuster game such as Battlefield 2042 cannot incorporate climate change themes without polarizing its fan base (an impression which coalesces through the reviews and critical reception surrounding the game’s releases). Rather, thinking ecologically allows for individual and collective responses that are as divergent, fluid and heterogeneous as the ecological mesh that the mode itself unveils. Battlefield 2042 demonstrates how genres of videogames that have often side-stepped climate crisis, such as the first-person shooter, can powerfully provoke a range of modes of ecological thought among players.

Because ecological thought is characterised by how we think, and not necessarily what we are thinking about, it allows us, a global community, to move beyond the simpler, more reductive binaries of “agreeing with” or “rejecting” climate change discourse. Similarly, ecological thought encourages game researchers to move on from the unhelpful idea that games might “persuasively” shift player attitudes on ideological matters (Abraham, 2018b, 2022). We extend Abraham’s argument that, in games, different (and sometimes radical) ecological futures and imaginaries are more likely to be fostered “below the level of conscious engagement” (2018b, p. 87). Ecological thought is a kind of growing awareness that has the potential to suffuse countless moments of thought, play and interaction throughout everyday life, including with media objects such as videogames. Near-endless opportunities are offered to reorient oneself (gradually or suddenly, radically or subtly) toward ecological conditions and relationships. By turning attention toward ecological thought, and the manifold ways players orient themselves toward the revelations of coexistence, we can better account for the complex assemblages of ecological awareness, and of ecologies themselves; which exist in the inner lives of players, in play communities, and in the wider discourses and cultures surrounding games.

Reflecting on the planetary scale of the existential danger engendered by the Anthropocene, Joseph Masco asks what kind of work we do as humans when we contemplate mediated representations of catastrophe and apocalypse (2018, p. 82). Some answers to that question are made evident through the meaning players make in relation to ecological thought. If, as Ailise Bulfin urges, popular culture is understood as a “socio-cultural unconscious” shaped by “cultural trauma of the not-fully-admitted but unavoidable knowledge of impending climate change and ecological deterioration” (2017, p. 142), then such paratexts, and the communities in which they are shared, offer a point of entry to uncover what is otherwise hidden or obscured in the player-game relationship. At a time when renewed attention is paid to the material origins of digital media in terms of planetary resources, energy and waste (Parikka, 2015), and climate change increasingly appears to be “the condition for any story that might be told about… our inhabitation of this fractious planet” (Tyszczuk, 2014, p. 47), many player paratexts intertwine with the current ecological catastrophe just as much as the game texts they relate to. Battlefield 2042 and its player communities demonstrate that paratexts are able to articulate players’ complex and multifarious engagements with different versions of ecological thought. These discursive patterns challenge presumptions about player readings of, or “persuasion” by, games which incorporate climate discourse. They offer a direction for future study to understand the ecological futures and imaginaries that players are constructing amidst our present era of planetary crisis.



This work was supported by the University of Auckland Research Development Fund (grant number 3726345).



[1] A number of gameplay aspects typical of the Battlefield series were adjusted or removed in Battlefield 2042, and the game released with numerous bugs. Online fans formed a consensus that the game’s developers had forsaken what made the series special in order to accommodate an ill-conceived climate change plot.



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