Date of Completion


Thesis Type

College of Arts and Science Honors



First Advisor

Dr. Ingrid L Nelson


Virtual nature, online games, world building


Online games have become massively – and unevenly – distributed across human society. While most commonly played for leisure, online games also help to raise awareness about environmental degradation and promote conservation initiatives. My research explores the popular appeal of two futuristic online games, No Man’s Sky (2016) and Sid Meiers Civilization Beyond Earth (2014). I examine gamer critiques of the visual and other spatial content—or ‘worlds’—encountered in these two games, in order to understand what kinds of ideas about nature are created, promoted and consumed in mass-appeal virtual spaces. This paper expands the study of nature 2.0—a new component of nature that exists in and through online social media—contributing to emerging research on what it means to engage with nature in the digital age. The environments in these two games are both fictional and alien, yet existing physical environments inspire virtual game spaces and are critical for a player’s successful immersion in the game. Gamers reinvent game spaces to perpetuate a game’s particular narrative or gaming objectives. Much of the imagery that gamers’ consume for other contexts, depicts a narrow or skewed framing of ‘nature’, which scholars have shown impacts real-world interventions and assumptions. I argue that gamers’ world making in virtual game spaces provides opportunities for complicating confronting and renegotiating human nature relationships.