Harnessing Games for the GREATER GOOD: David Helgason's Green Quest

In a world of existential disaster and technological wonder, a story of hope and redemption is being told Today, the visionary co-founder of the massive game engine Unity, David Helgason, is pursuing his dream of gaming the climate crisis and saving our planet.

From Gaming Engines to Climate CRUSADER

It is nothing less than the transition from a tech titan to a climate superhero – and an impressive and inspiring one at that. Refusing to take the well-worn path of leisurely pursuits, post-CEO life for Helgason was to be something far more extraordinary. He would take on one of the gravest threats facing humanity: climate change. Helgason’s main vehicle, his labour of love, is Transition Ventures, an early-stage venture capital firm dedicated to helping startups fighting for a better, more sustainable future.

The Strategy: Investing in TOMORROW

Transition Ventures is a fund with a side order of messianism. Where most people see the prospect of climate-driven mass socioeconomic breakdown, Helgason sees a green dawn, a fresh start, an opportunity for radical innovation. His plan for bringing this new world into being – pumping start-up capital into the technology that will help us avoid it – is a statement of faith in the power of tech to bring about social change.

Journeying Back HOME: From Unity to Climate Tech

The jump from fronting a gaming giant to heading climate initiatives wasn’t immediate. Like the flame itself, Helgason’s transformation was ignited by familial Nature. It picked up speed when his brother’s startup, VitroLabs Inc, got the gamer-turned-climate-tech guy excited about the ‘superpowers’ of synthetic biology. This was a return to what excited Helgason most of all – science and technology.

Building a Green PORTFOLIO

A portfolio under Helgason’s watch includes startups using machine learning to shift and scale electricity consumption as well as advances in synthetic biology: each sector a calculated bet on technologies that could serve as tools to power down our climate-havoc-wreaking society. Transition Ventures’ deliberate choice to juxtapose mission-aligned and market-rate LPs reflects an awareness that such endeavours must be economically feasible as well as environmentally friendly.

A HOME Inspired by Vision

His Icelandic roots also have a lot to do with it. He lives in a home not far from Reykjavík in one of Iceland’s most verdant areas. The scenery is breathtaking but also serves as a constant reminder of what’s at stake. That’s not the only thing Icelandic about his work. The country’s relatively undisturbed biome, which combines the modern and the untouched, makes it an ideal living laboratory for climate innovation, another piece of his mission, which is to scale such solutions globally.

The Game Plan: Making Climate Action ENGAGING

Besides his games, Helgason is experimenting with how to harness the games industry to move climate action in the right direction. He recently announced a new venture, Cleanplay, which will try to combine the immersion that games provide with environmental causes in a way that makes sustainability more fun to pursue, rather than a burden. It’s probably no accident that one of his heroes is not some path-breaking physicist or philanthropist, but Lord of the Rings author JRR Tolkien, who inhabited his own imagined fantasy world for decades. Helgason is seizing on the idea that the tools that can change the world might be more likely to originate in the farthest corners of the imagination.

Understanding HOME: A Reflection on Purpose and Place

In every way, Helgason’s journey is a reflection of the power of the idea of home – not a place, but something you create: your moral and aspirational world. Whether it’s the view from his house perched on the rocky ledge overlooking the ocean or his investment activity to save the planet, home is highly significant. Home is origin, home is destination, and home means Helgason’s work is not done until there is a planet with sufficient innovation, sustainability and economic vitality to make it liveable in the future.

For those who have been where David Helgason has, the logic is compelling: sometimes the best way home is through the wilderness. Reconceiving the climate crisis as an invitation to a green modernity will not be easy. Yet the logic of this wilderness suggests that without such a transformation of spirit, the arc of the human future will bend towards disaster.

Jun 03, 2024
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