Gaming the System for Sustainability

Gaming the System for Sustainability

590031_xbox_controller_no_logoA lot of young (and not so young) people are going to be getting video games this Christmas. In the last decade, and especially during the last five years, these role-playing games, or RPGs, and MMORPGs (Massively multiplayer online role-playing games) have gotten so good – the graphics so crisp and synching in what seems like real-time – that gaming has become one of the most popular activities in the United States.

We know that teens play, avidly. But the number of adults and even oldsters who have gotten into the game frame of mind is surprising. Reports suggest that violent video games might provoke equally violent responses in the minds of adolescents, who lack the impulse control of the average adult. Other studies and white papers say that video gaming keeps the mind active, staving off the potential onset of senility.

For older people, gaming via Wi-Fi is even more beneficial, providing much needed exercise as well as training for multitasking. The fact that gaming is addictive may be the result of the endorphins that flood a gamer’s brain and body when he or she accomplishes a task or wins through to another level and earns instant gratification via new tools or points. Pavlov demonstrated this in his conditioned reflex studies with dogs.

Now, for those who are serious about their gaming, and see the game platform as a way to create significant change in the world in the fields of environment, sustainability, social justice and climate change mitigation, SimCity is back, bigger than ever, and designed to let players mold the world of tomorrow.

Debuting in 2013, this newest rollout “Gets under your skin; exposes you to the idea of cause and effect and (the idea) that choices you make have repercussions,” according to Senior VP Lucy Bradshaw, whose Maxis Studio developed SimCity.

Because every action in SimCity generates a reaction (shades of Isaac Newton!), if you drop your guard even for a moment, letting a developer lease land in City Center to erect an atrocious attack on aesthetic sensibilities – a Trump Tower on steroids, for example – you will have to suffer the environmental and sustainability consequences somewhere down the road.

Thanks to SimCity’s huge proportion of interactivity, you can see the consequences of your decisions in near-real-time, a luxury that actual city developers don’t have. More important, according to Davis Guggenheim, who directed Al Gore’s global warming video documentary “An Inconvenient Truth”, SimCity helps correct the disconnect that occurs because most Americans have not been exposed to the truly tragic effects of climate change. Although that, too, is changing, as witness the drought that spread across two-thirds of the nation this summer.

Guggenheim, who got to preview the game with his son, is already committed to its potential to change minds and the climate, hopefully for the better. SimCity, released in 1989 and quickly developing a large base of users, eventually morphed into a series of strategy games that allowed players to develop, alter and embellish imaginary worlds. That – being able to create a near-perfect imaginary world – was so addictive that some SimCity players admit they spent far more time playing than they perhaps should have.

SimCity 2013 will feature even more real-life 3-D graphical interfaces (yes, that was a teardrop you saw) and a wider platform that allows urban design modules to alter conditions in neighboring urban areas.

The game also allows players to export their created characters into other’s peoples’ imaginary territories via the Internet and a module called “SimPort.” The cost of the expansion CD that allows players to do this (and many other things) is a very reasonable $40.

This 2013 version of ecology-building is the result of collaboration between Maxis Studio and Games for Change, which aims to create a socially conscious video gaming niche for adults who “get” the message du jour; the earth is rapidly approaching a tipping point beyond which there may be no readily available, technologically possible remediation.

For young people, it’s an opportunity to explore the adult world of cause and effect in a way that won’t leave them broken. In other words, it’s all good.

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