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Published on December 28th, 2011 | by Silvio Marcacci

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Can Video Games Solve Energy and Environmental Issues?

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December 28th, 2011 by
 

Video games are a huge part of life today. Advanced gaming technology now means anyone can immerse themselves in warfare, become a rock star, or win the World Series, albeit virtually. But what if video games could also teach people about energy technologies and environmental concerns?

energyNOW! correspondent Lee Patrick Sullivan plugs into several video games that could help people make better energy choices and potentially create real-world energy solutions. The full video is available below:

Video games have come a long way from Pong and Atari, and today’s technology has become a way of life for Americans young and old. But a trend is growing among video game developers and players to use games to teach about the impacts of energy use on our cities and environment.

Take the recently released ANNO 2070, set 60 years in the future in a world changed by global warming and rising sea levels. Players are put in charge of building cities and are responsible for choosing different renewable and fossil energy technologies to generate power for their populations. As the game progresses, players witness the outcomes of their choices.

But this isn’t the first video game to address energy and environmental issues. The urban planning simulation game SimCity has incorporated power generation choices throughout multiple editions of the game for decades. As cities grow, players can decide to build power plants from a variety of fuel sources based on price and pollution to supply electricity.

Some say SimCity has given gamers a greater appreciation of their energy footprint. “It makes you educate yourself more about what’s going on in a city environment, power-wise,” said Sean Hagler, general manager of Atlanta video gaming hotspot Battle & Brew. “It makes you think and it makes you realize what your impact is on energy.”

While gaming can help individuals learn about energy use, researchers say the larger world of networked gaming enables players to work together on real-world energy solutions. “What games allow us to do is try things, to rehearse things,” said Celia Pearce, a video game designer and Georgia Tech professor. “They allow us to engage with dynamic systems in an interactive way.”

Pearce says gamers aren’t afraid to experiment and fail because that’s how they succeed at video games. One example of this theory was demonstrated earlier this year when researchers turned a struggle to map an AIDS/HIV enzyme into Foldit, an Internet-based video game. Within weeks, players had cracked the code.

“Energy is one of those themes that really lends itself to a collaborative game – we’re all involved in our own way,” said Ken Eklund, the developer of a game called World Without Oil, an online interactive game that simulated a worldwide oil shortage in 2007. “Any sort of solution is going to be a collaborative, widespread solution.”

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About the Author

Silvio is Principal at Marcacci Communications, a full-service clean energy and climate-focused public relations company based in Washington, D.C.



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