Eco-urban gamers

SimCity, that alternate universe that gamers create themselves, now has a “climate education game.” That sounds about as fun as city planning—but wait, they’ve sold about 18 million copies of the franchise’s games with that concept.

Back in 1989, when SimCity began, we were all drinking petrol smoothies and filling our station wagons with $1 per gallon gas. Now “carbon footprint” is a household phrase, and real city planners are looking at different options for reducing greenhouse gases.

In SimCity Societies, players can choose to power their cities with hydrogen and natural gas plants, solar power and wind farms. The game doesn’t force players to power their cities in a specific way, but it gives them alternative options and then shows the environmental repercussions of their choices. For example, if they choose more polluting power sources, their carbon emissions go up, and perhaps a drought hits the city. Likewise, if they choose an alternative power source, they’ll find it costs them more of their in-game funds and may produce less power than dirtier options, although they maintain property values, keep citizens safer from disaster and lower their carbon ratings.

The game, developed by Electronic Arts and BP Alternative Energy (an offshoot of British Petroleum), is available for aspiring green planners on Nov. 15.