During a land-use planning class I was taking last year a discussion started one day about the usefulness of the video game Sim City when it comes to learning practical urban planning. For those unfamiliar with the game, the idea is the player has complete control over how a city is laid out. You decide where roads and superhighways go, what parts of the city should be zoned for residential, commercial, or industrial, where there should be high density and low density development, etc. The game then plays out as a simulation, with your town growing into a thriving metropolis or miserable cesspool. All sorts of factors can contribute to the failure or success of your city; everything from providing enough hospitals and parks, to making sure there is electric and sewer service, to not having a school right next to an industrial plant. The game really does work well as a tool to make you think of everything a city needs, and also doing so on a budget.

If you enjoyed Sim City, or any similar game, there is new simulation game coming out with an environmental spin on it. Anno 2070 (scheduled to be released this fall from developer Ubisoft) takes on the Sim City idea and adds to it sustainability practices. The concept is that the game takes place in the year 2070, after the planet has already changed a great deal, and you are charged with developing your own city/society. The twist is that you can choose to build as an “Eco” or a “Tycoon”. The Eco faction uses sustainable practices and grows slowly based on available resources; meanwhile the Tycoon faction grows as quickly as possible, gobbling up resources while living in luxury.

Since the game takes place in the future, a lot of the environmental threats predicted today have already come to fruition; there is sea level rise to the extent that underwater cities are common place. In addition to this I would hope the developers will throw in other potential threats such as extreme temperatures, urban smog and air pollution, over population, food shortages, scarcity of fossil fuels, as well as other potential pitfalls.

I am certainly not an avid gamer (lately I don’t play much of anything besides the occasional game of Wii Sports) but I have to admit this game really has caught my interest. Outside of the entertainment factor, a game like this could also be a useful and fun tool for a wide age range of students, teaching the fundamentals of a developing sustainable society.