Chevron’s Advice About Energy

I’ve written before about Electrocity, a charming game about energy sources. It’s by a New Zealand energy company and has some discernible biases and local priorities, but it’s actually a fairly entertaining game with decent gameplay.

Energyville is a very similar game by Chevron, which was immediately enough to raise my eyebrows.

It’s also much less effective as a bit of persuasive gaming. Instead of having dozens of turns in which to watch your city grow and change, you have two: one where you can establish your city’s power sources for 2015, and another where you set a few things in motion for 2030. Each power source, from biofuel to nuclear energy, has results measured in three axes: cost, environmental impact, and threat to national security. (Electrocity doesn’t deal with security implications at all.)

Bolstering the educational side of Energyville, you’re allowed to click through for more information on energy resources, and these are generally provided by fairly substantial quotes from policy papers and studies. (This aspect of the game is more aimed at adults than at kids, I think — there are a lot of hard numbers, which I appreciate, but suspect would make younger users glaze over a little. I don’t know enough about energy politics to be able to assess what sorts of think tanks the quotes are coming from.)

There’s a little bit of randomness in the game, because after each turn you’re dealt a couple of world events cards, which could be things like terrorist activity that drives up the cost of oil, the discovery of new technologies that make some energy sources more efficient, droughts that undercut the value of hydroelectric dams, or legislation that forces car companies to construct flex-fuel cars. That’s a nice touch: it reinforces the idea that it’s hard to do completely definite long-term planning on these topics, and it introduces some replayability.

Energyville lacks the visceral feedback of Electrocity on the environmental front. In Electrocity, your pretty little model city becomes visibly uglier if you choose polluting resources and cut down forests. Energyville abstracts all that away into a meter that swings to and fro to indicate how bad things are getting. It’s much easier to ignore that meter.

Another interesting touch is that you’re not allowed to establish your city without any petroleum resources at all. Try to build one without a big oil rig off the coast, and you just won’t be allowed to move forward, on the grounds that your planes and cars require that oil. How convenient for Chevron.

The thing is, I do understand what they’re trying to say. Right now, it is implausible to shut off our use of petroleum completely. But their game states that rather than demonstrating it — a persuasive game failure. It would be much more effective to let me go forward without such a rig, and then watch my city descend into gridlock and rioting.

2 thoughts on “Chevron’s Advice About Energy”

  1. The best environmental flash game I’ve played so far is a French game called Clim’Way (previously called ClimCity). There’s an English translation available at http://climcity.cap-sciences.net/us/index.php . Clim’Way is one of the few educational/political games I’ve played where I left feeling like I had gained a much deeper understanding of the nature and scope of the problem than I had before.

    Games, by their very nature, need to simplify the world that they are trying to model. Unfortunately, in a lot of educational/political games, this simplification also leads to simple messages at the end like “recycle more” or “we must balance competing interests in order to save the environment.” Clim’Way actually has fairly simple and restrictive gameplay: there’s a map, and each turn, you just click on different locations and build things there. Unlike other games, Clim’Way doesn’t just give players a couple of simplified environmental options to choose from; it gives players EVERY possible environmental option to choose from. At the beginning the game is completely overwhelming. I had no idea what I was doing, so I just randomly worked on the nuclear plant and some solar cells. Five years into the game, I discovered that the map scrolled, and there were actually even more locations and options available to me than I had originally thought. By turn 15, I thought I had a good understanding of how to win the game. By turn 25, I realized that I was completely wrong–I had built more renewable energy, but people kept using more and more of energy every turn. During the last few turns, I was continually cursing myself for not building bicycle paths earlier or for not adding more insulation to the airports when I had the chance. When the game finished, I looked back on my final city, and I realized that I had used practically every option in the game, no aspect of society was untouched, there were profound changes in every sector of the economy, there was no magic bullet like solar power that made the game winnable. I had “won” (I think I lost my beaches due to rising sea levels though), but only through continuous hard work and an unrelenting pace of invasive improvements. Terms like zero greenhouse gas emissions growth were now associated in my mind with corresponding concrete societal changes. It was an interesting, very adult game.

    The environmental game Climate Challenge ( http://playthisthing.com/climate-challenge ) also has similar gameplay, but the game is a little too easy, it has a bit too much stuff in it, and the underlying environmental model and environmental choices simply didn’t ring true to me.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s