Game Review: Upgrading to Renewable Energy

Create and design your own eco-friendly city in Plan It Green (PiG): The Big Switch!

Presented in 2013 by National Geographic, General Electric, and the Center for Science, PiG is a flash-based city-building game that puts you in control of your town’s future. Players must make difficult decisions in order to balance resources and create an energy-efficient metropolis.

PiG is the environmentalist’s version of SimCity, a simulated city-design game. The player uses resources to design buildings and infrastructure in an effort to create a sustainable and green urban environment. Playing as the mayor of your fictional city, you must balance your income and expenditures of hearts, gold, goods, energy, and population while maintaining the environment. As you develop your city and complete missions, you will gain experience and unlock more efficient and eco-friendly structures. The game also features an arcade game that helps you generate resources, and an array of short videos by G.E. (~3 minutes) about positive environmental innovations.  

The educational potential of PiG is enormous because it highlights modern green innovations and demonstrates the potential impacts in a meaningful way to children. PiG also captures the complexities of energy management and gives players the opportunity to navigate these challenges for themselves. You get to decide how to spend your money and where to place buildings. Educational games often use the SimCity format because it provides opportunities for higher-level learning through critical thinking and problem solving. PiG elaborates on this model with multiplayer support to promote collaboration amongst players and potentially students in a classroom setting.

There are some fantastic features in PiG, but the game has a fatal flaw: the pace of the gameplay is excruciatingly slow because you are often waiting for your resources to recharge. This leaves the player with very little to do for extended periods of time, which is quite boring, and detracts from the educational potential. At least you have plenty of time to watch their videos!   

This game is quite scientifically rigorous, and includes a lot of information on modern energy infrastructure. Each building option includes information about the costs, requirements, and results which allows players to make informed decisions for their city. In addition to the informative gameplay, their videos provide supplemental stories on innovations like solar roadways. All of this information is at a middle school comprehension level, so I wouldn’t recommend PiG for a younger audience.

Plan it Green is similar to several other SimCity-style games, but it stands out by incorporating modern renewable energy infrastructure and providing a sleek user interface. The well-made videos quickly deliver some fantastic stories. After a long session, you may become frustrated by the pace of the game, but you will certainly be proud of your city once you start making the big switch to renewable energy.

Summary
Gameplay/Fun: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Educational: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Scientific Rigor: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Accessibility: Ages 10-14
Platform: Web browser (flash)

Game Review: When thunder roars, go indoors!

Alert! Alert! A hurricane warning has just been issued for your area. What do you do?! Severe weather events are scary for people of all ages, especially if they aren’t prepared. This is why PLAN!T NOW partnered with NOAA, NEA and the National Weather Service to present the Young Meteorologist Program (YMP), a “Severe Weather Preparedness Adventure!” This game provides a less-threatening method to learn about extreme weather and how to stay safe. There is growing evidence that climate change has been increasing the frequency and intensity of severe weather (especially hurricanes and winter storms), so now more than ever it is important for people of all ages to know what to do in case of a disaster.

This is a roll-and-move type video game which takes you through challenges based on five types of severe weather: hurricanes, lightning, floods, tornadoes, and winter storms. With a “bird’s-eye-view” of the game board, you play as Owlie, a talking screech owl. You are guided through the challenges with help from three senior meteorologists — one of which is a condor named Gird. Each roll takes you to a tile with a scripted event or mini game. Owlie learns about emergency protocols and procedures through quick games and tips in each challenge. These games include word searches, memory games, point & click games, and more. Most are relatively easy, but they help to keep the player entertained throughout the program. Completing these various tasks earns you a “Young Meteorologist Certificate.” Personally, I will be framing mine for my bedroom.

This game has enormous educational potential by providing the player with specific information for each type of severe weather. For example, the time of year and regions hurricanes are most likely to occur in, how to avoid lightning, where to go in case of a flood, etc. For a game that takes less than an hour to complete, it packs in a remarkable amount of information. By sparking discussions, this knowledge has the potential to make families more equipped for emergencies. Traditional methods for preparing for severe weather can often be intimidating to children, and video games offer a more-accessible education.

While the game is educational and entertaining, it has several limitations. The mini games are brief and much of the time is spent listening to the scientists address severe weather. The main game, including the dice rolls, are scripted which creates a lack in competitiveness and unpredictability. For this reason, I would recommend the game more for younger children.

The scientific material provided by the YMP is quite thorough in ensuring people stay safe from weather. The game explores the underlying causes for severe weather in addition to emergency procedures. Complex topics like pressure systems are often explained first with a high-level vocabulary by one scientist before the others help a younger audience to understand.

The YMP is a fun and safe way for kids to learn about the dangers posed by severe weather. It also provides them with the tools to ensure their safety and feel in control during emergencies. Although it is more of a tutorial than a standard video game, I believe it is the best way to teach kids about something so significant.

Summary
Gameplay/Fun: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Educational: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Scientific Rigor: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Accessibility: Ages 6-13
Platform: Web browser