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.