IBM's game to green the future

Sensemaking / IBM's game to green the future

21 Jan 2011

'CityOne' challenges players to run greenest virtual city

What’s one of the best ways for city planners to tackle climate change?

Sit back and play a computer game. Unlikely, perhaps, but the developers of IBM’s new CityOne game have high hopes that it could transform strategic thinking on urban futures.

Players are presented with a series of energy, water and economic problems, whilst charged with providing an urban space conducive to growth – all within a total available budget. They’re armed with a series of gauges measuring business climate, citizen happiness and environmental wellbeing, and assisted by several simulated consultants (presumably a lot cheaper than the real thing).

Among the challenges they face in the 100 or so ‘real world’ scenarios are traffic congestion, water shortages and supply chain problems. They’ll be expected to use techniques such as service reuse, cloud computing and collaborative technologies to help make organisations in city systems more ‘intelligent’ and responsive.

Among the choices they make is whether to deploy new technologies, or re-organise existing systems to make them cleaner and leaner. After the allotted number of ‘turns’, they’re awarded a score which can be compared with like-minded individuals the world over. The game itself has built-in cloud-computing capabilities, allowing players to communicate and confer with industry experts.

Forum for the Future’s cities expert Ben Ross applauds the concept, but questions the merit of focusing on one city, where “outsourced issues, such as emissions, pollution and labour standards have complex lifecycle impacts.”

Nonetheless, CityOne embraces a burgeoning trend, with the recently released ‘Empire and State’ online game offering a similar “social strategy simulation” approach – without the sustainability essentials. Given the complexity of the challenge ahead, such games may remain an exciting novelty rather than an innovative solution, unless they develop to model the fictional decisions over longer, more realistic timescales.

- Sam Jones

Image credits: CityOne

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