Plan It Green: The Big Switch is the largest of the new online Eco-simulators, and is representative of the way that they function. Created with the backing of National Geographic, General Electric, and the Center For Science, it is a cloud based online gaming community where players can orchestrate the strategies necessary for an Eco-conscious society. The game aims to help players learn resource and time management skills while providing a socially interactive city-building experience.
Amazingly fun and instructional, Plan It Green: The Big Switch is designed to promote competitive interaction among students, pitting them against each other for the highest city ranking. The game is specifically designed to educate about energy conservation, as well as alternative means of energy production and their larger social impacts. Plan It Green also takes advantage of social media in order to promote collaboration and awareness of social issues impacting alternative energy production and conservation.
The game simulates the building of an actual city, allowing users to decide which earth sciences to invest in, where to place buildings, and what green improvements to make. Each decision a player makes comes with its own set of environmental benefits or consequences, effecting day-to-day operations of the city, happiness of citizens, and even the quality of the air. Users can choose between various renewable power sources, using water, air, or even nuclear energy, designing their city around many small houses or concentrated, high-density apartment complexes.
Players can also learn about investments in sustainability education and the large-scale impact those expenditures can have on citizens. The game is highly social, allowing players to sign in with social media accounts like Facebook (gameplay is free, although registration, also free, is required). Once your city is up and running, players are also able to learn from each other's civic improvements, observing the impacts of various decisions as they are made and implemented in concert with other policies. In this way, players can learn both the overarching, major decision making of running a sustainable society, as well as the finer points and effects of those decisions.
Plan It Live, while one of the most well-constructed and wide-reaching online Eco-games, is hardly the only one. Ecogamer.org features a wide array of reviews and links to free online environmental games and ecological footprint calculators. Electrocity is similar to Plan It Live, focusing more closely on energy use and sustainable development. Other games, like WolfQuest or Build-A-Prarie focus on ecosystem and wildlife management, while still others approach land use and the politics of development and energy. Certain games allow players to enter into consequential and often contentious public debates, such as those surrounding fracking and oil drilling, while others promote social activism on a variety of topics related to energy and sustainable development.
The full list of these games can be found at Ecogamer, and is not to be missed. If you have a few minutes at your disposal and wish to educate yourself about a variety of sustainability issues, there are few ways more fun or engaging for you and your family to approach those topics. Ideal for children, lessons learned from these sources have the potential to last a lifetime.