How Cities: Skylines Got Me into Urban Sustainability

by Nora Ozolanta

Friday, November 4, 2016

How This Video Game Got Me into Urban Sustainability

Have you ever played a game that’s changed your life forever? If you haven’t then stop playing Call of Duty and League of Legends, buddy. There are so many life-changing games out there that give a whole new meaning to gaming. It’s definitely not as useless and stupid as your grandparents make it out to be. I mean, games are like books and movies but better in the sense that they’re actually interactive! After all, there’s a reason Minecraft has an educational edition that is used in many schools to teach math, science, history, and visual art.

Games like that can educate and interest us as well as change our lives for the better. I recently got a game that changed my life forever. That game is Cities: Skylines.

Cities: Skylines

What Is Cities: Skylines?

Cities: Skylines is a modern and highly strategical city simulator developed by Colossal Order Ltd. and published by Paradox Interactive on March 10th 2015. It uses lots of technical features to show how hard keeping up a city really is, let alone expanding it and actually profiting from it. Needless to say, I empathize with local governments more now that I know how difficult it is to manage urban areas.

You start off with a couple thousand bucks and a highway to build next to. There’s usually a body of water to work with too. The more you progress the better equipment and buildings you get. Once you reach a certain stage, you can upgrade to more efficient and environmentally-friendly buildings, facilities and areas.

When I first started the game, I went bankrupt the first couple of times because if you mess up it’s difficult to get yourself back on track. Managing your economy is a big deal and as soon as you run out of money and can’t get any loans, you’re screwed, especially if you haven’t set up the electricity grid and water system for your tiny town yet. And if you think that’s intricate, you ain’t seen nothing yet. There’re so many aspects to this game you don’t even know.

What Does It Teach Me about Cities?

This simulator teaches you about how cities generally work. It shows you all the resources that go into and out of a city, how different facilities and institutions help you manage safety, transportation, education and more, and how businesses and citizens work together to keep a city going. It also illustrates the hardships of city policies: the more you improve your citizens’ lives and make them happier through helpful regulations, the more it costs you.

If you’re anything like I was when I first got the game, you’ll feel the learning curve knock you about like a sharp turn on the highway. The endless aspects, features, and options in the game take you for a ride on the knowledge train like no other urban development textbook will. The realism of this game makes you think you could actually do a better job at managing a city than your local government can and you just might. That’s how good it is.

I would say this is the best way to gain an understanding of how cities actually work. And if you asked me whether this should be taught in schools just like Minecraft is, I would say definitely because this is extremely relevant for anybody living in a city, especially since we criticize politicians left and right. This helps us see how intricate not just urban development is but life too. Yeah, I said it.

What Does This Have to Do with Urban Sustainability?

Urban sustainability is all about maintaining our way of living so that the next generations of people may live like we do, and we’re quite well off despite what you’d say, or better. And Cities: Skylines is all about building a viable living space that can withstand time and privation. The better the environment and functionality of the city the happier the people and the more people want to live there.

Lowering noise and ground pollution levels in the game improve the standards of living for civilians and helps you see why things like renewable energy are so important in the long run. Pollution is a big problem that most of us often overlook. But what helps me be more cautious about the pollution levels in the game than in real life is that I can see the pollution through the different city view filters.

Noise Pollution View

Noise Pollution View

Ground Pollution View

Ground Pollution View

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How Good Is the Game?

Well on Steam the ratings are above 90% and Metacritic’s score is 85/100 for the game. My rating would be 7/8, mate. Why? Because I would add even more features to the game, especially ones that have to do with being more eco-friendly, of course.

The game has lots of great ‘green’ features, like enforcing a compulsory recycling policy, running on completely renewable energy (wind, hydro and solar) and almost being zero waste by getting rid of landfills and burning garbage. (And burning garbage is actually bad for the environment, I know, and that’s something I’d like to change too! There has to be a better way of managing junk, right?)

I’ve always been a fan of strategic simulators and this game is one of the best because of how detailed and technical it is. But as I play this game, I notice aspects that could be improved. One example would be making electric transport a policy. This way the city would produce less air pollution (which is not actually a type of pollution in the game but should be!) and noise pollution because electric transportation produces less noise, or so they say.

Another idea would be making certain districts ‘only cycling and walking’ districts which would also reduce pollution.

Also, I feel like there’s not enough detail when it comes to garbage management. I mean, maybe that would be too intricate but it is a simulator after all. And implementing different types of garbage as well as seeing where all of it comes from and goes would be a very useful feature.

So How Did This Change Your Life Exactly?

This game sparked a very sudden interest in me for all things urban sustainability and city governance. Before it, I never wanted to even discuss city politics because it just made me think of how much I hate cities. I’ve always seen them as filthy, polluted, overpopulated and nature-killing monsters. Until I realized that cities just need to be taken care of and if we do that we can make cities the best places to live in.

Now because of this game, I’ve started a blog about urban sustainability technologies, am taking an online course about green cities and have gotten involved with my local community to try to deal with these issues.

If you’re into games like SimCity, Banished, Cities XL or even empire building games like Age of Empires and Civilization you’ll most likely love this game too.

by Nora Ozolanta

by Nora Ozolanta

Friday, November 4, 2016

Hey, I'm a freelance tech writer that's just starting out. I'm currently a student at the University of Latvia and am studying English Philology.


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