Energy-Themed Video Games
[ASSURAS] It's holiday shopping time, and no doubt, many of you have video games on your list. Mindless fun, right? Not according to "energyNOW!"'s Lee Patrick Sullivan, who spent some time with game designers and players gripping their controllers and taking charge of their energy decisions.
[SULLIVAN] If you're of a certain age -- namely mine -- you remember the birth of the video game. This was actually state-of-the-art at the time. This was my game -- Atari basketball. At the time, it was really lifelike. I still hold the record on my block for most points scored in a game. Now today these games are so advanced that you can experience warfare, be a gridiron hero, as well as a guitar hero. Now some of those same developers are using that creative energy to make games about energy.
[MAN] With scarce natural resources, each decision has a consequence.
[SULLIVAN] No, that's not a trailer for an upcoming James Cameron film. It's a preview for a video game. Celia Pearce is a video game designer and digital media professor at Georgia Tech.
[PEARCE] People learn more by making things. So, if you want someone to learn about the environment, have them build a power plant. Give them something to make. And right away, that's fun.
[SULLIVAN] Take the recently released game ANNO 2070. Players build cities and get to choose the energy source. As the game progresses, players witness the outcome of their choices.
[MAN] Rapid growth or harmony with nature -- What will you decide?
[SULLIVAN] It's not the first game to tackle energy and environmental issues. In fact, the guys at this video-game themed bar near Atlanta have been building virtual energy systems for years.
[SEAN HAGLER] You have to kill an enemy within 3 seconds.
[SULLIVAN] Sean Hagler is the general manager at Battle & Brew in Marietta, Georgia. He's showing me the urban planning simulation game Sim City 4.
When you have cities, you need power, correct?
[SULLIVAN] How does that work into this game?
[HAGLER] You start off with just nothing. And you have to create a residential area, but it doesn't have any power. It's this huge residential area.
[SULLIVAN] That's what those little lightning bolts are?
[HAGLER] All the lightning bolts indicate that there's no power going.
[SULLIVAN] Sim City lets players build power plants with a variety of fuel options.
[HAGLER] If we did a coal power plant, out in this area here, and then ran our electrical lines from there... to there, we've powered the area.
[SULLIVAN] What if we got rid of the coal plant and put up two or three wind turbines?
[HAGLER] Put up a wind turbine, we'd have to put one here. And, as you can see, some of those went away. And some of them are going away and then they pop back up. It's solving some problems but it's creating rolling blackouts in other areas. And now it's, "Disaster looming. Power plants are over capacity!" Because it's like, you have too many people here. You can't just run it on just that.
[SULLIVAN] Hagler says playing Sim City 4 has given him a greater appreciation of where energy comes from and what it costs.
[HAGLER] It makes you educate yourself more about what's going on in a city environment, power wise. It makes you think and it makes you realize what your impact on energy is.
[SULLIVAN] In a world of networked gaming, Georgia Tech's Celia Pearce says large numbers of players can work together and possibly create real-world energy solutions.
[PEARCE] And what games allow us to do is try things, to rehearse things. They allow us to engage with dynamic systems in an interactive way, to experiment, to fail.
[SULLIVAN] Pearce says gamers aren't afraid to experiment and possibly fail, because, well, that's how they get good at video games -- they try and fail over and over again until they succeed.
And gamers have already solved at least one real-world mystery. After struggling for years to map out the structure of a key enzyme in the fight against HIV and AIDS, researchers turned the problem into a video game. They put it on the Internet, and within weeks, gamers had cracked the code.
[MS. COKELER] Where did you see the solar panels that were giving energy to the building?
[SULLIVAN] At the Epstein School in Sandy Springs, Georgia, students in Miss Cokeler's 4th-grade class are playing a game called Planet Zero, which teaches kids about alternative fuels. These 4th-graders were already looking at ways to improve the game, like adding explosions.
[STUDENT] It would be cool if they added in the game like a gasoline thing, and then you could just like destroy it so you could get rid of all of the fossil fuels and gasoline. That would be sort of cool.
[SULLIVAN] Or have some sort of laser that turns it into a solar panel.
[STUDENT] Yeah, that would be pretty cool, or a windmill, or one of those sources of electricity.
[SULLIVAN] And it's not just conventional video games.
[MAN] One way or the other, we're all in this together.
[SULLIVAN] These are scenes from an online interactive game called "World Without Oil." It simulated a worldwide oil shortage.
[MAN] Gas prices jumped to over $4.00 a gallon.
[SULLIVAN] Sound familiar? This game was played online for about a month in 2007. That's the year before oil prices hit a record high of $147 a barrel. Ken Eklund is the game's developer.
[EKLUND] Energy is one of those themes that really lends itself to a collaborative game. It really is a subject where we're all involved in our own way. Any sort of solution is going to be a collaborative, widespread solution.
[SULLIVAN] If you were a gambling man, would you think that gamers are going to solve the energy crisis?
[MAN] I say that there's a good chance, yeah.
[SULLIVAN] So, parents, take heart. All that time your kids spend playing video games may not be a total waste of time -- or energy. In Atlanta, Georgia, Lee Patrick Sullivan, "energyNOW!"
[ASSURAS] If you're wondering how much energy it takes to run all those video games, the Natural Resources Defense Council says there are more than 60 million game consoles in the U.S., using as much electricity as the city of San Diego every year. The video game industry is now making its products more energy-efficient, though, by letting users save their games more often, so they can be switched off during breaks.
Video games have become a huge part of life in the U.S. Gaming technology has advanced at an incredible rate, and today anyone can immerse themselves in warfare, become a rock star, or win the World Series, albeit virtually. But what if video games could also teach people about energy efficiency or environmental concerns?
Correspondent Lee Patrick Sullivan plugged into a new type of video game that could help people make better energy choices and potentially create real-world energy solutions.
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