Games are an undeniable part of our lives today. Many of us grew up with a controller in our hands; Games at our fingertips on smartphones. While some may object that spending time playing a computer game is a waste of time, there is another perspective. What if we could encourage players to think about the environment as they play?
Games can teach people to understand and care about the environment, and this opportunity extends to teaching children to think about the Earth and sustainability in their daily decision-making process. One of the popular games that demonstrate sustainable values and may surprise you, is The Sims 4. The Sims is a life simulation game with several expansion packs to add distinct social, economic and environmental challenges to the characters, which are known as “sims”.
Awareness of the climate crisis is reshaping the way The Sims play and the way sims live in their virtual world.
Simulation of sustainable living with the Sims
The Sims, introduced in 2000, appeals to people who want to play with life choices, teach their Sims skills, and build homes, businesses, and communities. With the new Eco Lifestyle expansion pack, Sims players can also practice reducing their environmental impact – first by changing their in-game choices, and then by applying those changes IRL (that’s “in real life” for non-players).
In the base Sims 4 game, players receive several skills to practice that reflect a sustainable lifestyle. For example, they can practice gardening to grow food or use ease to repair and upgrade their sim. The bills that come in once a month reflect how players use simoleons, the virtual money in the world. With the addition of the Eco Lifestyle Pack, players get more challenges that build environmental awareness, expand their existing skills with new green options, and track results with the new virtual carbon footprint tracker.
The game encourages players to consider the impact of their choices beyond the cost of bills to the jobs, traits, and aspirations a Sim could have to improve their world. Each neighborhood has an industrial and environmentally friendly footprint rating, and your sim’s family will affect that rating in a positive or negative way.
Dive into a sustainable virtual world
Players can develop a sustainability mindset as they adjust the small details and life choices they make for their simulation. For example, a larger house will require more virtual heat and more Simoleons to pay for it. The Eco Lifestyle expansion introduces four new sim traits that change character choices: Recycle Disciple, Freegan, Maker, and Green Fiend. While players cannot recycle their Sims, they can search the Sim’s trash for useful materials and use them to upgrade or create new items in the Sim’s home.
The new Maker theme, which mimics the movement of a real-life Maker, encourages players to use a new “Making” skill. This allows sims to make furniture, candles, tables, chairs, and other items for their home using repurposed items found in the virtual world. Players can also make use of old skills from The Sims, such as “Ingenuity”, to enable the Simulation to upgrade items for more sustainable performance and reduce the environmental impact of the character’s family.
Also new to the Eco Lifestyle package is a new job opportunity for Sims, bug farming, an industry now gaining momentum in real life. Players can buy and raise beetles, caterpillars, or cockroaches, which their Sim can turn into virtual goods, such as dinner or clothes, or use to buy new skills for their Sim. Cricket flour, for example, can be used in SIM cooking or as a biofuel that generates energy and reduces the impact of the house.
To reduce the impact of the neighborhood a Sim lives in, players can place a Sim in the Civil Designer profession. In this profession, your sim can make a positive environmental difference by developing and sharing sustainable paths for their community. There has never been a more convenient way to practice environmentally friendly behaviors.
Practicing sustainability skills virtually
The Eco Lifestyle Pack adds new items such as solar panels and wind turbines, providing information that helps players learn about environmental influences. The pack enhances the build mode in which players craft their own Sims world. Provides information similar to what a consumer would find when shopping for real versions of items a sim might buy. For example, the power consumption of a new device is explained and the player can choose “functional off-grid” products to create a home in the online wilderness.
Players learn by playing the game rather than being forced to study. The result is the ability to make more informed choices when balancing sustainable attributes, price and product suitability. Imagine adding solar panels to a virtual home to generate the electricity needed for a new washing machine or home cinema – it’s fun to play around with home design, but The Sims Eco Lifestyle subtly teaches players to make real reductions in their environmental impact with confidence because they try it first online.
Once players make a purchase, the EF results in a breakdown of the SIM’s monthly bills. The choices in the game reflect the choices we make in everyday life. For example, the cost of electricity consumed by a 100-inch TV, or water used by an antique toilet, goes directly to Sim’s bottom line, illustrating the consequences of purchasing decisions. It’s an incentive to buy sustainable products, because doing so impacts your Sim’s life financially.
The growing cultural influence of gaming
An increasing amount of research shows that gaming can contribute to increased social awareness and comfort outside of gaming. “Character-based practice in a role-playing setting can also have an impact on players’ development of social and emotional skills in their real lives, as evidenced by feedback from interviews with parents and students,” Weimin Toh of the National Institute of Education at Nanying Technological University in Singapore and David Kirschner of Georgia Gwinnett University wrote in a March 2023 paper.
Despite the bad rap games some get, science has shown that there are benefits for gamers. “Engaging video games are incredibly powerful vehicles for positive behavior change and social advancement, and over the next few years, we will see even more of this potential realized,” writes Nick Stanhope, founder of social design firm Shift Design. Stanhope also suggests that, given enough screen time, an active thought-enhancing activity such as gaming is more beneficial to people than a passive activity such as watching television.
With an estimated 3.75 billion players and counting, there is a large potential audience for games with a message, such as sustainable living. Supporting games with meaning and positive impact can help make a difference in the way a large part of the population thinks. With the environment in trouble, now is the time to expand sustainable messaging platforms and get people thinking about their impacts.
Games make you think
Games can help develop awareness of many aspects of everyday life, and games about the environment help players test their thinking before heading into adulthood or to Lowe’s or Home Depot to buy a new refrigerator. Sims Eco Lifestyle can make you think about the choices and monetary impact of making and using green products and services.
Just like life, the game can prove that small choices can add up to lower bills and a lighter environmental impact. Playing a sustainable simulation can help develop ecological alertness. It can help people of any age experience options to live the way they choose on a budget, giving gaming generations a say in the life decisions that shape their long-term environmental impact. Find games that encourage you to think as well as have fun. The rewards in the real world can be huge.