In my INTE5320 – Games and Learning class, we recently read an article by Stevens, Satwicz, and McCarthy (2012) titled In-Game, In-Room, In-World: Reconnecting Video Game Play to the Restof Kids’ Lives. I found this article to be highly interesting, but something in particular the authors wrote made me want to dig deeper. They asked “Does designing virtual cities in SimCity provide a starting point for a career designing real cities? Is that starting point different in any substantive way from building cities with wooden blocks?” I was fortunate to find research from the viewpoint of urban planning researchers on this very topic. My scholarly critique for this week is about the article by Bradley Bereitschaft titled “Gods of the City? Reflecting on City Building Games as an Early Introduction to Urban Systems” (2015).
In this article, Bereitschaft argues that while city building games (CBGs) such as SimCity provide an interesting introduction to city planning and development and provide the possibility of allowing players to understand planning processes, the games themselves are constrained by several variables. Bereitschaft explains that games such as SimCity can be valuable learning tools with limitations in classroom settings in elementary-high school grades as well as at university levels. He cites research that argue that simulation games such as SimCity provide elementary-aged students with the opportunity to think holistically, to help reinforce critical reasoning skills, and to introduce students to geography processes and patterns. However, Bereitschaft states that SimCity is not as valuable of a pedagogical tool at the university level due to the inaccuracies of the game in advanced urban processes.
Bereitschaft is quick to defend games such as SimCity as a valuable learning tool, however. He believes that while CBGs may not be a valuable pedagogical tool in a formal sense due to their limitations, they “represent an effective and uniquely advantageous medium for learning and cognitive development.” He also believes CBGs are valuable culturally as gamers have “constituted their initial formative experience with urban planning and development” and have become a gateway to the topics of urban planning and development. He cautions though that CBGs may lead one to have a distorted view of how cities and towns operate in real life.
Bereitschaft’s article was very beneficial for me. He wrote about several things I have been learning in my Games & Learning course this semester, such as online affinity spaces for SimCity. I was also impressed with Bereitschaft’s article in that while did not find SimCity to be a particularly valuable learning tool formally, he provided many compelling reasons why the game is a valuable learning tool informally and gave many positive arguments of why the game is useful. One question I have after reading this article is, why can’t SimCity be more realistic? Could the developers team up with real urban planners and infuse more realism to the game while still keeping it fun? How much would SimCity change if the game was more real? For me personally, I would want to play a simulation game that was as real as possible. These are just some of the questions that came to mind after reading this article and thinking about my own experiences of playing SimCity.