September 12, 2007
By Adam Brock
First, there was BP’s carbon footprint calculator. Then came Shell’s “Real Energy,” a collection of games, stories and videos about human ingenuity. Now my roomate Dave has alerted me to the latest and greatest Big Oil web PR stunt: Energyville, a Sim City-esque flash game put out by Chevron and the Economist Group.
The premise of the game is simple: you decide how to balance the pressures of economics, sustainability and security in crafting the energy mix for your city. What that amounts to is clicking on buttons representing different energy sources, reading factoids about the benefits and downsides of each, and deciding which ones you want to use. In the interests of being fair and balanced, you’re not allowed to power your city entirely with renewables (at least in the first level), and you’re required to use a certain amount of oil to run vehicles.
Chevron, with the best web designers (oil-stained) money can buy, has done what the scientists keep refusing to do: make our energy future fun and easy to understand. And as a means of educating the public about the most basic pros and cons of currently available energy sources, I gotta admit that the game is well designed.
But, like the old-school Sim City graphics it rips off, Energyville’s about ten years too late. At this stage in the game, most people already know that nuclear is dangerous, coal is dirty and solar’s expensive. What we’re getting into now is the down and dirty phase, where we work out all those overlooked details that are gonna make or break our 21st-century economy.
Maybe one reason we’re not seeing something like Energyville coming from the James Hansen posse is that scientists, unlike oil corporations, are after the pursuit of truth. And the truth of the matter is, our energy future isn’t simple. In fact, as Nelson discussed yesterday, it’s actually enormously complex, and not even the experts can agree on much. A game that considered the dozens of essential variables that are at play – from the actual size of known oil reserves to climate tipping points to society-wide value shifts – would be a programmer’s nightmare, and a waste of valuable talent. It’s a good thing that our society is becoming energy literate so quickly… otherwise, we might be forced to endure a Second Life tutorial on biogas from ExxonMobil.