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Block'hood Teaches Gamers Systems Thinking to Help Design Tomorrow's Sustainable Cities

Those with the most toys don’t always win, as a new video game is aiming to convey: Block’hood is a video game centered around construction and city planning that is out to raise awareness and understanding around the topic of sustainability.

As your Block’hood grows, resource needs get more complex - and with 90+ blocks available for building, an infinitude of choices must be balanced with hood-ecology, taking into account living space, agriculture, commerce and manufacturing.

By simulating the carbon and energy contributions of each part of a city, Block’hood supports a growing movement of “ecological urbanism;” the game hopes to encourage gamers to find solutions for climate change. See a demonstration below:

The macro vision is for Block'hood to become a community framework that could be altered and repurposed for any creative use. Sustainable Brands asked Sanchez about the challenge in scaling the model to real-life applications.

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“Block'hood operates as a diagram of a real city, transferring resources between different nodes in a neighborhood,” Sanchez explained. “The challenge for real-world application is the accuracy of the model and the data.

“The game simplifies the maximum amount of resources to be exchanged by a given node in order not to overwhelm the player. It is important to understand how energy models work in order to extrapolate them to the game,” he added. “We intend to do this through grant funding and corporate sponsorship, in order to open a new Block'hood EDU version of the game that could operate as a dashboard for real-world applications.”

Block'hood is being featured in the documentary, My Urban Playground, by Luckyday – the trailer shows how the game can be used to design cities of the future.

Each of Block’hood’s 96 blocks has inputs and outputs: a tree needs water to produce oxygen, while a shop needs consumers to create money. Both needs must be balanced to optimize production and create a productive network. Without adequate inputs, blocks decay over time and must be removed before decay and block entropy ensue.

With systems thinking a fundamental component for sustainability in the 21st century and beyond, we asked Sanchez how Block’hood fits into changing a theme-first paradigm to a collective whole.

“Our company strongly believed that any approach to solve a problem can be biased and overlooking factors that can falsify it,” he said. “We believe that the 21st century will be dominated by systemic awareness and strategies that can look at a problem from different perspectives. Games make this notion abundantly clear, and a new generation of professionals that is already growing up playing video games will lead the way in this change. Block'hood extrapolates these ideas to urban design and energy management. An informed society is not only people that read and absorb information, but a community that can actively propose alternatives and empathize with the issues at stake.

“The way we present the game to new players is that of a city builder with an ecological perspective,” Sanchez continued. “Often urban models are based on economic growth disregarding the ecological impact of their actions. We believe that economic impact is important, but only as a part of the problem. The economy is only a layer in a much larger ecosystem. Ecological urbanism, in this sense, is the awareness of the relations established by different communities within a city, economic, social or cultural. Communities also need to be understood as a broad term that could include different minorities and even species, privileging ideas of coexistence and development that are fair for humans and nature.”

As for whether he thinks gamers will be drawn to the sustainability landscape, Sanchez said, “I think that many games present a systems approach. The notions of systems becomes fundamental to understand sustainability. Many sandbox games and simulation games present the diverse nature of problems that can emerge from dealing with systems. Cases like ‘Prison Architect,’ ‘Factorio,’ ‘Rim World’ or ‘Dwarf Fortress’ are examples of games that use systems simulation in order to portray a survival mechanic. One could theoretically link this game to games that develop skills for systemic awareness.”

Block’hood is one of four finalists chosen to present their prototypes to a panel of judges at the Games for Change Climate Challenge on Friday, as part of this week’s Games for Change Festival in NYC. The winner of the Challenge - sponsored by the Autodesk Foundation, Dell, Intel, NVIDIA and the Columbia Climate Center, with support from the National Science Foundation, will receive a $10,000 prize to support further development of their game.


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