Chevron's Energyville is a game ostensibly designed to allow players to explore how cities of the near-future meet their energy needs. The game can be played in less than 20 minutes, with play divided into two turns; the first represents the period 2010-2015, the second 2015-2030. In each turn the player is presented with an isometric, three-dimensional view of the future city and tasked with supplying its power needs. Across the bottom of the screen are the various options for supplying power: biomass, coal, geothermal, nuclear, petroleum, and natural gas, among others. Conservation, which makes in-game fuel use more efficient, is also included among the options. Each energy option has associated economic, environmental, and security impacts, and these affect the player's overall energy management score.
Gameplay is very simple. The player selects an energy source by dragging it from the bottom of the screen to an acceptable location in the city. Once placed, the player may choose to add more of the same energy source to the city. When an energy source is placed, additional information about the source is displayed, including its impact on the city. There are caps on the number of any given type of energy source, and certain types of energy are required in the mix. For example, the game insists that petroleum be included in some amount to power vehicles, and some non-petroleum source of energy is needed to power the electricity grid.
The player earns an initial energy management score based on the energy mix for the city. Once a balance of energy sources has been achieved that will meet the city's needs, the player clicks a button to continue to the next level. A timeline then shows the years pass, and a series of random, though relevant, events occur that affect the impact of the energy sources the player has chosen. Events can have positive or negative effects. A positive example: flex fuel can be mandated for new cars, decreasing the impact of petroleum on society. A negative example: drought can strike, raising the economic, environmental, and security impact of any hydropower the player's city uses. The player's energy management score is modified according to these events and then the second turn begins.
In the second turn, the energy demands of the city increase. The player also has access to additional energy sources: hydrogen and oil shale. Energy sources from the previous turn can be removed in an effort to cut down on older energy technologies, but as noted above, some petroleum is still required to power vehicles. After meeting the new, higher energy needs of the city, the player again clicks the end-level button and sees a series of events modify her total score. At the end of the game a score breakdown is provided with reports detailing the reasons behind each impact score. Players can also compare their scores with those of others worldwide.
The game, when incorporated by a teacher into a lesson complete with time for observation and discussion, provides two important educational opportunities, beyond the factual information provided about current and near-future energy sources for U.S. cities. The first is a simple interactive model of the problems involved in meeting the country's future energy needs. There are no easy solutions here, only trade-offs between competing energy supplies that are more or less expensive, more or less environmentally friendly, more or less secure. None of the sources comes without drawbacks, and the player must choose between less-than-ideal options. This simple model provides useful insight into the trade-offs that are a part of any future energy strategy by the U.S—and that were a part of past strategies. Additionally, the model provides an entry point into the practice of prediction, calling into question what the future will be like and how we might know.
The second opportunity is that posed by analyzing a potentially biased source. One can be forgiven for raising a skeptical eyebrow at the thought of a company heavily invested in fossil fuels presenting an unbiased simulation game about energy needs. Further investigation, however, suggests that any biases that affect the presentation of energy sources in the game (and I will leave it to readers and their students to decide what these are) are not immediately apparent, and certainly not crudely presented.
In this light, the game provides a terrific opportunity for students to apply the historian’s skills they have learned to a relevant, contemporary issue. Students can play the game and interpret it as a source, and read Chevron's statements about the sources used and models provided by the game. From there it can be an excellent exercise to determine areas of clear-cut bias and corroborate or challenge Chevron’s models through independent sources of evidence.. Helping students acquire the necessary ability and understanding to apply historical methods to contemporary problems should be one of the main goals of history education, and Energyville provides an excellent learning tool to do so.