Luke Zaccaro, MI 831


Middle School students do not have a proper grasp of the hydrologic, or water, cycle. They also do not have a good understanding of our place in, and effect on, that cycle. They (and we) tend to myopically view our human activity as separate from the environment at large. As a result, they fail to grasp the connections between that activity, the pollution it causes, and the effect that pollution has on our health. A large part of a healthy water cycle is balance - groundwater, rivers, and lakes can withstand some pollution, but if there’s too much, rivers that catch fire, or farm chemicals taint our drinking water. Current middle school students will one day be policy makers, and we will all benefit if future environmental and water management policies are informed by a solid grasp of the hydrologic cycle.


A game that teaches this balance can help. This game will be an environment simulator. A large-scale simulation gives players a more global view of how human activities affect the environment, and how that environment in turn affects us. Through this simulation, players manage the human activities of building cities, farms, factories, and various water extraction and processing facilities. Each entity they create has a monetary cost, generates a resource, (food or money) and is a source of water pollution. Players can also upgrade technologies to pollute less or generate more of their resource. A rough sketch of the world can be seen at left.

Platform and Setting

The setting will be a tiled 2-D world similar to Starcraft. The world has 2 rivers, 1 enclosed lake, and an ocean. Players can select from a menu of buildings to create in the world, but they must first build a city. Each city generates money at a rate determined by the health of its citizens. The health of its citizens are determined by the availability of food, water, and the local pollution level. Players can create other buildings that have various costs and effects on nearby water pollution levels:


Initial Cost

Resource Generated







Money generation rate is based on health of its citizens



Food for a city


Increases the health of a city's citizens. Can be upgraded to generate more health and less pollution

Ground Well


Water for a city or farms - low rate


Temporary - will dry out, and its tile must "recharge" for a time before another well can be dug. Can be upgraded to last longer.



Water for a city or farms - medium rate


Desalination Plant


Water for a city or farms - high rate


Must be built on a costal city. Can be upgraded to generate less pollution




Very High

Can be upgraded to generate more money and less pollution

Water Treatment Facility




Reduces local pollution. Can be upgraded to increase effectiveness and radius of influence

In order to generate more money for buildings and upgrades, players will need to keep their citizens healthy, which will require a balance between human activity and natural processes. The mechanics of the game - humans affecting the environment and the environment affecting humans evoke strong procedural rhetoric about our ideal place in the world. (Bogost, 2008) The game hits many items on James Gee’s “checklist” of empowered learners like Manipulation and Distributed Knowledge, Pleasantly Frustrating, and Sandboxes. (Gee, 2007)

Keeping with the theories of
Pedagogical Agent and Scaffolding, The first time a player begins the game, a virtual assistant will make suggestions for buildings and locations. It will also suggest some courses of action if pollution gets too high in an area. The entire game itself fits nicely with the theory of situated learning. The mechanics of the game clearly model (albeit in a simplified way) the interactions between the human activities of expansion, industry, and agriculture, and the environment. The player will inevitably learn to maintain a balance between the two, and will cause him or her to be more cognizant of whether their individual actions contribute to this balance.Screen Shot 2016-10-27 at 10.12.52.png

Works Cited: 
Bogost, Ian. “The Rhetoric of Video Games." The Ecology of Games: Connecting Youth, Games, and Learning. Edited by Katie Salen. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2008. 117–140. doi: 10.1162/dmal.9780262693646.117

Gee, J. P. (2007). Good video games + good learning: Collected essays on video games, learning, and literacy. New York: P. Lang.

The United States Geological Survey’s Water Science School Website: http://water.usgs.gov/edu/

Town and city icons purchased from Envato