Carnegie Mellon University
April 20, 2022

ETC Game Guided by Global Goals

By Michael Henninger

Ryan Scarpino
  • University Communications & Marketing
  • 412-268-2902

Welcome to Shapetopia, a virtual city conceived by six Carnegie Mellon University students. As the new mayor(s) of this city within a video game, players will partake in policy decisions — limited only by their resources — to discover how sustainable choices weave together to affect the quality of life in a society.

Shapetopia began as a collaboration between CMU's Sustainability Initiative, an effort to align the university with the 17 Global Goals, and its Entertainment Technology Center (ETC), a graduate program for interactive entertainment. As director of Sustainability Initiatives, Alexandra Hiniker became the client for an ETC project team.

"Our overarching purpose was to get students to think about sustainability more broadly than just the environment," Hiniker said. "Through the Global Goals, we know that many aspects of society contribute to sustainability. Poverty, hunger, good health and social justice all factor in, so we wanted to design a game that encouraged players to think about these issues and the importance of finding equitable solutions."

The game allows the player, or mayor, to enact policies that reflect the sustainability goals, such as build more public schools, invest in railway station construction or enforce an equal pay act.

"Our game is designed to bring a joyful and relaxing experience to our players and open a conversation about making the world a better place to live," said Sharon Liu, a master's student in the ETC and head producer for the project. "Our design goal is to encourage players to discover how policies are intertwined and jointly affect different aspects of society."

The effects of the mayor's actions are felt by the residents of the city, and things can get off track by unforeseen events, like water crises and landslides. By using an interactive medium, the Sustain Dev team aims to increase both an understanding of sustainability, and how individuals can contribute to sustainable development.

"Our game is designed to bring a joyful and relaxing experience to our players and open a conversation about making the world a better place to live." — Sharon Liu

"Video games as a medium are really different than film and video. Games have a lot of interaction and engagement," said Nancy Xing, an ETC master's student and Sustain Dev team member. "Players are stepping into the role of mayor of this city and can see for themselves what it's like to try and balance different policies."

Qisheng Chen, another ETC master's student and team member, agreed.

"This is a great way to explore the concept of sustainable development. Through interacting with the policies, themselves, instead of reading text from a website, users can see the positive results that occur from their actions. I hope this format can be used more and more," Chen said.

Shapetopia is currently in development. Liu said the team expected a playable version to be released in the coming weeks, and for development to continue through the summer until the game is finalized in late summer or early fall. The game will be free to play. For updates, check the team's blog.

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