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Sim city: IBM developing 'serious game' for city planners

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Company will encourage future planning with scenarios that require specific solutions.

Who says games are for teenagers, grad students or grown-ups who need a little techno downtime? IBM is working on what it is calling a 'serious game' called CityOne for city planners. Basically, the idea is to put some fun into working through the various scenarios -- environmental and logistical problems -- that will face urban centers in the future.

The background is this: There are approximately 1 million people moving to cities around the world EACH WEEK, according to IBM. So, that means populations will grow, infrastructures of today will have a much different job to do by 2050, when city populations are expected to be double what they are right now.

CItyOne proposes to help planner-players think through the sorts of energy, water or commercial investments (such as banking and payment systems) that might be needed for particular urban environments in the years to come. Players are poised with a series of problems that have specific challenges they must address through various technologies for which IBM is hoping to build awareness.

IBM actually has developed several other games along the same lines as this one, which will be described in more detail at an upcoming conference. They include INNOV8, which teaches business process management; RoboCode, which is now an open source project for Java skills; and PowerUp, which also has eco-sensibilities.

Mark McGibbon, a professor quoted in the latest IBM press release, uses INNOV8 in some of his classes. He had this to say about the idea of using games for learning:

"Using serious games like INNOV8 to teach something as slippery as business process management has really helped my students visualize the impact of these systems on a business. We are greatly looking forward to the next IBM game."

Spazzes like me -- I am hopeless with a joystick -- can only hope the games doesn't require advanced skills in coordination. But I like the idea of making dealing with change like this a little more fun -- who knows what creativity might be unleashed along the way.

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Heather Clancy

Section Editor

Heather Clancy has written for United Press International, ZDNet, Entrepreneur, Fortune Small Business, the International Herald Tribune and the New York Times. She holds a degree from McGill University. She is based in New Jersey. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure