Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Year Made: 2015
Platforms: PC, Mac OS, Linux,
Content Areas: Social Studies, Engineering, Math, Geography
Suggested Age Level: Middle School, High School
Play Length: Infinite
Number of Players: Single Player
Difficulty Rating: Medium
The highest praise that can be given to Cities: Skylines is that it makes municipal zoning fun. It is no small feat that it can take such a ubiquitous and yet abstract idea and get the player to dig in and begin considering what policies to enact in a burgeoning village or thriving city. As educators we have to acknowledge when games can outshine the classroom experience in making concepts and ideas more tangible to students. Cities: Skylines is an example of this as the player builds the city of their dreams but also zones, sets municipal policies, and tries to make the buses run on time.
Over the course of the game, players control the growth of the their city through balancing industrial, commercial, and residential growth. Each can be set from low to high density and need to be balanced against the needs of the community. Industry close to the city center brings pollution, but if it is too far away residents struggle to get to work. From this simple set of choices the game develops into an interesting social studies-classroom platform. Once neighborhoods are zoned, players can set policies for each district. Areas can be set with no smoking policies, mandatory recycling, or educational priorities. What makes the game intriguing is that these can be set at the local level - should the educational priority be policy across the entire city or should neighborhoods near industry place a priority on work? These decisions can compound, resulting in a city of haves and have-nots. For the classroom, getting a chance to see how inequality can grow out of a series of seemingly abstract policy decisions is a powerful learning opportunity. Allowing this inequality to grow in the city and then, as a class, try and find ways to fix it could be an avenue toward examining your own city and the issues it faces.
Cities: Skylines could work well as a digital class pet. The game could be set up and ran over the entire school year, while the class checks in on it weekly to analyze progress and determine future growth, city council style. Students could, perhaps finding a particular district in need, run for city council to represent that district to shape its future for the better. Students could also form lobbyist groups to argue for or against policies in a given district, such as a heavy industry ban or a no-smoking policy, in order to benefit a specific interest group. This is what games do so well, real issues played out in low-consequence environments. Cities:Skylines takes challenges of city building and progress and leaves it up to the player’s skill, imagination, and ethics.
This open-ended aspect of Cities: Skylines makes it a great fit for the classroom. Teachers can dictate a set of problem parameters and students can use the flexibility of the game to generate unique solutions to the problem. In this sense, Cities: Skylines could be used for game-enhanced pedagogy where the game supports learning occurring in the classroom or used in a game-based approach where the events in the game dictate what will be learned. Either way Cities: Skylines leaves it up to the user, like any great toy.
Educational Rating: 6/8
(Classroom Tech Friendly, Motivation, Concrete Learning, Additional Skills, Feedback, Difficulty, Accessibility, Extension)
Overall Rating: 6/8
(Immersion, Environment, Storyline, Replayability, Entertainment, Gameplay, Originality, User Control)