Released in 2017, Block’hood is a city building simulation game focused on human development in balance with ecological needs. It utilizes a combination of the build/construct and resource management core dynamics. While blocks do not have a placement cost, almost every block requires adequate input resources to sustain. Without these resources, blocks both organic and artificial begin to decay, ceasing their resource output and further impacting the blocks around them.
Block’hood includes a short narrative which, from what I played, also serves as an in-depth tutorial. There is a separate tutorial option on the menu, which leads to a series of shorter, more didactic mechanic introductions. The narrative follows a human and a wild pig learning about the space they share and developing it with the help of the player. In time, the human establishes a neighborhood in the area—though I have not played further, I imagine that the tension present by the second chapter develops into a more direct understanding of human impact on the environment. Judging from the intentions of the development studio, Block’hood is intended for a relatively wide audience. I came across the game when it was highlighted as a finalist in the “Games for Change” category at The Game Awards in 2017; though the category tends to deal in niche titles, the game must have made waves to reach such a platform.
Notably, Block’hood is not strictly a game about geography. However, on reviewing my library, the level of analysis and connection between human development and environmental impact made it worth examining.
Terra Firma is a sandbox world simulation currently in early access. In its current form, the player can raise, lower, or flatten land, and deposit water or lava on the world’s surface. The world simulates the processes of liquid flow, erosion, soil deposition, and plant growth at a variety of speeds. Terra Firma also renders from the level of a single plant to the macro scale of the entire world, depending on how closely the player zooms in—though it also pauses time at closer zoom levels.
As a feature-light simulation, Terra Firma lacks any narrative. Exploration is the clearest dynamic at play, though more in concept than in physical exploration. The Steam page offers little in the way of intentions or target audience, and the only other public web presence is the developer’s Twitter account. To limit the toll doomscrolling takes on my mental health, I have an extension set to completely block Twitter, so I cannot view this account.
Plague Inc: Evolved is a strategy/simulation hybrid about, naturally, the spread of disease. In the default mode, players take control of a contagion and develop it to wipe out life on Earth. The central dynamic is resource management, both in terms of the DNA points players spend on evolutions and the transmission, severity, and lethality of their contagion.
There is no central narrative to Plague Inc: Evolved, though individual play sessions develop emergent narratives around how the world responds to the rising threat of sickness. This is more intended as a game than a learning tool and directed at general audiences. The disease models are research-backed, however, and they caught the interest of the CDC shortly after the game’s initial release on mobile.
Most of the games I researched were not heavily based on geographic concepts. The results I found on cursory searches of Steam and Google were almost exclusively basic quizzes about the names and locations of countries—nothing which would effectively present the depth of the geographic field. Instead, I focused on games which demonstrated either systemic interactions between humans and their environment or traceable spread influenced by geographic factors. Resource management was a common dynamic, and though I did not discuss it prior, rules and concepts were the most frequent learning domains. These factors, particularly the former, may be due in part to my use of games I already owned. However, the games I saw and did not research support the limited preconceptions about geography which this project aims to dispel. We have our work cut out for us!