City Settlers is a whole-room immersive simulation, in which the room “becomes” (through collective imagination, projected screens, and tablet computers) a fictional shared planet on which teams of participants develop and aim to sustain their cities. In teams situated around the room, students buy and manage buildings for their cities, and trade resources, and make strategic alliances with other cities across the room. The choices students make (e.g., which resources to mine and buildings to run) can impact their own cities and those throughout the class (through the spread of pollution or the depletion of shared resources). As the game progresses, students have to make increasingly complex decisions about what to do both at the micro (their own city) and the macro (the whole classroom level) levels.
Being an open-ended simulation, players are free to choose their own goals, but the available resources and buildings in a city affect key city metrics such as its population, pollution, and happiness. While playing City Settlers, students learn that optimizing for industrial progress often imposes ecological challenges and that engaging with the whole system is required to ensure their city’s long-term success.
City Settlers challenges students to think about the interconnected relationships between political, economic, social, and ecological priorities that constrain and drive city management decisions. In this way, City Settlers address unique learning within interconnected systems, around the fact that the actions of a single city or nation are not siloed, rather they can impact their neighbors both near and far, particularly when they rely on shared resources to sustain and grow. An underemphasized aspect of these complex systems is the social interactions across parties with competing interests, requiring involved parties to balance their own needs and wants against those of their neighbors, and the strategic, political, and social ramifications of their decisions.
To succeed in City Settlers, students need to engage in a range of important 21st-century skills, including engaging in cross-team collaborations, developing trust, planning in the present for future success, making sense of data, and developing and enacting strategic plans.