Welcome to the website for The SeriousGeoGames Lab. We are a research group, part of the Energy and Environment Institute, University of Hull, interested in how we model the environment in order to improve people’s lives.
Computer models are widely used by scientists and society to try and understand and predict the world around us, whether it is the natural or human environment. Computer models allow us to forecast the weather or predict how our actions are changing the climate. They can be used to manage water in our environment, providing vital time to plan for drought or floods. Transport models help town planners understand the journeys people make and how developments might change this, for better or worse.
What really interests us is where the computer models we use for our research and the video games we play for fun intersect. Developers of models and games often use the same tools and look to natural processes to simulate their desired outcome, both seek to optimise computational efficiency without sacrificing the effect of their final product – often the only difference is the final objective.
“All models are wrong but some are useful” – George Box
Cities: Skylines uses a sophisticated multi-model transit model that simulates the journeys of individuals. It has parallels to the transit models used by transport planners.
Computer models will never be able to fully model the natural environment or societal systems – there are just too many seemingly random variables for us to understand and have computers run. Instead of making the models more ‘right’, or more closely resembling the environment, developers instead consider what they need to use the model for and optimise them for that purpose. For example, a climate model used to understand changes across the planet does not need to know local changes at a city scale, so the developer will sacrifice that level of detail to help the model run more quickly.
Minecraft features a very simple model for water flow that does not resemble realistic water flows but fits with the game style and play.
Game developers also make similar decisions – their goal is not to try and accurately reproduce the world but to create an illusion of it that feels real to the player. Although they sometimes use natural laws as their basis, these are not as important as the graphical representation and smoothness of gameplay. Sometimes, the most physically realistic option is not the optimal solution for immersing a player in the environment, for example, see the uncanny valley effect.
Our mission is to explore how we can use environmental models and games to help people, making them better prepared, better informed, and more resilient. We want to understand what motivates the developers of models and games, what are their processes and practices, and what the two groups can learn from each other.