Environmental awareness and accessibility in video games. The Sims 4: Eco Lifestyle.
(María Eugenia Larreina Morales and Chiara Gunella (UAB team) –14th of July 2022
The Sims is a popular life simulation video game series developed and published by Electronic Arts. The first game was released in 2000, and soon after sequels and expansion packs were launched. In the game, the player controls the actions and interactions of the Sims with the world’s objects, surroundings, and other characters. Sims’ appearance and traits may be customized, as well as their houses and neighbourhoods. Launched in June 2020, and available for consoles and PC, The Sims 4: Eco Lifestyle focuses on sustainable living. The pack offers unique features, such as the Eco Footprint determining the level of pollution of the world, neighbourhood action plans voted by the Sims, and renewable energy sources. In addition to contributing to the Sustainable Development Agenda and to GreenScent project pedagogical goals, it can contribute to accelerating the shift to sustainability. However, this social impact should be paired with accessibility, so that every person is able to play the video game.
On the one hand, The Sims 4: Eco Lifestyle offers some general accessibility settings – control remapping, visual customization such as resizing and adjusting the content of the head-up display, or volume control. To progress in the game, players may check the tutorials, press pause, use cheat codes, or enable hints. Despite these options, it remains highly inaccessible for persons with visual disabilities, as it is not compatible with a screen reader, and it does offer the possibility to customize the colours to improve visibility. Using a screen magnifier and increasing the text size is only possible if the gaming platform allows it, not because The Sims 4: Eco Lifestyle provides them.
On the other hand, the game offers several educational features. The Sims 4: Eco Lifestyle enables players to exercise their agency in response to different environmental challenges, such as circular economy, farming alternative protein sources, home brewing and smart mobility. Based on their choices, users can turn a polluted city into a carbon-free one after learning about several environmental challenges. Players may gain inspiration and a sense of accomplishment through this approach, knowing their Sims’ actions can make a tangible difference in the “game life”, but also in their daily routines outside the game (Stang, 2019).
In summary, The Sims 4: Eco Lifestyle can potentially educate players about sustainable living, which may positively impact their actions in the real world. However, the game does not provide tools to address environmental anxiety regarding the climate crisis. Moreover, the game offers general accessibility options, mainly relying on the ones provided by the gaming platform. Although it may be played without sound and onscreen text is generally brief, useful features for players with hearing or cognitive disabilities, control remapping may be too limited for persons with motor disabilities, and visuals and text remain inaccessible for persons with visual disabilities. As a consequence, the potential for educational impact of The Sims 4: Eco Lifestyle is reduced due to its lack of certain accessibility options, in particular, screen reader compatibility.
In summary, here are the pros and cons of educational impact and accessibility:
PRO: Several actions, activities, and functions that can improve players’ sense of agency. Several aspects promoted in the GreenDeal are presented in a game format in the Sims 4: Eco Lifestyle.
CONS: Lack of focus on environmental anxiety.
PRO: General accessibility options, namely control remapping, resizing and adjusting the content of the head-up display, and volume control.
CONS: Lack accessibility for players with visual disabilities.
Stang, S. (2019). “This action will have consequences”: Interactivity and player agency. Game studies, 19(1). http://gamestudies.org/1901/articles/stang