Video game allows students to simulate air quality solutions in Utah

Posted at 9:42 PM, Jan 17, 2015

SALT LAKE CITY -- All it takes is to walk outside this time of year to know why air quality is on the forefront of people's minds in Utah’s winter months.

Lots of solutions have been proposed, like a statewide ban on wood burning during the winter, more mass transit and more emissions testing.

But what would happen if all of those solutions were actually implemented? A new video game seeks to answer that question.

Roger Altizer, Director of Therapeutic Games and Apps Lab at the University of Utah, spoke about the project.

“In this game you play the part of a mythical mayor, and you make some policy decisions about air quality in Utah," he said. "You make some personal decisions about air quality in Utah. And then you get to see the results."

Bad Air Day is a video game designed to help high school students understand Utah’s air quality during inversions.

“Air quality is a big issue for us here in Utah, it has drastic effects on our health, and on our happiness,” Altizer said. “We think that young adults understanding what they can do about air quality can really make a difference.”

The U of U partnered with Utah Clean Air and brought together educators, lawmakers, scientists and game developers to create the most realistic game possible--With real-life results on the difference each decision would make.

Kerry Kelly, Associate Director of Program for Air Quality Health and Society at the U of U, said the game lets people try different approaches to the issue.

She said: “You hear a lot of people talk about strategies, for example, why don't we stop all wood burning? Why don't we shut down all large industry? So this game actually lets you make those decisions. It also lets you decide, 'I’m going to have everyone drive twice as much' and see what that will do to air quality.”

The inversion in the city is present in the game, and it impacts how far you can see. That distance gradually decreases as the inversion thickens. But, if you choose to make too many strict decisions to create a clean city, your virtual citizens will get upset.

"So as part of the game, we have walls of public anger,” Kelly said. “So if you select a strategy that really angers a lot of people, the game becomes more difficult to play.”

So now the question is: Will students actually play and learn from this game?

"They get to choose to play it,” Altizer said. “They can choose, 'Do I want to do a traditional science lesson, or play this video game that's going to teach me about the science of air quality in Utah? And I think it's not hard to say that a lot of students will opt to play this video game."

If you're interested to see what you could do for a virtual Salt Lake City, you can play the game by clicking here.