Celebrated annually on July 8 (and not to be confused with National Video Games Day, observed on September 12), National Video Game Day is “A day for kids of all ages who enjoy videogames to celebrate the fun they have while playing them,” according to its original sponsor David Earle.
Video games teach many of the problem solving and planning skills foundational to civil engineering and landscape architecture. We’ve rounded up a few of our favorite engineering- and design-oriented games below.
Easily one of the most recognizable video games in the world, Tetris is a tile-matching game that involves stacking different shaped blocks called tetrominoes. Manipulating falling tetrominoes to create full rows before the playing field fills up and the game ends challenges the player’s spatial manipulation, manual dexterity, and creative thinking skills, since it’s often impossible to position the blocks without gaps. Strategically planning these gaps to be filled later is a key part of Tetris play, teaching players about the trade-offs between present convenience and future opportunities or consequences.
Another iconic video game, Minecraft starts the player with a cube-based open world environment and nothing but their own two hands. By gathering natural resources, crafting tools, taming animals, and constructing buildings, players create the infrastructure they need to exploreand, if they choose, settlethe wider world. Some players enjoy mapping underground cave systems or plumbing the depths of the ocean, while others delight in creating elaborate structures, sprawling cities, or complex machines. Minecraft encourages self-directed play, creativity, and iteration by handing the player a toybox full of materials and setting them loose to achieve whatever goal they can dream up.
Cities: Skylines is a city simulation game that puts players in the role of mayor of a city being built from the ground up. They design the infrastructure to deliver essential services like water, sewer, electricity, education, healthcare, and law enforcement, and they set the policies that enable their city to thrive. Along the way, they contend with budget constraints, traffic congestion, economic fluctuations, pollution, and (in a later game expansion) natural disasters. Cities: Skylines offers a stylized but not unrealistic look at the frequently interlocking challenges that engineers and planners face every day while developing public and private projects.
Oxygen Not Included
Oxygen Not Included is another city simulation game, but with a survivalist twist. As with Cities: Skylines, players need to harness technology to support a growing population. But unlike the relatively peaceful metropolis of the former game, Oxygen Not Included takes place in subterranean space colony, and lack of oxygen, warmth, and food are a constant threat. Each problem the player solves introduces a new one: for instance, you must find a source of water in order to set up a wash basin, which helps with colony sanitation, and once the wash basin is functioning, you need a place for the wastewater to go, otherwise it builds up and makes the colony sick and unhappy. The struggle for survival is unrelenting, but players who persevere learn to think on their feet and prioritize a workable solution now over a perfect solution eventually.
Poly Bridge & Poly Bridge 2
Like Cities: Skylines and Oxygen Not Included, Poly Bridge is also a simulator, but one focused exclusively on bridge construction. In this physics-based puzzle game, players use a variety of materials and bridge types to move different vehicles over gaps and avoid hazards. While Poly Bridge’s creators acknowledge their physics model is approximate, the game does an admirable job of teaching basic principles of forces, structural design, and budget management. And lest it seem too dry and educational to be entertaining, we should add that unlike in real life, gaps in the road, car launches, and collapsed bridges are not automatic failures.
In this easy-paced roleplaying game, players are the recipient of their grandfather’s old farm plot in the fictional Stardew Valley. Equipped with simple tools and a little bit of money, they have the opportunity to transform overgrown fields into tidy gardens and orchards. To excel at farming, fishing, and animal husbandry, players need to be mindful of the seasons and the space required for planting their crops and housing their livestock. Players are also encouraged to develop prosocial relationships with the residents of the nearby Pelican Town, who will offer farming tips, share recipes, and send the player resources as those relationships deepen. Whether played alone or with friends, Stardew Valley promotes collaboration and rewards planning, skills that serve the engineer and the landscape architect well.
Mini Metro is the only mobile-exclusive game on this list, but don’t let its size fool youit packs a lot of puzzle in a small and portable package. A mix of minimalist simulation and strategy game, Mini Metro asks players to draw subway lines between stations in a growing city. As new stations and new rider demands appear, players have to decide whether to redraw routes to increase efficiency. Like Tetris, eventual failure is inevitablethe question is, how long can you keep the trains running? Mini Metro’s short feedback loop encourages players to experiment with different strategies and find creative solutions to the problem of limited resources.
Honorable mentions go to Civilization VI, which sprinkles in history as well as urban planning; Kerbal Space Program, which features realistic aerodynamic and orbital physics; and Plants vs. Zombies, a tower defense game that is, admittedly, just a cheeky nod to our LA team.
Have video games shaped your desire to be an engineer, architect, or planner? Share your story with us on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, or Instagram.