Intelligent Energy Choices


In a democracy, where citizens play a role in determining public policies on issues such as energy use and investment, it is important to have an educated public that is capable of making political decisions based on quantitative analysis of real data. Energy Choices is a Participatory Digital Learning System (PDLS) that aims to

  1. help people to visualize the interconnections between the energy choices that we make, global climate change, and the economy, and
  2. encourage people to make changes in their own decisions and behavior.

Toward this end, we have created an agent-based simulation with a multiplayer role-playing game front end, designed to be used in both formal and informal educational settings. In the simulation and game, we represent system dynamics with the IPAT (Impact = Population x Affluence x Technology) equation:

IPAT equation

Although more complex models have been developed, the IPAT factors continue to play an important role in more recent models of global warming. Using this simplified model allows students to visualize the essence of what is happening, in a timeframe that is appropriate for an online multiplayer game.


The Energy Choices back-end is an agent-based simulation, written in Java and running on a server. Although the initial simulation was developed using REPAST (Recursive Porous Agent Simulation Toolkit), we have added management and communications classes to support the servlets forming the back-end of the game. Initial data, game state, and game results are stored in a MySQL database.

The simulation/game incorporates 25 autonomous country agents interacting with a single world entity. Populated with data from the World Bank, British Petroleum, and the US Energy Information Administration, these countries represent 75% of the world’s population, living in both developed and developing countries around the world. Behaviors of the autonomous agents are determined by parameters that can be changed by players throughout the course of the game. The simulation makes the following assumptions:

Instructor Front-End

instructor interface

An instructor uses a web-based front-end, developed with Flash, to define a game. As part of this, the instructor determines how many years the simulation will span; how much class time each “year” takes; and how frequently to pause so students can have discussions, conduct research, and do calculations to help them make better decisions. The instructor also sets parameters specifying default behaviors for the agents. These behaviors persist for any country agent which is not controlled by a player. As a result, the instructor can run the game as a pure simulation, to see what happens when all of the countries make the same choices.

Player Front-End

student interface

Players use a web-based front-end, also developed with Flash, to join a game and select a country agent to control. Their goal in the game is to minimize CO2 production while maximizing GDP per capita. During gameplay they can see their own status against the context of the world, either in map or chart form. They can also look up information to help them make informed decisions, or seek advice from a variety of “experts”. Even more importantly, they can discuss and negotiate with their fellow players. After all, the success of all players depends, to some degree, on the choices that all of them make.

Play Online!

Energy Choices can be used by following these steps:

  1. Open the front-end in your browser by going to Firefox or Chrome works best.
  2. Login as "guest" with password "guest". Adjust the settings as necessary.
  3. If you want to run this as a simulation, using default choices, then click on "Start Game". If you want to run this as a multiplayer game, please contact Lori Scarlatos for more information.
  4. See our guidelines, which describe underlying concepts and calculations in the simulation.


For more information about this project, contact:

Lori Scarlatos, Stony Brook University (Lori DOT Scarlatos AT stonybrook DOT edu)

Micha Tomkiewicz, Brookyn College, CUNY (MichaTom AT brooklyn DOT cuny DOT edu)