The time has come to get my project underway. I’m developing an ecosystem-modeling game to entertain and to facilitate learning. I don’t want to make a game to teach, exactly. Too often, “educational” games tend to be dreary ordeals with a thin but shiny coat of classroom-style learning content, designed by people who a)don’t seem to play games and b)think games are primarily for children. All games teach. I’ve discussed this sort of thing before, as have numerous others before me.

There are, of course, many examples of great games designed with learning in mind. Last year, my wife spent over a week playing the original version of The Oregon Trail under a slew of self-imposed restrictions just to see how she could leverage the mechanics in her favor–like an experienced D&D player who opts to forego armor just to add challenge and complexity.

The task I have chosen to undertake (perhaps recklessly) is to create a game that stands on its own in terms of game mechanics, but mirrors reality enough to allow players to explore and broadly recreate ecosystem dynamics.

To do this, the game must be modifiable and include thorough documentation. It should allow players to, well, play with it. It should also be freely hackable for anyone who may want to build, for example, an approximation of species interactions within a specific Malaysian cloud forest (people have differing ideas of fun).

It won’t be easy, and I will need lots of help along the way. I want the game to serve as a means of entry into scientific discourse. To that end, I’d like to see a growing library of user mods ranging from challenging fictional scenarios to user-created ecosystem models based on published data. If optimal strategy in the game one day helps to reveal something about real-world animal behavior (as Fold-It aids the discovery of protein structures), I will have achieved my ultimate, maybe-I-shouldn’t-even-consider-it-possible goal.

If I don’t shoot for that goal, I’ll never know how close I can get. At this stage, I’m drawing inspiration from the concepts and mechanics of games such as Wolf Quest, Venture Arctic, Cultivation and Subspace/Continuum (the latter for its simple energy-management system and elegant-but-deep multiplayer experience).

Any and all feedback is welcome. What would you folks like to play?

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