Eco – Online Ecosystem Simulation Game

Eco is an online world, shared by a group
of students, in which they are trying to build a civilization. Everything they do in this
shared world affects their environment. So it takes place inside of a simulated ecosystem.
They need to use resources that are available in the environment, but if they do so in a
way that doesn’t give much though to the consequences, they could have a negative effect on this
environment, and actually damage or destroy this world that they are all sharing together. So in Eco the goal isn’t to save the environment or protect the environment, the goal is to
build. The goal is to create a civilization. But in order to do that, secondarily, the
ecosystem comes into play. The ecosystem simulation within the world is modeled after the biomes
in the Pacific Northwest. So as players are hunting or logging, they are going to affect
the underlying simulation, and the ecosystem and those population dynamics are going to
respond in a realistic way. The world of Eco belongs to the whole group. Everybody sharing
this world together, and you have to make decisions as a group as to what should happen
to this world. So in order to do that, we built tools in Eco that allow players to propose
laws. So because Eco is based on a simulation of plants and animals, we are generating tons
of data that we are able share with the players. The players can collect this data in the game,
and they can use that in their argumentation. So every law in Eco needs to be backed up
by scientific argumentation that is based on the actual data that is coming from the
game. So once the law is proposed, players can have these really rich discussions online
as to what’s the right way to go about this. It’s official, the elks are extinct. Because
I just made a graph and looked at their population. Eco is a game that runs on a server in the
cloud, and that means that we’re running the game simulation all the time, and the students
can sort of jump in and out whenever they want. They can play in the classroom or at
home. The classroom time is kind of the chance to have the council meeting. That’s where
you are discussing with your peers what should be done in this world. And this is where we
see the role of the teacher becoming really important. They are guiding this discussion. In order to support teachers as they integrate Eco into their class instruction, we’re developing
a series of teacher tools. These tools will allow teachers to see everything that’s happening
in Eco, in real time. Teachers will be able to use these tools to set specific scenarios,
so that specific learning objectives, aligned to the different next generation science standards,
can be addressed. I see it as a game that we can start maybe at the beginning of an
ecology unit. But something that we could come back to in the classroom and revisit
maybe once a week, and they can see how things are changing. And definitely something that
ideally they would be able to access at home. And then, as a class, when we have a chance
to revisit it as a whole class later on again in the week, we can take a look at those changes
that were made, and maybe who made changes, and why and how that is impacting the environment. Another great advantage of games is that we can give this accelerated view of time and
consequences. So we can have an ecosystem that runs fast forward from reality basically.
So you get many years worth of consequences of human actions, within the time span of
a few days. Eco is a fragile world. It’s a simulated ecosystem that can die if players
don’t take care of it. Species can go extinct in this game. You can loose access to food
and resources, which would destroy this world that players have spent weeks building on.
There’s just this ownership to this world. You care about this world, because it’s important
to you, and to have this game set in a world that can be damaged, that can be effected
by your decisions if you don’t work together to understand effect of the ecosystem. That
really just adds a lot of meaning to everything that you are doing. It puts it in this context
that actually matters to you. It gives this view to the player that they wouldn’t necessarily
have otherwise.

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