So you’re an eco conscious person who happen to love video games? Or do you want to educate people about environmental issues through a video game? You should definitely check out Eco.
The name itself is a reflection of what you’re going to get in game. But basically, Eco is a multiplayer game with minecraft-like graphics about starting a civilization from scratch and progressing it. But just like what happens with humanity, the more advanced you are, the more negative it is the impact to the environment, including global warming. And it’s your job (and your group) to keep things balance.
At GamesBeat Summit 2019, John Krajewski, the executive officer of the game’s developer Strange Loop Games, talked about the parallels between global warming in Eco and in the real world.
Krajewski said that at the beginning of the game, it’s every man for himself. Each player will start with a few simple tools and they focus on survival. Players will chop down trees and build their houses without thinking about how that action would impact the world around them.
In games like these, you’d usually think, “Eh, it’ll grow on their own. It’s a sandbox game after all.” But it’s different with Eco. When you cut down too many trees without planting replacements, you’ll destroy forests. If you hunt too often, you’ll be responsible for their extinction. And when you leave a lot of carbon footprint, the world will get warmer.
How exactly do you leave carbon footprint in this game? In Eco, players generate CO2 by making iron, an important resource. Sometimes it needs more people to realize and solve the issue. So yeah, this game allows you create your own governments and laws. You can limit the amount of iron that players can create or incorporate taxes in order to try and limit the demand.
A game to educate
Aside of giving you an alternative sandbox game, Strange Loop develops this game for educational purposes. It’s designed to be family-friendly that schools and classrooms can experience this game together for entertainment as well as practical lessons. Krajewski recounted a story about how one class used all the available tress to build their houses.
Then the next class played on the same servers and their world had no trees. What did they do? They knocked down the other class’s houses to build their own. It’s interesting how students solve problems and learn from their experience.
Classes can definitely incorporate this game with related subjects. Teachers could ask them if the game changes their thoughts about global warming and what can they do as the younger generation to solve or mitigate it. Different from the traditional presentation or showcase about environmental issues, Eco let students participate and think about practical solutions.
Because this game could change or spread awareness among the youth, Strange Loop plan to build Eco with special support for classrooms. That includes a set of tools for teachers so they’ll know what’s happening in the game and initiate/moderate discussion.
Teachers can make this game as some kind of homework, so the whole class would log in to a shared world/server from their own houses to build and collaborate together. At school, they could utilize some classroom time for meetings or discussions.
“We believe games are the most powerful medium of our age, and that by playing Eco players will have an experience that will be incredibly meaningful in how they think about the finite resources of our actual environment,” said Strange Loop Games.
Even though it has a special design for classrooms, Eco isn’t just for students. After all, environmental issues are problems for all humans, young or old. There are online communities which have formed together to create their own Eco servers. Krajewski said that what they’re doing is similar to what scientists are doing, which is solving problems through a lot of discussions and decisions.
About the game
Now let’s get to the details of this game. According to Strange Loop Games, Eco is a video game “where you must collaborate to build civilization in a finite shared world, using resources from a fully simulated ecosystem where your every action affects the lives of countless species.”
The things you do in game have different effects or outcomes. You and your group can find and maintain balance, destroy the world because of short-sighted choices that pollute the environment, or act too slowly and let the world be consumed by disasters (which you can avoid if you develop the right technology). It’s all about survival and keeping balance.
Eco’s world is a home to a population of thousands of plants and animals that live out their lives growing, feeding, and reproducing. Just like in the real world, their existence and ecosystem is highly dependent on other species.
But when you (humans) come driven by survival instincts, it gets complicated. Players need to survive using resources from the world to eat, build, discover, learn, and invent. You’re going to need resources from the environment, but if you’re not careful, you’re going to destroy habitats, forests, and let species become extinct. When that happens, the food supply and ecosystem are obliterated, including the players.
Keeping balance in Eco world is very hard to do, and that’s why you need to make decisions with your group or other players. In game, you can propose, discuss, vote on laws and pass them. The laws will affect every player in the game.
There’s also an ecosystem data that is visible to all players. You and your group can gather full data on the in-game ecosystem and analyze what’s happening in your world. Use this data to construct arguments for laws.
To make things more challenging, you can set your world at server creation. This way, you have a risk and threat of destroying the world through the choices you make as well as a threat of impending disaster. So far, the disasters are firstly a meteor that might strike your world and your group must develop a technology to prevent it.
Secondly, drought. With an imminent drought, you and your group have to conserve food and water as much as possible. Thirdly, global warming. This issue might raise the sea levels and players will have to adapt.
So you see, when you’re playing Eco, you know that you have to make choices and moral lessons will not be an easy one. Because when you don’t want to do anything at all and you want to entirely keep the ecosystem unharmed, it won’t be a good solution. Which is why you need a lot of discussions that will lead to a well-governed group of players.
Solving global warming and other environmental issues are not a one-sided problem. Things are complicated and solving them requires complex solutions. This game gives everyone a chance to have a glimpse of the impacts and effects of civilization. Even though it’s not real, we could have an idea or two about what we can do to make Mother Earth a better place.