I've been reading about Eco [official site] this morning - a game which is currently in alpha but sounds crazy ambitious and wants to have players build a civilisation but also feel the impact of everything they do on the game-world's environment.
Here's the trailer they took to PAX:
It seems like a Minecrafty world but where you're not living in that sandboxy bubble of just being able to mine out resources and create machines without impacting food chains and pollution levels. This is the site blurb:
"Eco is an online game where players must collaborate to build a civilization in a world where everything they do affects the environment. All resources come from a simulated ecosystem, with thousands of plants and animals simulating 24/7. Work together through the player-run government and economy to build the technology to stop a meteor on a collision course with the planet, without polluting the world and killing it off in the process before that even happens."
To me that feels ambitious to the point where I have no idea how/if it will function. It has already won awards, like the Climate Challenge pitch award, though, and there's an alpha that interested parties can buy into for $40 (or more depending on the level of access/influence you're after). ALL OF THE EARLY ACCESS CAVEATS APPLY ETC ETC.
I'm just going back through the Kickstarter and there are things mentioned like: "In the extreme, the food supply of the ecosystem can be destroyed, along with all human life on it, resulting in server-wide perma-death. Eco is a game where the player’s actions have meaningful consequences."
I wonder how you balance/moderate for that? Especially in an age where people will just turn up on a server and do their damnedest to ruin things just because they can. Or maybe you'd just start a new server so... would the impact just be lessened? Would you just mine out a world on one server and then hop to the next?
The availability of data on the ecosystems looks really interesting too, and I can see why they're selling a classroom bundle. I studied biology up to the end of high school (A-level if you're a UK reader) and our course focused really heavily on ecosystems and biodiversity. For my final project I looked at how lichens colonise gravestones and how the balance of different lichens changes over time indicating that some are primary colonisers.
If this simulates the impact of various decisions in-game and gives a little context on the whys and wherefores (i.e. change after a particular law is voted in) I can see that being a valuable teaching tool.