A Fine Balance


For the past few days, my friend and I have been having an endless debate about the effects of human action on the Earth’s ecosystem. She insists on believing that there is no connection between what we do and what happens to the world, while I strongly believe that our actions have already messed up the environment enough and it is time to become more conscious of the everyday choices that we make. It could be researching the type of paint we buy, choosing to walk or drive, taking plastic bags from every shop we visit or carrying our own cloth bag, choosing to recycle or not. Only through cooperative action can we hope to move out of this fast lane to ecological disaster.

When I saw her throw her camera batteries into the garbage, I tried to explain to her why it would be better to recycle batteries, not just trash them. I was shocked to see that in this day and age somebody would do that. So I went right back to the basics and started with an in-depth explanation of what an ecosystem is and how it works. I gave her some statistics about how much garbage each person produces on average per day, and also examples of human harm to the environment, such as the big oil spill in Alaska and killed over 300,000 animals.

I was ready to give up on her when it struck me that maybe I should make a game about the environment in Gamestar Mechanic! That way she will be able to experience first hand what I mean by balance, imbalance and how our small choices can make a difference on the world. So I decided to make her three simple games. In the first game, all of the elements of the game were perfectly balanced. In the second game, I introduced spawning enemies to show a system going out of balance, but did not give the player any way to clean up the enemies, thus making the game unwinnable (and no fun!) In the third game, I set spawning to various rates and placed Blaster items to allow the players to strategize around how to keep the ecosystem in control and maintain the balance of the world. I used the game labels to add my narrative overlay, which I thought was very useful in presenting the three scenarios in context.

Playing these games really helped my friend to get the point and made me realize what a powerful learning medium games can be. Games can be designed to model and simulate real world phenomena, which may or may not be possible for players to experience otherwise, thus making their learning richer and deeper. This sparked a whole new chain of ideas. Could make more games around other complex subjects— games that might someday redefine the system of education in The Factory?