I saw the Eco game at PAX Prime 2015, and I really liked it. It’s a “society simulator,” which means it aims to give players an experience that is not unlike living in the world.
The idea is that a meteor is gong to hit the planet in 30 days. You, along with your group of real people, are tasked with saving the planet. You have to develop your world’s technology to the point where you can deflect the meteor. But you have to steward your resources wisely so you don’t kill off the planet trying to save it. All this involves passing laws to protect the environment while developing your technology.
Eco builds all this functionality into a game that looks and plays a lot like the enormously popular game Minecraft.
If this sounds tailor made for a classroom situation, it is. The Department of Education gave Eco a big grant in hopes that the game could make kids better citizens.
There’s plenty of evidence that games can be used and are being used effectively in classrooms. But games aren’t always that easy to deploy, and some teachers are still uncomfortable using games as learning tools. Eco is addressing some of those issues by giving teachers a dashboard view of the game that will help them track what the kids are doing.
Meanwhile, over at MassivelyOP, Andrew Ross has looked in to some of Eco’s challenges and educational goals in more depth. Ross says: “In order for the masses to understand how games can be used for education needs, a game first has to be easy to integrate into the classroom, non-violent, explicitly include academic tools, affordable for your average school and able to run on their largely dated machines, and easy to use by the technologically inept. And that would just be so that teachers accepting of game culture have a chance to seriously introduce the game to their fellow teachers/administrators and move past the usual “why video games” discussion. Without that, pitching how the game educates is nearly impossible.”
Ross goes on to list some of the goals American students need to meet to improve their not-so-great science rankings compared to the rest of the world. It turns out that kids not only need to learn to use technology effectively, they also need to be able to analyze data effectively and work in groups to solve problems. Eco addresses these critical educational needs by encouraging critical thinking and scientific (and political) debate.
All this means that while Eco will require teachers to spend some time setting up the learning environment, they might just find out it’s worth it.