AN INDOOR GAME BE ENVIRONMENTALLY INSTRUCTIVE?
by Whit Gibbons
August 13, 2006
As one who
recommends that children spend less time inside and more time exploring
nature in woods, streams, or even their own backyard, touting a roleplaying
game would clearly be a first for me. Nonetheless, when my nephew, PJ,
sent me information about how games and ecology might mix, I investigated
his claim. Despite my initial skepticism, I think he has a point.
I went to
the Web site I had been directed to (http://www.morriganrpg.com/whatsnew.html)
and immediately was in need of some education when I read, "eco is
a different kind of RPG." Hello!? Eco must be the game, but what
is an RPG? Never mind that it's a "different kind." Well, turns
out that RPG stands for "roleplaying game." So, now I know that
eco is a game for people playing a role, but a different kind of game
from what they might be used to playing.
My next step
in the learning process was tracking down the answer to a question on
the Web site: "What is eco you ask?" Yes, I suppose I would
have asked that eventually. The answer: "Rather than delving into
lost dungeons, crossing the vast emptiness of space or stopping dangerous
foreign spies, players in eco take on the role of ordinary animals."
That does indeed sound different. And the animals, I learned, are "not
quite ordinary" because "the PCs of eco are Aware. . . ."
Whoa. This does sound environmental, but what does PC mean? Almost certainly
not "personal computer." The short definition is that PC in
a roleplaying game stands for "player character." In other words,
it is "the individual role, or fictional persona [of] a roleplayer."
PCs in eco are the aware animals, which, incidentally, are capable of
OK. So I
understood neither the lingo nor the rules. Nonetheless, I downloaded
ecosampler.pdf and read about the game itself. The game is produced by
Morrigan Press, and the lead game designer of eco is K. Scott Agnew. The
writing, which is credited to Agnew and Alexander Freed, is excellent,
and not only enjoyable but also environmentally educational. The insights
shown by the writers of eco give me great confidence that they know what
they are talking about in terms of animal behavior, ecological theory,
and general environmental awareness.
indication that someone writing the program has an ecological background
was the title of the first chapter of the instructions, "Gaia's Call."
Gaia, a concept going back to the early Greeks, is Mother Earth herself.
The Gaia hypothesis of modern ecologists proposes that the physical and
chemical conditions on Earth, including those of the atmosphere, oceans,
and land masses, are held in equilibrium by the living inhabitants of
the planet. In contrast to the generally held assumption that life on
Earth has adapted and adjusted through evolution to environmental conditions
on the planet, the Gaia concept presents a world in which Life itself
maintains the worldwide environmental balance. The explanation of the
Gaia concept is a cool way to start the RPG eco in which the PCs are sentient
will not be able to explain the rules of this game, whether you choose
to be a squirrel, a rat, or a skunk, which are a few of the PC choices.
But I can tell you that the instructions have some insightful environmental
messages, such as information about light pollution that is good for children,
as well as adults, to know. For example, "Animals are confused by
artificial lighting. Migratory birds can . . . crash into lighted buildings."
Some animals "base their activity cycles on the presence of light,
and their schedules may change for the worse." In the game, as in
real life, artificial light in the city is only one of the man-made problems
the animals have to deal with. Toxic spills, asphalt, and smokestacks
Eco is designed
for "typical gamers [and] . . . those new to roleplaying." Though
I will probably not take up RPGing as a hobby, eco would seem to be an
exception to my rule that you learn more about the environment when you're
outside than when you're in.
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