What is an ecological game? Examining ecological dynamics and metaphors through the survival-crafting genre

University of Florida
Publication Type:
Journal Article
TRACE a journal of writing media and ecology, 2018, (2)
Issue Date:
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This paper takes as its focus the genre of games known as ‘survival-crafting’. These games, popularized in the wake of Minecraft’s (2010-present) success, often feature high degrees of environmental interactivity and simulation of plant and animal behaviors, as well as a heightened sense of dependence upon the natural environment for shelter, sustenance, entertainment and other necessities. Beginning with an examination of the ecological and environmental metaphors embedded within terms commonly used to describe features of the genre, I will then focus on its two nominal pillars: survival and crafting. Analysis of both these mechanics reveals their role in creating game dynamics that are less ecological and more economic in character. Many games lead players to prioritize resource acquisition, and structure their play experience according to rates of resource accumulation that mirror capitalist economic activity. Often these processes resemble a simplified and stylized re-enactment of industrialization. This paper concludes that a truly ecological game only becomes conceivable in a partial and fragmentary way through what Timothy Morton (2010) calls ‘the ecological thought’ – by thinking across the connections and assemblages involved in digital gaming as an activity or experience.
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