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Serious Games Reinforcing Life Science Concepts For Ecosystems

SimScientists Ecosystems Games - Image credit: WestEd

SimScientists Ecosystems Games, developed by WestEd, was selected as a finalist in the 2018 Serious Games Showcase and Challenge in the Business Category.

SimScientists Ecosystems Games are aimed for middle school students (grades 6–8) in a science class that includes ecosystems in the curriculum. In the game, players restore a population of foxes by gathering clues for a food web, selecting a habitat, and interpreting population data.

As part of a NSF-funded project, WestEd and IAI have developed two games to serve as formative assessments for an existing SimScientists middle-school curriculum. The SimScientists Food Web Game focuses on construction of a food web from evidence collected about interactions between organisms. The SimScientists Population Game builds on the Food Web Game, focusing on population dynamics and evidence collected to support explanations of predation and competition.

In each game, the player alternates between collecting evidence in an African desert oasis and developing models of the ecosystem. The player works collaboratively with virtual peers, a scientist, and a wildlife manager.

In the Food Web Game, the player and virtual peer travel through the oasis in a jeep gathering clues about the interactions between organisms in the ecosystem. 

SimScientists Ecosystems Games - Image credit: WestEd

SimScientists Ecosystems Games - Image credit: WestEd

Then they use these clues to construct a food web as a model of the flow of matter and energy in the ecosystem. Upon completing the food web, the virtual scientist and peer engage the player in explaining the interactions and flow of energy and matter through the ecosystem, making predictions about potential threats to the survival of the fennec fox, and supporting their predictions with evidence and reasoning.

In the Population Game, the player and virtual peer work together to restore the fox population in the oasis, fly drones to collect evidence on the population changes and reason from the evidence to explain predation and competition between organisms.

SimScientists Ecosystems Games - Image credit: WestEd

The games and related content are all available at