‘An Alternative Paradigm’: An Exploration Into Systemic Design Within a Virtual Game Ecosystem to Elicit Ecological Consciousness

Walker, Brooke Rosemary
Collis, Elliot
Najafi, Hossein
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Master of Design
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Auckland University of Technology

This research explores the potential of utilising systemic design in the creation of a virtual game ecosystem to generate ecological consciousness, which is an alternative perception of the natural world that focuses on realising a mutual coexistence between humans, nature, and the non-human. Presently, systemic design within video games is not situated firmly within the academic realm, and this research proposes a definition for the term as designing game systems that are aware of each other, and therefore have the ability to interact. Through traversal of design research surrounding ecosystems and their position within video games, it was found that evolving game environments and their living components from background scenery to ecological models that have their agency foregrounded has the potential to drive philosophical ideology.

Employing the cyclic methodology of iterative design, the creation of the game artefact through numerous prototypes presents a thriving digital ecosystem, that embodies principles of systemic design and used reflective practice to investigate how to coalesce it to provoke alternative environmental thinking. The eventual artefact presented is Apis, which is Latin for ‘honeybee’, the virtual reality game-world and its play endeavouring to foster ecological consciousness through observation, moments of enchantment, and limiting the player’s ability to dominate and destroy. Apis demonstrates that designers don’t have to shame, teach or punish the player to present moral precepts, and ecological consciousness was created through this enforcement of placing the player equivalent to bees or rain within its virtual ecosystem. This research has the potential to cast new shadows in the way designers can make, and players can think about games.

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