Computer games based on real ecosystems

Hi everyone.

I’m a keen iNat user, citizen scientist, artist and game designer. My first game, Cuttle Scuttle, is a retro arcade-style game for up to three players, based on the real ecology of a temperate rocky reef in South Australia. You play as a female giant Australian cuttlefish, and must recognise predators and prey, protect yourself using camouflage and ink bombs, while developing an egg-laying strategy and pursuing mates.

The game has been designed with simple controls suitable for children ages 7 and up. I plan to port it over to mobile devices soon so that it can be played on phones and tablets (at the moment, it’s Mac, Windows and Linux only).

You can download and play a near-complete Beta version of the game here:

When I started designing the game back in 2013, I looked for examples of games which combine arcade game and ecosystem simulator elements, but I didn’t find much out there. If you’ve come across any, I’d love to see and play them.

“Shelter 1” and “Shelter 2” are good terrestrial examples, where you play as a mammalian mother and need to provide shelter for your young, feed and protect them from predators while traveling through a stylised landscape. In Shelter you play as a badger, and in Shelter 2 you play as a lynx. Here’s a screenshot from Shelter, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons:

More info on Shelter and Shelter 2 here:


When I was really little, I played a game called “Odell Down Under”

Nowadays there’s a neat game on Steam called “Equilinox”

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I remember that one, and incidentally was trying to recall what it was just within the past year or so. It happened to be my first exposure to cuttlefish (versus squid and octopodes) back in elementary.

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i love this stuff. there was a game called WolfQuest that attempted to do this, though it was buggy and never really got finished.

Even more buggy is this project i dabbled in with my friend during a time i had a part-time job and was kind of under employed:
It was lots of fun, but also really hard as i have no coding background. It never got finished and if you manage to track down the download, it’s pretty broken. But it was lots of fun to play with. Ultimately, i got a full time job, and a house with a bunch of land to plant stuff on, and then had a kid, so the project is on hold indefinitely. But maybe some day…

There’s the old Maxis games SimPark and SimSafari. Basically creating a wildlife park in North America/Africa. There’s a surprisigly big variety of plants and animals, especially SimPark. Some basic ecology is simulated, and there is various educational stuff including introducing taxonomic keys.

They are definitely mostly kids games, but I had a lot of fun as a kid with them.


and the older ones Simearth and Sim Life! I loved those… but sim life was super buggy.
edit: and Sim Ant!


Have you heard of Empires of the Undergrowth? I stumbled into this a while ago and thought it was great. Hopefully someday there’s more games like this for other social insects (one on bee ecology would be awesome).


I always enjoyed those sort of games as a kid, my favourite was lion by sanctuary woods. Son now likes undergrowth will need to see what he thinks of your game, do continue always nice to have a fun game where your learning at the same time

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I absolutely loved this game as a kid: Sadly I can’t seem to make it work on my current system. You control a population of a species and have to survive competition with other creatures etc. and evolve as time passes.

Also, this game - though not strictly based on real-life ecosystems - really kick-started my interest in ecology as a kid: This game was pure magic to me and I learned a lot about how ecosystems work.


One game I loved as a kid was Venture Africa. It simulates a lot of the plant and animal interactions of an ecosystem and allows you to build your own. It’s old but it’s pretty cool and I still play sometimes to relax. I’ve recently gotten a couple of my friends into it too. There’s a sequel called Venture Arctic that I never got until recently. It’s fun too, but a lot different. It incorporates things like seasonality and climate change so that’s neat.

Zoo tycoon is a classic of course too - not a lot of ecological stuff but I would always use it to build sanctuaries. ;)


Great Topic :-)

There is the very beautiful game Samorost: Though the interactions between species in the game are more phantasy driven than reflecting actual species interactions, I have the feeling it should not be missing here. At least, in Samorost 3 there is one puzzle to be solved based on the Mendel Laws.

Samorost 1 is a free to play browser-flash game (

And, just to fill the list, the Zoo Leipzig has one of those easy, short time browser games, where the aim is to save biodiversity in the jungle: (the ecosystem actions again on a very abstract level, but maybe educational for little childs, still)


ABZU is a beautiful game based on marine communities - it’s not really about ecosystems and species interactions, but all the species in the game are based on real ones and levels tend to have species that would be found together or in the same general areas.


I bought ABZU a while back but it’s still sitting in my Steam inbox, waiting for me to install it and give it a run. Thanks for reminding me, @kestrel .


I read this piece by The Birdist (Nick Lund) not long ago, a birder play testing the accuracy of Red Dead Redemption 2.


For anyone who wanted to buy the Shelter games, they are on a steep sale on Steam right now:

The PBS Wild Krats kids nature series has a bunch of somewhat silly online nature based games.


I know it’s not necessarily an extant ecosystem, but the video game Saurian is focused entirely on recreating what the Hell Creek formation’s environment would have been like 66 million years ago. It’s not finished yet, not by a long shot, but it’s worth checking out.

When i was in Portugal last week members of the expedition told me that the writers of the Crossbill Nature guides (South Portugal, Extremadura, Briebza, Bibiowieza, Loire etc) also had written an Eco game:
I only never played it.

The game list has english descriptions

It seems the software is free

BlockquoteEcosim was developed in the Netherlands and was originally developed for Dutch students from high school to university level, in order to train them in thinking about ecological processes and to introduce them to the issues that are important in nature conservation.
Ecosim allows anyone to create – via GIS or even Google Earth – models of local natural areas, to (re)program ecological relations, succession and species population dynamics


Personally I enjoy Tyto ecology which is a relaxing game about making your own ecosystem and balancing predator prey dynamics.

I would like to see an ecology game where you have to become an organism, and go through it’s life cycle. get yourself out of the egg, find food, shed skin, avoid predators, find a mate. No sugar coating, if you are a caterpillar you literally have a 1% chance of getting to adulthood, etc. kinda like “live the life of a bug”, or of a mouse, or a snake. I think being able to see the world through the eyes of critters would be incredible! Yoou could create a lifelist of “bugs I have been”!

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