Do you like games/worlds which have an ecology?

I was levelling an alt recently, which meant a trip through several zones that I haven’t seen for awhile. This is partly because they’re lower level zones that my lower level alt needed for quests, but also because I was levelling herbalism from scratch.

Most games with gathering skills have some variety of herbalism and some variety of mining. But somehow I always struggle to imagine my character pulling out a pick, strip mining the local landscape, and then refining some copper. Besides which, mining is hard labour and not exactly the thing for a caster (or any adventurer). Picking herbs, skinning kills, or fishing is simply much more immersive. (Note: I have no idea how many players even think about this but it always bugged me!)

I’ve always enjoyed herbalism the most of the WoW gathering skills and it’s because the flowers have a basic sort of ecology which you will have to learn if you want to find them easily. Some plants are only found in specific zones. All of them have favoured habitats. So some grow under trees, others by the side of rivers, some in open grassland, others on rocky hills, and in one case, underwater. Even though the base UI itself will show all herbs up as dots on the minimap, a bit of ‘herb lore’ will make it quicker to gather the ones you want.

So even riding around empty low level zones looking for herbs is fun for me. It’s peaceful and I’m able to brush up my world lore by knowing where things grow without needing to look it up. In other words, it helps to bring the game world alive for me. The ecology feels immersive – it’s like I’m there.

I do think people notice when the mobs and plants are well themed to a zone. The jungle of Stranglethorn wouldn’t be the same without the lush trees or the tigers and panthers. It’s all part of what gives a zone an atmosphere of its own.

I would love it if more virtual worlds had proper ecologies that weren’t based purely on what level pigs you can find in each zone. You could imagine becoming a virtual plant expert or virtual bird watcher. To be honest, I would much rather study virtual creatures in their natural habitat than kill them. Especially if they have interesting behaviour to watch. Even though addons and websites would kill any knowledge advantage, it’s still fun to spot rare creatures for yourself.

The problem is, of course, that players screw up all ecologies by mass slaughter. But I can still dream of that birdwatching MMO that probably no one except me would ever play …