Games that educate players about real-world topics often carry the unfortunate stigma of being about learning first and having fun second.  While this is not often the case, players have certainly flocked to worthy titles that blend the two and erase any line of distinction.  Yet even a franchise as popular as Assassin’s Creed has attempted to educate players about the locations and characters in the game, though this was done separately from gameplay.

A true mixture requires a reverence for the subject matter as well as the medium being used to teach it.  And if Amy Tucker’s work on the planned reboot of her trading card game Xeko is any indication, she may have just found that necessary balance.

For those who may be unfamiliar, Xeko (pronounced “zeeko”) began in 2006 as a physical trading card game uniquely revolving around real-life endangered species.  Initially the game was set to be quite ambitious, with 34 mission sets (think expansion packs focused around real-world hotspots) that would periodically release and expand the amount of gameplay options and the geological ground covered.  Unfortunately, Xeko has been quiet in regard to updates and expansions over the last couple of years.  Tucker looks to rectify that issue, and is seeking to relaunch the title as an online offering.  But she can’t do it alone; Tucker has turned the funding of the game into a Kickstarter project, set to conclude on July 21.

Tucker cited the recent boon in Kickstarter projects being funded, particularly Double Fine’s success, as the reason for bringing Xeko to the crowd-funding website.  And though in the process the game has transformed into a virtual trading card game, Tucker sees this shift as only beneficial to the game.

When she first created the game, Tucker had the crazy, “old fashioned idea that players would play the game together, in real life. That was before Facebook and Zynga really took off.”  Both companies have become ubiquitous staples in many lives, accessible on phones, tablets and computers.  As the argument smartly suggests, though social networking and gaming keeps us constantly connected, those connections are not as strong as real-life relationships.

Whether or not this theory is true, it is safe to say players have access to some device during nearly every moment of their day, thus creating millions of possible players.  Because of this, Tucker believes “it’s clear that we need to be online and mobile to truly make an impact.”  Looking at it beneficially, “connecting players around the world — including players from the hotspots themselves—is very powerful.”

The online space not only allows Xeko to reach more players, but to improve their experience from the original incarnation.  Speaking to the virtual space, Tucker said:

Online enables us to add a ton of enhancements; I’m really excited for those little touches of sparkle like animated cards, animal sounds, and certain rules, like “migration,” activating the whole playing field.  Online also enables us to simplify certain elements like score calculations and will make for an easier learning curve.

And enhancements like a more progressive learning process will allow for players to wrap their minds around the game’s core mechanic – linking cards through color matching.  As Tucker explains for those unaccustomed to Xeko’s mechanics, “Players match colors to connect their cards together and the playing field grows with each turn, similar in a way, to Scrabble or Dominoes.”  In doing so, the “Xekosystem” becomes this interconnected patchwork of beautifully illustrated plants and animals, which will now include some welcome animated additions.

Just how will this new version of Xeko address the game’s complexity?  Tucker realizes that because each card in Xeko is unique “you end up with thousands of variables.”  To combat any difficulties with this system, the team behind the game will be adding a host of features, including tutorials, varying difficulty levels and deck strategies among other useful inclusions.

To insure that all the effort players put into the game on, for example, a Facebook version will carry over to the iOS version, profiles and collections will be maintained across the platforms.  Yet the ability to play on an assortment of systems is enhanced even further by tailoring the experience to each device.  Tucker explained how a few of these unique formats would play out:

Different platforms will be better suited for different activities – online for multi-player games and remote players, iPad for in-person games, and smart phones for browsing your collection and trading cards with friends, for example.

With these variations, Xeko will incentivize players to frequently engage with the game across several platforms , but ties to the title do not end there.  Those attempting to gain an edge in-game can earn points through real-world actions with the “Xeko Greenstar” program.  By recycling, picking up trash and other activities, players will be rewarded for their contributions to the environment, taking the knowledge they learn while both playing and using features like the Xekopedia and then applying it in their daily lives.

Tucker saw this integration as key in crafting this new form of Xeko.  Speaking to the real-world implications, Tucker said:

Awareness around the health of our planet and the desire to do something positive really compelled me in this direction.  And with all of the doom and gloom around climate change, I wanted to do something that was impactful, joyful and creative.

The steps Amy Tucker and her team are taking with Xeko look to be as impactful and joyful as she hopes it will be, promising to do a bit of good for the world as well.  1% of Xeko’s revenues will go to “Gaming for Good,” a program that allows players to allot points to non-profit causes.  Xeko will also partner with a number of other non-profits, the first being weforest.org, with many more to come in the future.  With this care for the development of the game and its effect on the world of its players, Amy Tucker appears to have successfully balanced the educational and fun aspects of Xeko.  And maybe for Tucker, that balance is accomplished because they are one and the same.

“Someday, I’d like to have a conversation about what constitutes ‘fun,’” Tucker said.  She continued:

What could be more fun than making friends, world building, discovering real, crazy creatures, and having actual real-world impact?  Games have been educational since the beginning of games!  With Xeko, instead of learning about monsters, war, or shopping, you learn about ecosystems and animals that are actually more exotic and bizarre than any fantasy creatures out there.

While Tucker is clearly passionate about her project, she wants her fans to be equally enthusiastic for the prospect of this exciting blend of trading card games and environmental awareness.  Xeko‘s Kickstarter still needs your donations to reach its $250,000 goal before July 21.  So if you want to do some good for the gaming and real worlds, be sure to pledge whatever amount you would like before time runs out.