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Gaming for Conservation: 5 Engrossing & Educating Video Games that Inspire to Explore & Save the Natural World

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I am not a gamer. I am an outdoor person who would not trade a spontaneous stroll in the wild for the same amount of time spent in front of a screen. But, there are no restrictions to the means by which I quench my thirst for nature. Documentaries, movies, books, I savor anything that gives me an intriguing peek into the creation.

Especially during the last two years when long travels became unfavorable, those avenues helped a lot. During these years, gaming industry became the biggest entertainment market, surpassing movies and music together. And I happened to stumble upon some beautiful & promising works in the area that have nature at their heart.

As a gaming outsider I look at games as these virtual worlds where one experiences the fantasies that are perhaps next to impossible for them to live in reality. The games I have listed here fulfill the same for a nature lover. Wandering in a perfect wilderness, going for wild expeditions, spotting exotic animals, saving endangered species, dreamy, wholesome interactions with the natural world, and even finding poetry in the land!

1. Way Finder – An animated journey across

the poetry of the land

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Wayfinder, a web based game produced by the National Film Board of Canada starts with a calming music playing over animated graphics with the charm of a storybook, and the following lines appear on the screen:

Nature’s balance is endangered,
memories of the land are fracturing,
recover the lost fragments to restore the balance.

The concept of this game is rather sophisticated. The game attempts to express our connectedness to the natural world in the gentlest, subtlest of the ways – through poetry! 

Wayfinder encourages the player to move across the landscapes of different seasons, attentively. Your aim is to look for fuzzy white tokens in the shapes of various elements like leaf, star, sun etc. Clicking these tokens reveal fragments of poetry hidden in the wind. After three of these tokens are found, a haiku forms, with a unique, spontaneous combination of words, each time gorgeous enough to read again, and contemplative enough to give the player a sense of satisfaction upon finding those tokens. As you return all these forgotten memories recovered from the land, to the tree at the center of the world, you reach a stage where you have fully restored the balance in nature.

What I loved the most about this game is of course the idea of the spontaneously forming haikus. What a surreal way to experience poetry of nature. After all, it feels here as if nature herself is whispering these verses to the player/reader. And the best part is, every time the game runs, these verses are different, true to the way how nature functions – never the same between two moments! 

According to the makers of the game, the poetry is assembled procedurally and algorithmically through code, providing thousands of possible combinations, and creating a different one for each new visitor. These are the haikus I had discovered by the end of my game.

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For those who savor poetry, this gameplay is superbly contemplative, almost spiritual. As the player gently walks on the earth with collected tokens, wildflowers grow beneath their feet, symbolizing the cause-and-effect relationship we have with nature. What a slight reminder of how profound a role we could and should play in remedying the effects of climate change through a deeper appreciation of the world around us.

Know more from the creators of this elegant game. Experience it here.

2. Unseen Empire – Play the story of

the largest camera trap study in the history

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Every true wildlife buff has at least once dreamt of becoming a biologist or a research scientist and going for a real expedition in the uncharted interiors of a deep forest where no ordinary traveler goes but where all real action in wild happens. What if you could relive awesome experiences the largest camera trap study ever attempted in history, in the jungles of southeast Asia, as a member of the University of Oxford’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU)? 

As nature lovers, we surely know how important it is to protect biodiversity, but only few of us can have the chance to see as insiders, the kind of monumental efforts it actually takes – painstaking endeavors of laying camera traps and then endless hours of data analysis at the base camps.

Unseen Empire the making of the game
Image: Internet Of Elephants

Unseen Empire offers the chance to do so. It brings to life a massive ten-year study on the impact of deforestation on the habitat of the clouded leopard – by Professor David Macdonald and his WildCRU team . The ambitious project, that resulted in the largest catalog of photos of any research project on any species, many of which general public would not even heard name of! The player assumes the role of a real life scientist and meet many interesting challenges, get to use the latest equipment in identifying species, their habitats and the like, and analyzing the real data of all the intriguing findings that actually happened.

What I found to be the most beautiful aspect of this project is this, that typically no matter how revolutionary they are, these type of camera trap studies remain within academic circles only. Unseen Empire changes that and gives regular people a chance to deepen their appreciation not only for the wildlife but also those who work relentless for its conservation.

Download and know more from the creators of this path-breaking game.

3. Alba – A Wildlife Adventure

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Created by UK’s Ustwo Games, Alba: A Wildlife Adventure is an adorable game mainly aimed at younger kids. The user plays the role of a little girl called Alba exploring a Mediterranean island and a picturesque village, taking pictures of more than 60 animals and birds, and also learning little bit about them in the process – all while an interesting storyline takes place in parallel.

I liked the wholesome mood of this game, and the feel good, relaxing world inside it. The ambiance sounds are beautiful, including those of birds and animals and so are their movements which feel quite real like. Interestingly, the little challenges of photographing animals and birds from different angles is very much enjoyable too, just like it is in the real world situations!

This game is obviously great for kids but can be immensely satisfying, and uplifting as a grown up too, for the nostalgia it offers about the simpler times in life, or childhood, when spotting a simple squirrel or hearing the sound of a hiding bird was the biggest reason for joy and excitement.

Know more & download this heartwarming game. 

4. Seek by iNaturalist

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Now this is one video game/app that actually forces you to step outside, get in the midst of nature, up close and personal. If you are, or, was a child who is constantly on search for new bugs, bushes, flowers, plants or birds, Seek by iNaturalist is just for you!

As the name suggests, the Seek app is by iNaturalist, an online community of over a million people, where anyone who is curious about the natural world, from just an outdoor enthusiast to a PhD come together on a common platform for recording, sharing and discussing observations of plants and animal species with fellow naturalists.

A part of the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, iNaturalist uses the power of crowdsourcing, maps, and photo sharing to encourage nature stewardship. One of the fundamental thoughts behind the app is that conservationists can use its data to help save a species before it becomes extinct. The makers of iNaturalist hope to not only track biodiversity but also inspire people to reconnect with environment.

Children are naturally curious and filled with far richer sense of wonder for the world around them. Seek by iNaturalist nurtures it further by offering fast identification of plants and wildlife with the help of the online database of iNaturalist based on your device’s location. Players can earn badges for finding biodiversity and can also read brief profiles of the species they find. The main difference between the iNaturalist app and Seek is, Seek is an app designed taking children’s privacy into consideration, and therefore while one can earn badges on their device and keep track of their observations, that information is not shared with anyone online.

Know more about this citizen science game/app from its makers. Download the game.

5. Who Cares?

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Did you know that Giraffe is the only vertebrate animal who can not yawn? Or, that Zebras have 80 stripes? I came to know these intriguing facts about these beautiful but endangered animals through a simple, easy on eyes gameplay.

Created by illustrator Jenny Lelong and Bigbump, Who Cares is a web-based exploratory game designed to raise public awareness on the conservation statuses of some endangered animals.

In this game, the user finds themselves free to roam within this aesthetically illustrated microcosm of some African savanna, where Man and nature coexist. With their camera, their goal is to photograph all the endangered species present on the map, and to learn great insights about them, most importantly their conservation status. I wish and hope that Who Cares comes up with a sequel/bigger version featuring more species of birds and animals that need public awareness than the current ten.

Know more about this beautiful game from its makers. Play it here.

Even though video games can’t be a substitute for exploring nature in person, in terms of viscerally experiencing its splendor or the real world positive impact one makes on the environment and conservation issues, they do affect one’s thought process and can often leave long-lasting impacts on minds. If interacting with environment and biodiversity in a simulated world can become a reason or inspiration for anyone to start appreciating the natural world or deepen one’s interest in it, well, the creators of those games would be doing a great service to the planet.

When young minds’ attention is getting more and more confined within the screens and becoming more and more unavailable the actual world around them, I am hoping that one of those omnipresent screens does the job of sowing the seed for the love for nature too!

Article ©2022 Gyaneshwari Dave

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