Save the Planet, Play the Game Conservationists Target Video Gamer

5 min read
03 October 2022

By Hereward Holland

NAIROBI 5 June (Reuters) - Chilli Gibbon, a gibbon native to Borneo will soon be jumping from tree to tree in parks from New York to Nairobi as a character in a new augmented reality video game that aims to encourage conservation of endangered species.

Internet of Elephants, a Kenyan software company, has developed a computer-generated facsimile of Chilli (a real primate) and three other animals from Africa and Asia.

Their game, Wildeverse, is one of a number of games developed by companies around the world who are seeking to harness the increasing popularity of video games on mobile phones to encourage people to lead more environmentally-conscious lifestyles.

Gameplay that is similar to the smash-hit mobile phone game Pokemon Go, Wildeverse users are junior scientists who study the habits of animals living in the rain forests of Borneo and Congo Republic, using their smartphone camera to view life-size virtual trees and primates, like Chilli superimposed on their surroundings.

The rising popularity of smartphones means that gaming is accessible to nearly three-quarters of the population across the globe. It has the potential to be a powerful tool to changing behavior, much like a public broadcaster for the digital age. Sam Barratt, from the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) has stated that the game industry is an effective tool to change behavior.

"Its reach is unbelievable," Barratt told Reuters. "We want to help people think differently about nature and how they can live a an (environmentally) more peaceful life."

Gaming is the most popular type of entertainment in the world. Skins According to UNEP's report of 2019 entitled "Playing for the Planet", the industry generates more income per person than Hollywood, Bollywood, and worldwide music sales.

The revenues generated by mobile games have surpassed console games in 2015 and, as data speeds increase, are projected to be $91.2 billion by 2021, the gaming consultancy Newzoo estimates.

Internet of Elephants aims to launch Wildeverse in the third quarter of this year as a no-cost download application for Apple and Android smartphones with the option of purchasing in-app for additional features.

The game has been developed specifically to not be preachy which can inhibit behaviour change, said Jake Manion, head of production at the company.

"It's easy to fall into the trap of tropes about burning forests and animals that are stranded and such like that," he said.

Not just for kids!

As the user-base of video games expands, the demographics are beginning to transcend age, gender and geography.

The UNEP report found that only 22% of gamers worldwide are younger than 21 years old and 46% of them are women. Five of the 15 countries that have most gamers per capita live in lower-income countries, such as Nigeria and Indonesia.

Gautam Shah, the founder of Internet of Elephants, stated that people automatically believe that games are made for children when they talk about them.

He added that the conservation sector is slowly waking up to the potential of gaming to mobilize people in the same manner that it took them a while to realize the potential and power of social media.

As conservationists such as Shah hope to exploit opportunities in the industry, some of the larger gaming studios are beginning to push green messages.

Minecraft The blockbuster game of building has released new versions that allow users to create national parks and sustainable cities.

Ban ki-moon, then UN Secretary General, appointed an Rovio character from the popular Angry Birds franchise as an honorary ambassador in 2016 to encourage young people "green" to take on climate change.

Rovio also joined forces with the World Wide Fund for Nature to promote International Tiger Day.

Minna Eloranta is Rovio's senior communications manager. She has stated that Rovio has partnered with companies to combat climate change in the past and encouraged players to think about the issue through campaigns in their games.

Niantic the company that developed Pokemon Go with Nintendo Co Ltd is a coordinating company for Earth Day clean-up events in every corner of South Africa and Singapore every year.

"Games that can link sustainability efforts to their fundamental gameplay mechanics have an opportunity to not only increase the number of players they have but also have significant contributions to climate change," Yennie Solheim Fuller is the senior manager for social impacts at Niantic. (Reporting by Hereward Holland Editing by Maggie Fick and Toby Chopra)

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