Computer games that save trees! Is that even possible? That's the aim of scientists involved in the PROTREE project funded by the Tree Health and Plant Biosecurity Initiative, and they have a big challenge to meet, with new threats to tree health arising all the time. CALEDON is a game that falls within the survival strategy genre and aims to raise awareness of tree health problems, and communicate how we might go about ensuring trees are more resilient in the future.
In the game the future of our forests is in the players hands as they become master of an estate and create their own forests. In addition to creating new forests the player can also choose from pre-set options based on real-life scenarios such as restoring a declining forest, restoring diversity, and repopulating a forest ravaged with disease.
So why use computer games to tackle tree health? The hope is that through a popular and engaging medium a wide range of people, including children, can be switched on to tree health and potential new approaches. Engaging a new generation of potential plant health professionals is important if we are to get to grips with the growing problem of plant health problems more generally.
Educational games or ‘games with a purpose’ are a growing niche in the market. The trick is not to lose the fun factor. The best educational games maintain a balance of reality, meaning and play. In CALEDON the information needed by the player to make informed decisions is built into an encyclopaedia that they can consult at any point in play. Further information is presented as tips after each turn. In this way the game achieves education by stealth and players learn without even realising. In the process of managing their virtual forest it will also become apparent to players what works and what does not. It is hoped that the features of the game that make it like a simulation will give it application within the forestry sector. It has potential to enable people to learn about a range of pest and diseases and to appreciate the role of diversity in building resilience.
CALEDON is also available for iPad on the App Store.