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Serious Games For Land Use And Conservation

Via: SILVIS Lab - It’s All A Game – Land Use and Conservation In Everyone’s Hands

Trails Forward is a role playing Serious Game about the effects of land use on rural ecology and economies, currently under development by a group of economists, and environmental and computer scientists from across the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

Based on the research of the interdisciplinary UW-Madison Conservation Conversation Group, Trails Forward is being designed as a simulation platform that can be used to investigate the consequences of manipulating environmental, economic, and institutional factors around land-use conflicts.

The main goal is to increase awareness regarding land use conflicts using the Serious Game to observe how individual decisions affect the surrounding environment. Indirect effects can also be examined, such as the consequences of rising timber prices on wildlife habitat.

Game dynamics emerge as an interaction between policy specification, player input, and the resultant behavior of autonomous computer-based agents. These agents represent autonomous individuals within the simulation environment and constitute a core feature of the Trails Forward architecture. The development of these agents can be tailored to represent a wide range of potential roles, ranging from home buyers to wildlife species. By acting in an autonomous and self-interested fashion, the cumulative behavior of the set of agents can be used to describe the entire system (Source: Trails Forward Wiki).

Each species within the game has its own underlying model that takes into consideration the species ecology and known behaviors, as well as habitat needs. One of the interesting aspects of this approach is that it provides a unique interaction between data driven ecological models and the decisions made by individual players in the pursuit of specific goals and results.  

The strategy is to build a bridge between Computer Sciences and Ecology and this meant many hours talking to ecologists, reading about a species biology, ecology, behavior, preferences, programming and finally, testing. A solution the group found to test their game and increase the amount of models, was to offer an “Agent Programming for Conservation Games” class at UW – Madison where students from different backgrounds worked together to create new models.

The dynamics of the roles are intended to represent the multiple demands placed on the landscape and engage players to think about how they can optimize their land-use strategy to maximize their own objectives, and then cooperate with others in an attempt to achieve multiple objectives. Through gameplay, players manipulate the landscape by implementing forest harvesting, housing development, and conservation actions.

According to Trails Forward Wiki, one of the greatest benefits of this simulation environment is that it allows players to examine complex relationships and dynamics that are either impracticable or impossible to experimentally manipulate in the real world.

In sum, as reported by SILVIS Lab, using a Serious Game to collect data while simultaneously educating the general public is the major contribution of Trails Forward.