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UC game named one of the top 10 global sciences games

UC game named one of the top 10 global sciences games

February 13, 2014

A University of Canterbury (UC) computer game about protecting native forests has been named one of the top 10 global sciences games by a leading UK newspaper.

The Guardian paper says the new generation of online games don't just provide entertainment, they help scientists solve puzzles involving genes, conservation and the universe.

The UC-designed game Ora, listed as one of the best 10 science games, is an ecological adventure game saving the native forests of New Zealand.

Hazel Bradshaw, a UC HIT Lab NZ PhD student who designed and developed Ora, says the game is not just for geeks in lab coats but for people to immerse themselves in the game world and play to help save forests.

"Gamers are charged with taking care of a plot of New Zealand forest and protecting it from ravenous possums. They can set traps, create sanctuaries or fly aerial operations to sow toxic bait to save a virtual forest.

"The design allows the translation of complex problems into fun and engaging gameplay, with the goal of allowing the general population to get involved and contribute to serious research topics through play," Bradshaw says.

Landcare Research has teamed up with the HIT Lab NZ at UC to find a new way to present scientific research and find out how people want to manage their forests: a computer game based on real data and models of pest and tree dynamics and management options.

"Ora is a totally different way of making research results available for others to learn from. The game is based on real-life data and models of forest-pest-management interactions, putting knowledge at gamers’ fingertips in a fun-filled ecosystem adventure.

"Players’ actions tackling the complex problems of pest control will feed back into research on control strategies, with the potential to influence management decisions.

"The game is all about helping save New Zealand’s beautiful but fragile native forest from the jaws of hungry possums."

The management of vast tracts of New Zealand's forests for conservation is a complex issue, key parts of which are the need to educate people about the science on pest management and forest dynamics, engage with multiple stakeholders with conflicting values, and understand people's perceptions and aspirations for the problem and associated solutions.

To help raise money for the game, Ora's developers have released Possum Stomp, a mini game app available on iOS or Android. See: www.playora.net.

Landcare Research scientist Dr Pen Holland developed the extensive computer model of possum impacts on New Zealand’s native forests.

"One of the greatest challenges in this kind of cross-disciplinary work is finding the right people to work with, and Hazel’s game design skills with the support of the HIT Lab NZ have been essential in the process of turning pest management research into an awesome game,” Dr Holland says.

ENDS

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