Computer games and biodiversity

Biodiversity is defined as "the variability among living organisms from all sources [...] this includes diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems" (Convention on Biological Diversity). Biodiversity is important for human well-being, but often, its rapid disappearance goes unnoticed. Bringing biodiversity topics into a computer game can be a crucial part of educating children about biodiversity, thus raising public awareness.

Biodiversity

Biodiversity is defined as "the variability among living organisms from all sources [...] this includes diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems" (Article 2, Convention on Biological Diversity). Biodiversity is important for human well-being, it is all around us—and too often, its rapid disappearance goes unnoticed. Several studies have recently emphasized dramatic declines in biodiversity: More than 16.000 species are threatened according to the IUCN Red List and the abundance of species has declined by a third since 1970 according to the WWF Living Planet Index. Two thirds of ecosystem services—key benefits of biodiversity for human well-being—are also in decline. Biodiversity loss is attributed to being the biggest challenge for humanity, second only to climate change. 

Raising public awareness

In 2001, EU Heads of State promised that they would “halt the loss of biodiversity by 2010”, and the recent Communication of the European Commission on biodiversity identifies awareness raising and public engagement as one of the key supporting measures towards reaching this 2010 biodiversity target. Children are an important target group for this task, as they are not only tomorrow’s consumers and decision makers, but also a main influence on their parents’ behaviour today. In this context, educating children about biodiversity is crucial since children are those who will make tomorrow’s decisions while also influencing their parents today. Habitat loss, invasive alien species, pollution, population pressure and overexploitation are commonly recognized as the main threats to biodiversity. While each of these factors is fairly easy to explain and understand, combination of interactions can become rather complex. In this respect, nature resembles modern computer games. 

Computer games on biodiversity for children

Computer games for children are more important than ever. Two-thirds of all 6 to 13 years-old children are interested in computer games [1] and the computer game industry has been growing considerably during the last decade. Edutainment, the combination of entertainment and information, has become an important sub-sector of the industry, with ever-soaring sales in recent years. Bringing biodiversity topics into a computer game is an important step to educate children about biodiversity, thus raising public awareness. On the one hand, biodiversity in computer games is by and large already there: getting to know the variety of animals and different habitats is intuitively appealing for children and subject to many computer games. On the other hand, tackling the full implications and problems of biodiversity can easily clash with the level of abstraction and information that can be digested by consumers of the target group. Developing a new game on biodiversity that educates children, it is important to bridge this gap. In this process, one should therefore combine competences in the fields of pedagogy, game development and environmental issues to meet this challenge.

[1] KIM-Studie 2005 (KIM), Medienpädagogischer Forschungsverabd Südwest, p 5.