How games can support engagement with nature

  • Can allow introduction to new places and creatures in a ‘safe’ environment. This can help build a sense of familiarity and reduce worry about wild spaces and animals.
  • Can allow increased ‘access’ to remote or dangerous places, and allow encounters with rare animals.

Potential pitfalls

  • Oversimplification leading to misconceptions.
  • Safe virtual interaction leading to false sense of security.
  • False impression of how common some animals are.
  • Instant gratification leading to unrealistic expectations of the natural world.

Game recommendations

Minecraft – Very popular so many kids may have played it before. Reducing the need to teach the class how to use the tool. Even if students haven’t used it before it is very intuitive. Lots of nature-based elements are already part of the game (biomes, animals, materials, geology). While in ‘creative mode’ it can be used as 3D modelling software which allows you to go into your creations. There is now functionality for exporting builds to view in the real world using augmented reality..

Oxygen not included – Space survival and colony building game. Great for understanding interacting systems. You need to build systems to keep your colonists alive. For instance you can electrolyze water to create oxygen, use the resulting hydrogen to create energy, while managing heat generated by machinery.

The game also implements many properties of elements and materials. Properties of gasses like density and specific heat capacity are implemented in the game. These can be taken advantage of in-game to build more efficient life support systems. Understanding these mechanics can allow kids to get a sense for how those properties work in real life.

Animal Crossing – Sandbox building and collecting game. In-game museum allows you to display insect and fish specimens you collect. The curator also gives you some information about your specimens. Wide variety of animals and fossils in the game can be another way for kids to become more familiar with the natural world, and change the way they interact with specimens in museums.

Taking advantage of games as a parent

Take interest – Conversations about the game. Kids love to show you what they know/have learned about the game. Allows you to steer conversations to comparisons with the real world.

Learn to play the game – Take advantage of fact that most modern games have some multiplayer aspect to play with them. Gives you more common ground to talk about and a better feel for the possibilities for steering conversations. Also allows you to get a better understanding of the potentially addictive qualities of the game and see microtransaction elements. 

Strategies for limiting game time

Coordinate allowed gaming times with other parents. Gets around the struggle with kids feeling like they are missing out of what their friends are doing

Playing with kids allows you to say ‘we should take a break’ instead of ‘you should take a break’.

Ideas for using videogames in teaching

Important to be clear in what you want to achieve and carefully consider if a game is a good tool for the job. Is your focus in a lesson going to be concepts, teamwork, or communication skills etc? 

Introducing concepts 

  • Runs the risk of teaching misconceptions. However facilitating discussions about differences between the game and reality can be a valuable exercise in analysis and evaluation.

Demonstrating learning  

  • Students can explain how they got around the limitations of the game to get close to what they want to show
  • Some games can be treated like another medium for expression of ideas alongside essays, posters, dioramas, videos etc. 
  • Some games can be used like 3D modelling or animation software. Create videos/documentaries in games.

Keeping track of learning

  • Use developer patch notes as a model for keeping track of learning and ideas. Real world example of professionals acknowledging mistakes and correcting them.

What did you think? Do you have a game recommendation? Send us your thoughts! knowingnaturepodcast@gmail.com

Tweet us @kn_podcast

Intro/Outro music: Selfish by Derek Clegg. Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 US License

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