Game of Cones

protreeWe really need to encourage a new generation of plant health professionals. Just think what life would be like if the resources we get from plants like food, timber and medicine were to be in short supply. Trees in Britain provide us with some stark examples of plant health problems. Since the 1970’s a fungus called Dutch elm disease has killed between 25 and 75 million elms. Today it is still spreading in northern Scotland. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated example. The Forestry Commission website lists seven pests and 13 diseases that currently threaten British trees. The problem continues to grow and the rate at which new problems arrive has been accelerated through accidental import as a result of global trade. Recently there has been considerable media coverage of tree health problems, often with dire predictions for the future.

Rather than just wringing our hands we need to do something about this situation. This is why a group of Scottish researchers have taken the unusual step of working with a computer games company to develop CALEDON a survival strategy game about tree health. Their aim is to switch on the younger generation to tree health through the very popular medium of computer games. Any biologist will tell you that diversity of species and diversity of genes within species creates resilience. The old saying about the dangers of putting all your eggs in one basket is absolutely spot-on in the context of plant health. So why is it that our forestry practices have for so long focussed on single species plantations that are often of restricted genetic diversity?

This question is at the hearth of CALEDON which has been developed as part of the outreach and education programme of the PROTREE project http://bit.ly/2cAlyzN and has seen project scientists from seven Scottish research institutes working together. Designed to be an enjoyable game, inspired by the popularity of virtual worlds, CALEDON challenges players to keep a forest thriving under a series of different scenarios with different objectives that include tree species diversity and forest cover. Players choose what trees to plant and have to work within the limits of available funds. Income can be generated by tree felling and pest and diseases have to be contended with. The learning to develop an effective strategy in the game comes from prompts that appear during gameplay and from exploration of the games encyclopaedia.

CALEDON is aimed at early teens and has good links to the curriculum at Level 3 and 4, but experience has shown that much younger players enjoy the game and do understand how to develop successful strategy. Although it is a single player game small group discussion around how to keep the forest thriving is possible as the player is completely in control of the pace of the game and clicks a button to advance time by five years after making as many changes as they like or can afford to do. The game can be played online at www.rbge.ac.uk/caledon and can also be downloaded for offline play. An iPad version of the game is available at the App Store.

 

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