The University of Washington Bothell is located on the edge of a marshy wetland, created by a vibrant ecosystem around North Creek.
You might say it makes for the perfect setting for a … Facebook game?
At least that’s the view of students participating in the university’s Center for Serious Play. Led by gaming veteran and Center for Serious Play interim director Jordan Weisman and ecology professor Warren Gold, students at the center have released a new Facebook game called UWB Wetlands Restoration that centers around the natural world outside their campus walls.
Maybe a better title would be WetlandVille.
In the game, players maintain the biological diversity of the wetland by obtaining up to 30 species of plants such as broadleaf arrowleaf, sitka willow and tufted hairgrass and planting them in areas to support biological diversity of the wetland, all while fending off invasive plants.
Players determine where to establish the plants, as well as snags, rock piles, ponds and logs, strategically placing them on the virtual wetland in order to create a more vibrant ecosystem.
Game players attempt to create “recipes” in order to support the wetland in various seasons, hoping to attract a wide-range of animals.
For example, the long-toed salamander prefers habitats, or recipes, near small ponds without fish where plants such as common lady fern and small-fruited bulrush are available.
One can earn grant funds and donation dollars in the game, two forms of virtual currency. Donation dollars are accrued by inviting others to play the game and helping them to maintain their wetland. You can also purchase Facebook credits in order to attract volunteers, or hold virtual events (only during the summer season) which help earn money that can be used to attract volunteers or obtain more plants.
The gameplay cycle occurs over 25 days, moving from winter to summer and representing 50 years of restoration work in the wetlands. The game is designed to follow the ecological concept of “succession,” the changes that occur over time in order to create an ecosystem.
In an interesting twist, a portion of the proceeds from the purchase of the “digital volunteers” goes to supporting actual wetland restoration in the area.
Developed by undergraduates at the university, the game marks the first from the Center for Serious Play. It also represents a classic interdisciplinary educational approach, combining elements of game design with ecology.