“I Wish for an animal” is a multi-player mixed-reality game played in three days. It consists of a physical component, a model of a city and a virtual component, text messaging. The model that is crafted and located in a center-point, tells the story of a city called “Heemand”, a village called “five-valleys” and the protected area surrounding them. Players enter the city (physically in the model and virtually by text messages) on a mission for three days and the goal of the game is saving animals in the protected area.
They need to accomplish missions that are assigned to them moving around the city from one location to another. By succeeding or failing in those missions they affect the city, other players and also the animals in the protected area. Scenarios are driven by a strong narrative that is crafted from destinations, times and events and yet supports interactivity through chat, the use of objects, health and dilemmas, all of which can be combined into more complex missions.
Iran is a developing country with a large population, which has increased by eighty percent in the past thirty-five years. The country is now facing the imminent extinction of many native flora and fauna species because of rapid alteration of their natural environment, coupled with poor management and over-exploitation. The IUCN contends that from the 1127 vertebrates living in the boundaries of Iran, 74 species are listed as vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered.
The major cause of the rapid decline in the wildlife resources of Iran has been habitat disturbance. Overgrazing, defragmentation, droughts, industrial pollutants and deforestation have now altered about 96% of the natural habitat of the country. In addition to all of these causes direct killing and shooting of wildlife are a very straightforward reason of extinction for endangered species.
There are many direct and indirect stakeholders in wildlife conservation; almost every living creature is reliant on wildlife. From this wide range, I focus on connection between city dwellers and villagers in Iran and the importance of this missing correlation in protecting the wildlife. Villagers are directly dealing with the wildlife and at the same time they consist ninety percent of the poachers in Iran. This paradoxical situation arises from many environmental injustice issues combined with the demands from urbanites. Urbanites have the three main criteria of environmental justice by being provided with infrastructure (distribution), considered in the process of decision-making (recognition) and having a direct political impact (participation), while rural communities are disregarded in all three of them. At the same time because of their direct interaction with wildlife, rural communities are blamed for most of the problems that stem from this interaction, one of them being poaching.
So this conflict shows one social aspect of the problem of wildlife conservation, which this project will address. It will initially explore both ecological and cultural pieces of the problem in that region.
And by addressing the urbanites as the target group, tries to put them in situations where they can understand the difficulties of living in a village (scenarios happening in the “five-valleys” village in the game) as well as unveiling the demands that are imposed from city-life on wildlife (scenarios that happen in the city of “Heemand”).
I chose game as a tool for raising awareness since based on my secondary research, young adults are used to playing. And delivering knowledge about sensitive issues such as conservation needs a thorough investigation in choosing the instruments. Research shows that volunteers will commit more to volunteering for conservation activities if such activities meet their more pertinent personal and social goals of connecting with and giving back to their communities, social interacting with other volunteers and defending and enhancing their egos.
Also since there is only one main goal in the game and that is saving the animals, competition does not help. As the game proceeds players understand that they need to cooperate, compromise and sacrifice in order to win the game together. They either win as a team or lose.
Ethnographic research and expert interviews led to nine important insights and I chose five of them that resulted in a design statement:
Along with the problem of false judgments and recognizing each other as the cause of the problem, which is shifting the burden of wildlife extinction only to the shoulders of the rural community; these groups have no access to actively engage in helping each other or knowing the living situations of the other group.
People tend to judge environmental issued based on the wrong beliefs on social media and verbal anecdotes spread by the uneducated. One repetitive example is believing that urban water-consumption has a huge effect on water shortage, while in reality the main waste is in industrial and agricultural uses.
The biggest market for poach meat is from rich city-dwellers, who show their affluence off by serving it to their guests.
There are economic, cultural, emotional and political reasons for poaching in rural communities.
Iran is a society in transition, moving from traditions to modernity. Because of many socio-political situations governing the society and culture of Iran, this progress has been very slow. This is creating a great gap between city dwellers and rural communities: city dwellers do not recognize a social status for those who are not “modern”, which means anyone living out of cities having non-modern jobs such as farming and ranching. And villagers feel a deep resentment towards urbanites who benefit most from all the money gained from oil sold by the government.
Iran has the biggest tech-savvy population of youth in the Middle-East.
Urbanites are removed consumers of products that are provided outside of cities and the production process is not transparent too.
There are many recognizable patterns of hasty decisions made by the public for complicated environmental issues based on emotions, such as voting for abandonment of legal poaching for 5 years.
Among the majority of youth in Iran, government is not very popular. Both because of the oppressive behavior and dated religiously biased solutions services they provide for problems.
I mean, that, you know, ought to be the ideal of teaching, anyway, whether it's children or graduate students. They should be taught to challenge and to question. Images that come from the enlightenment about this say that teaching should not be like pouring water into a vessel. It should be like laying out a string along which the student travels in his or her own way, and maybe even questioning whether the string's in the right place.
- Noam Chomsky
Volunteers will commit more to volunteering for conservation activities if such activities meet their more pertinent personal and social goals of connecting with and giving back to their communities, social interacting with other volunteers and defending and enhancing their egos.
- Stanley Asah, et al.
After experimentations and designing different boardgames and looking into existing games such as Day of the Figurines by Blast Theory, the game was born. In any social activity in order for change to happen there should be physical interaction.
Although I wish for an animal is played via text messaging and from anywhere in the city, it has a centerpoint where players can meet.
Creating the content, which were the scenarios and missions that happened in the city, was a 2-month process of reading, writing, test plays, feedback and rewriting.
In the end the game held 47 different missions based on locations and time of the day. They varied from very easy to tough as game proceeded. Because it turned out that becoming familiar with the commands and rule set of the game took some time and easy scenarios helped players get used to the logic of gameplay.
Environmental issues are an unspoken matter in Iran’s society. Although there are different NGOs and people actively engaged in the field, majority of population are uneducated and naive about it. Like almost every other society, people believe that dealing with environmental issues is a job of environmentalists.
After the physical gameplay (watch the video), Amir an I had a 30-minutes conversation with players and answered their questions about the game and also wildlife conservations. Surprisingly the questions, were those I wished would be raised by playing this game and it showed that part of the goals of the game were met: starting the conversation in players’ minds and putting them in the place of decision makers.
The test-play revealed many problems of the game that need to be solved in the future before another test-play or launching the game. Players said that the scenarios could be deeper and at the same time wanted the game to be longer because they needed more time to get used to the rule sets and the mentality of the game.
The NGO that I worked with, Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation, were amazed by the response that they received from visitors and players. They proposed to support the game in its future attempts.
MAY 23 – JUNE 21, 2015
In “2015 University of Washington MFA + MDes Thesis Exhibition” I showed the game experience and results from the test-play i Tehran. Visitors’ feedback and enthusiasm to play the game was amazing.