Internet of Elephants
Move over, Pokémon Go: the search is now on for real wild animals. A new augmented reality smartphone game, called Wildeverse, takes you deep into Bornean jungles in search of signs of orangutans and gibbons. And if you're lucky, you'll even meet the stars of the show on your screen.
The game — free to download in the Apple and Google Play stores — opens with you being assigned a mission from Amyra, the Wildeverse project leader. It's "Where in the World is Carmen San Diego?"-esque, which, as a 90's child, I thoroughly appreciated. Amyra sends you to a swamp forest in Borneo to try to track down wild orangutan Fio. The jungle trees, outlined as brilliant blue holograms spring up around you. Your first task is to find evidence of Fio on the ground (hint: 💩).
I haven't found the poop yet, but earlier this week I did chat with Gautam Shah, the founder of Internet of Elephants, the company behind the game. It was a strange twist of fate that Gautam, who I had previously spoken to about how games like his can advance wildlife conservation, partnered with an NGO I used to work with (Borneo Nature Foundation) to bring Fio and his gibbon counterpart Chilli to the smartphone screen. Buka and Aida, the game's other stars, live in the Congo, where Internet of Elephants partnered with the Goualougo Triangle Ape Project.
The game has already been downloaded 10,000 times, with minimal marketing outside of the UK. Gautam told me that the game had gotten good responses and that people like having a tropical jungle appear when they open their phones, "especially the first time they see Fio walk by." The game also has built-in questions to help track how people feel about wildlife, and how those feelings change as they play the game. As a conservation biologist I can tell you that data like that is highly valuable for figuring out what makes people want to protect nature and change their behaviors accordingly, which is one of Gautam's main goals for the game.
If you are looking for something new to entertain you during social distancing, why not celebrate Earth Day in the Wildeverse? I think I'll join you!