Natural history researcher Rodrigo Salvador is out and about looking for initiatives that join science and pop culture. He did not need to venture too far in Welly to find this one, though.
When we talk about video games, we do not typically think about nature and the environment. Of course, natural environments are important in all sorts of games, from Assassin’s Creed Odyssey to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, but usually just as a backdrop setting or as an inexhaustible source of materials for equipment-crafting.
So is it possible to give more prominence to the environment rather than to the people exploring it? Well, that’s exactly the case in Valleys Between, a new mobile game from Wellington-based studio Little Lost Fox.
In Valleys Between you create and look after a beautiful environment, with its lakes, forests, and animal residents.
According to producer and game designer Niamh Fitzgerald, the team “wanted to explore ways to get people thinking about environmental issues”.
To design the game, they started from real-world ecological concepts and then broke them down to basic components that work well in a game. So while rooted in ecology, there are no compromises in gameplay and enjoyability.
But “the game wouldn’t be very fun without something challenging you,” says Fitzgerald, so they added the dark side of human influence on the environment. Your virtual world will be threatened by factories and pollutants and the designers’ intention is for players to build a strong enough connection to the environment so they will want to protect it.
Fitzgerald kindly wrote an article for the Journal of Geek Studies, detailing the game’s ideas and concepts, as well as its development and gameplay mechanics.
Typically, games remain distant from environmental issues and conservation and I’ve argued before that these two things should be brought closer, so this latent potential could be explored.
Thus it is a breath of fresh air to see that Valleys Between is not only well tuned to those issues, but actually thrives on them. One can only hope this is the first of many games that will help to increase environmental awareness among the players.