Wildeverse game play showing the immersive AR experience within the game. The player is tasked with tracking great apes and collecting data on them while learning about on the ground conservation work to protect the species

By Matilda Dunn, Gautam Shah and Diogo Verissimo

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A key goal of conservation organisations is to encourage public engagement with and support for wildlife conservation. Organisations have previously used mass media interventions for this outreach, such as nature documentaries which are having an increasing focus on conservation issues. However, past research has found that these shows often end up “preaching to the converted” in that the audience will already have an interest in the environment.

Digital gaming is a huge and increasingly diverse market that has great potential for conservation outreach. However, the full potential of this platform has not been fully explored. One example is a new mobile game, Wildeverse, which aims to educate players about great apes and the threats they face using an immersive augmented reality technology whose ultimate goal is to generate support for great ape conservation through donations.

This study therefore aimed to evaluate the impact of Wildeverse on players’ donation behaviours against a more conventional method of raising public awareness. We designed an experiment with two conditions: a treatment, playing Wildeverse, and a control, watching the BBC nature documentary “Primates”. All participants filled in a questionnaire before and then again after they completed their task. This questionnaire was designed to gather information about what people think, feel and know about the environment.

In total, 182 participants were included in this study and randomly assigned across the two conditions. When comparing the changes in questionnaire answers between these two conditions, we found that Wildeverse performed as well as the nature documentary in increasing knowledge about great ape conservation, encouraging positive attitudes towards wildlife and increasing individuals’ perceived control over environmental issues. While these factors have all previously been found to be important pre-requisites for a behaviour change, we did not find donations to be positively influenced by playing Wildeverse.

Much of the previous work surrounding the use of mobile and digital games for conservation have thus far remained speculative and so this study offers important insight into the actual impacts of mobile gaming for conservation behaviours.