Kate on Conservation

Turn your home into a jungle with Wildeverse

Screen-shot-for-new-Wildeverse-game

Looking for fun ways to experience wildlife during lockdown? Now you can enter holographic AR jungles from your own home, garden or neighbourhood and find four real apes across two continents, with more species and habitats to come.

More than ever, people at home need alternative ways to connect with nature. This month saw the launch of a fun, new mobile game delivered through an incredible life-size AR experience with educational value, that gets you and your family exploring the outdoors without leaving the house.

Launched on 3rd April 2020, “Wildeverse” is a free game that that turns your home into a jungle. It uses Augmented Reality to enlist players to protect the last jungles of the world, and the apes who call it their home.

Made by Kenya-based game company Internet of Elephants, Wildeverse was created in close collaboration with the Borneo Nature Foundation and the Goualougo Triangle Ape Project; two organisations at the forefront of science and protection of rainforests in Africa and Asia.

Escape into the wild!

Wildeverse is a narrative-driven game based on real animals living in the wild today, and the people working to protect them; bringing real apes Fio, Buka, Chilli and Aida living in the wilds of Congo and Borneo into your home.

In the game the characters are real, the storylines are authentic, and what’s at stake throughout is the future of our natural world. 

The Internet of Elephants (IoE) team traveled to the jungles of Congo and Borneo to witness the work of the Borneo Nature Foundation and the Goualougo Triangle Ape Project to scout wildlife stars for the game and used this experience to craft virtual versions of the apes and habitats, creating a compelling narrative based on the activities of the organisations. 

They tracked several families of apes, spoke to scientists and rangers, and dove into the conservation data. Four apes (Fio the orangutan, Aida the chimpanzee, Buka the gorilla, and Chilli the gibbon) were selected for their compelling life stories and quirky personalities. 

Become a wildlife scientist

Players join a team of wildlife scientists and help them collect the data needed to protect the last wild spaces on earth, and the apes who call it their home.

Initially developed as an outdoor game, the game developers have worked around the clock during the last few weeks to adapt it for indoor play.

This adaptation offers the stunning experience of wandering through a life-size jungle and encountering wild apes, all from your living room. Explore life-size virtual jungles from your own home and get your hands dirty collecting food traces, footprints, and poop. 

Take photographs of your friends and family in the virtual jungle and Go from newbie to expert, guided by a group of wildlife scientists.

Encounter Fio, Buka, Chilli, and Aida: real apes living in the wild, brought to life through Augmented Reality. Uncover illegal human activity and threats to their habitat. 

The story behind the game

Internet of Elephants’s founder Gautam Shah explains “Ape populations are being decimated across the world. Wildlife protection will only become a global priority if enough people take an interest. Conservationists on the ground are fighting an uphill battle with the support of only a handful of people.”

IoE are on a mission to turn the 2 billion people playing games today, into wildlife lovers and supporters of conservation efforts.

“We want to make wildlife a positive, exciting topic of daily conversation for millions of people currently unconnected to conservation,” Gautam adds. “We want to make Fio, Buka, Chilli and Aida celebrities, just like Kim Kardashian, Messi, and Donald Trump. People’s attention matters so much more than they think.”

Meet the founder of Internet of Elephants

Gautam Shah is a National Geographic fellow. You can watch his speech at the Nat Geo Explorer’s Festival here:

I had the chance to chat to Gautam about the making of the game, and its recent release…

Kate: Hi Gautam, it’s great to talk to you. Why was Internet of Elephants started?

Gautam: I had worked as an IT consultant for 20 years. My passion was wildlife and I would spend all my salary and personal time off traveling the world to be with different animals.

Eventually that felt a bit hollow, and so I quit my job in 2014 to get into wildlife conservation. I had no intention of starting my own company, but I did want to use my background in tech.

My big realization was that we simply were not reaching enough people nor were we reaching different people with conservation stories. And I felt that tech could play a big role in changing that. I spent about a year and half playing with different ideas before zero’ing in on the power of the “Internet of Things” and how people could be connected to each other and things all over the world.

The same concept of always being connected to an elephant in Kenya or a tiger in Bhutan felt like something that if it were true, would really change the way people felt and acted on wildlife conservation. And so I initially created a pitch about the “Internet of Elephants”, decided to start a company to make it happen, and the name raised so many eyebrows, that we decided to keep it.

Kate: Why was it important for Wildeverse to have a conservation message? 

Gautam: The company only creates games about wildlife and for the benefit of wildlife conservation. For Wildeverse in particular, we didn’t know what the message would be until we went out into the field and spent time with the researchers and scientists in Borneo and Congo.

While the animals are of course the center of all attention, we felt it was the story of the researchers and their lives in the forest that was so compelling, and also potentially misunderstood — or not known at all by the public.

We wanted in some ways to demystify the life of a conservationist: who are these people, what is it like to be out there, why do they do it, and what do they find important? And so we built the game with that storyline in mind.

Wildeverse tells the story of Fio the orangutan, Aida the chimpanzee, Buka the gorilla, and Chilli the gibbon. Are you particularly interested in great ape conservation?

I’d say we are ‘wildlife agnostic’. If there is a good story to tell about an individual animal or a species or a habitat that houses many species, we are willing to look into it.

That said, apes are fascinating animals, that are so endangered and yet have so much appeal to humans.

I’ve been lucky enough to see all the animals of Wildeverse in person before making the game, and just knew that they would make a great subject for the game.

While Wildeverse starts with apes, the intention is to expand it to other habitats and animals. I’d love to see Wildeverse The Arctic or Wildeverse Serengeti or Wildeverse Himalayas. There is nothing about the game that must be for apes. That is just where we started.

How are you hoping players will engage with these animals following gameplay?

I’m hoping that they get a rush of excitement when they see them or see them do something different. I know it can’t (and shouldn’t) be the same as seeing them in the wild, but I think just that small moment of wonder can do a lot for first piquing people’s interest, and then nudging them to learn/do more.

We want future versions of the game to have the users really paying attention to their behaviours.

Additionally, as all the animals are based on real animals in the wild, the idea is that the public becomes engaged with their stories. We’re planning on building in story updates so that as things are happening with Fio, and Buka and the rest in real life, players of the game are updated on their lives.

Wildeverse-promo-image-of-Orangutan-on-phone

So, how has the game been received so far?

I think pretty well. We’re really trying to monitor the reactions of especially those that are not involved with conservation, since the whole goal is to get a new audience involved.

It’s only been a week, but qualitatively we’ve had very good feedback. We need more time to study how people are playing the game and what they are expressing.

One of the great things about games is that you can (in a non-spooky way) know everything that your players are doing. So you can embed actions within the game that tell you something about what a player thinks or feels and how that might change over the course of the game.

We don’t have enough metrics yet to draw any conclusions, but with the help of two talented conservation researchers out of Oxford (Diogo Verissimo and Matilda Dunn) we’ll be doing a study to understand what type of impact or potential for impact a game like this can have.

To learn more, head to: https://www.internetofelephants.com/wildeverse

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