Using Games to Understand Wildlife Protection
Game Idea provided by: Nicholas Wilkinson
I'm a young conservationist and PhD student working on a project based at the Geography Department, Cambridge University. However my study site is in Vietnam where I've been living for the last 5 years, working closely with WWF. The aim of my project is to gather the information needed to protect the Saola, a rare and beautiful forest antelope which was only discovered by science in 1992 and is now critically endangered due to hunting. Despite the fact that we know so little about the species, I've come to believe that the most important contribution may not be gathering new field data but instead finding a way to see how the knowledge we already have fits together. To rely on data without a model is to always be one step behind the real world and we need to be at least one step ahead if we're going to prevent extinction.
Across the world, the managers of nature reserves are locked in a strategic battle with poachers and the powerful traders who usually control the poachers' operations. For those of us who want animals like rhinos and tigers, as well as a host of lesser-known species survive the 21st century, it's crucial that we understand this system. And if we want to learn how to beat the wildlife traders, we have to learn how to think like them: i.e. strategically.
Game idea in a nutshell:
Try and capture the fundamentals of the system as a game. 'Agent-based models' are increasingly popular tools for understanding these issues. A game can work as an agent-based model but with the advantage that the 'agents' are not sections of code but real intelligent human beings. The game structure does not necessarily need to be very complex; if we can capture the key elements of the system, it is my belief that we'll discover some useful and surprising things.