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Usually parents turn off the video games to get their kids outside. But a game design company called Games for Change is combining the two with a challenge for kids to create original video games that focus on wildlife conservation — specifically pollinators.

Here is the prompt:

Research how pollination works, the interactions and adaptations between plants and pollinators, the role they play in our ecosystem and why they are in decline on a global level. Create a game that teaches your peers about why pollinators are a critical part of our world and what we can do to save them.

The contest is a partnership with the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy. Taiji Nelson is a naturalist educator there and says games are a way to plug into nature.

LISTEN: “Conservation Game Challenge Plugs Kids Into Nature”

“It’s another way to make nature fun,” he says. “Video game design really isn’t my background, but it’s another way for me to think about nature and think about it in a different way.”

Recently, the Frick Environmental Center in Pittsburgh hosted what was billed as a “hands-on Game Jam” where kids could drop in to get help from experts in both conservation and game design.

The students were briefed on all things pollination. There were microscopes to play around with, flowers to dissect, a dried honeycomb to poke and a bank of computers to check out the latest game design programs. Kids learned what makes a good game and also got some coding basics.

Heather Mallak works for Games for Change and says video games can make kids appreciate nature more.

“There’s always that questioning, ‘why are you bringing kids out of the green space into a computer?’” she says. “But our partnership with the [Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy] has lead to both of us having a greater understanding of how one another engages. They encourage citizens of Pittsburgh to be good stewards. Games for Change encourages content that is thoughtful and creative. These kids are producing not just consuming.”

10-year-old Amon Warner-Fricke has been working on his submission from home for a while. He thinks he has a pretty good idea in the works.

“Basically, you are starting out with a mini honeycomb,” he says. “And your goal is to get more bees, hatch more bees, create pollen, sell the pollen, upgrade your honeycomb, learn a lot of stuff. This will be awesome.”

Camilla Rivera Tinsley from the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy works with Alexander Marsich and Zachery Boeck while their mom, Julie Marsich, looks on. Photo: Ben Filio

The Games for Change Student Challenge is geared towards kids in middle and high schools, and it’s happening in four other cities. They are taking submissions until May 7th. Know a kid who might be interested? Here’s how to enter.

And stay tuned.  In June, we’ll let you know who the winners are.

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Photo (top): Ben Filio