Image for How the virtual world is inspiring gamers to become botanists

How the virtual world is inspiring gamers to become botanists

Gamers encounter landscapes full of flora in the virtual world but spend much time indoors. A new seed project aims to change that

Gamers encounter landscapes full of flora in the virtual world but spend much time indoors. A new seed project aims to change that

“Get out and touch the grass.” It’s a hackneyed trope often directed at gamers to suggest that they get out more. Fair or not, it feeds into the notion that the gaming community spends too much time tapping keyboards in darkened rooms and not enough time in the ‘real world’. But what if computer games could facilitate a tangible, meaningful connection with nature?

Well, now they can thanks to a new botany project that empowers gamers to cultivate plants featured in their favourite video game. The idea was that of Hannah Young and Aleks Atanasovski, two gamers who wanted to fuse their love of nature with their passion for gaming.

“The skills that you have in the gaming world – like when you have to nurture virtual gardens – can be transferred into the real world,” says Young. “Alex and I wanted to bridge that gap.”

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The result is Seed Saga, a botanical pilot that allows players of Guild Wars – a popular roleplaying game renowned for its spectacular flora – to apply for seed packs so they can grow plants that feature in the game.

The pair pitched the idea to the developer behind Guild Wars, Arena Net, which was “really up for it”. So much so, that the firm provided renders from the game for the seed packets and gave the project a push on its social channels.

Due to the limited availability of seeds (there are currently just 30 packs, though Young and Atanasovski plan to scale), gamers must submit an application explaining why they want them. The responses, says Young, have been heartening.

Seed packets sent out for gamers to plant: Image: Aleks Atanasovski

Said one applicant: “[Guild Wars] saved my life during a period of deep depression. It would be an honour to grow [crimson sunflowers] in my yard to pay homage to the game and support the surrounding insects that could benefit from these flowers.”

Another said: “We have access to a garden that has recently been cleared… and is now empty of weeds but also flowers. It would be lovely to replant some, and the video game aesthetic is quite the motivation.”

The first seed packs went out in April. The idea now is to partner with other players in the industry and scale the concept to cultivate a new generation of botanists. Doing so could boost mental health: research shows that interacting with plants counteracts stress brought on by computers.

One fan favourite, the crimson sunflower. Image: Seed Saga

Young and Atanasovski work for Wieden+ Kennedy, a London-based advertising agency. Its clients include Nike, Ford and, more recently, mother nature, after it teamed up with Agency for Nature – an experimental organisation that aims to harness the advertising industry’s talent to “build hype” for the natural world.

Agency for Nature has worked with creatives from top UK agencies to produced billboards, films, books and user experiences selling something that can’t be bought – an appreciation for nature.

The skills that you have in the gaming world can be transferred into the real world

Seed Saga is one of the projects that it helped to fund. Young and Atanasovski hope that as well as increasing appreciation for the natural world, the project will tackle stereotypes.

“You don’t have to be a hippie or tree hugger to care about nature,” says Young. “You can be a gamer and still really care.”

Main image: Aleks Atanasovski

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