Pokémon-like card game can help teach ecology

Playing a Pokémon-like card game about ecology and biodiversity can result in a better understanding of ecosystems than traditional teaching methods, according to new research from the University of British Columbia.

The Phylo Trading Card Game, an open-source projected launched in 2010 by UBC biologist David Ng and colleagues, works similarly to Pokémon trading cards, but uses real organisms and natural events instead of imaginary characters. It is immensely popular around the world, according to a UBC press release.

To test its efficacy as a teaching and learning tool, the researchers examined how people who played the game retained information about species and ecosystems, and how it impacted their conservation behaviour. They compared the results to people who watched an educational slideshow, and those who played a different game that did not focus on ecosystems.

“Participants who played the Phylo game weren’t just remembering iconic species like the blue whale and sea otter, but things like phytoplankton, zooplankton and mycorrhizal fungi,” said lead author of the study Meggie Callahan. “They would say things like, ‘I really needed this card because it was the base of my ecosystem,’ or, ‘When my partner destroyed my phytoplankton it killed all of my chain of species.’ Obviously, the game is sending a strong message that is sticking with them.”

Participants in both the Phylo Game group and slideshow group improved their understanding of ecosystems and species knowledge, but those who played the Phylo Game were able to recall a greater number of species. They were also more motivated to donate the money they received participating in the game (up to $2) to preventing negative environmental events, such as climate change and oil spills.

“The message for teachers is that we need to use all possible ways to engage the public and get them interested in and caring about the issues of species extinctions and ecosystem destructions,” said Callahan. “Something as simple as a card game can be adapted to any environment, from classrooms to field-based workshops, in any location.”

Image credit: Megan Callahan

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