Video game launches to help explain movement in oceans

  • Date

    Tue 28 Jun 22

Marine biologists have helped create a fun video game inspired by retro classic Pac-Man to help people understand the importance of movement in the ocean and the impact of human activity on the marine environment.

Maze of Misfortune, developed by games specialist Bare Knuckle Development and the University of Essex scientists, will be launched at the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition 2022 with the game forming part of the Ocean Travellers exhibit.

Players can be Sammy the Salmon, Tilly the Turtle and Nora the Narwhal to help these ocean travellers navigate the ‘Maze of Misfortune’ and reach their breeding grounds. Players must answer questions to open blocked paths and learn about the dangers these amazing creatures face every day while escaping enemies that represent real world hazards; from invasive species, to discarded plastic, to ship collisions.

Players might also have to survive random events such as storms and heat waves, while eating as much food as you can to get a high score and a place on the leader board. The research team hope players will learn about the creatures as they play, their lifecycles and habitat needs, the dangers they face and the damage that humans are causing to the world around them.

The Ocean Travellers exhibit contains three ‘worlds’ - micro, meso and macro - and this game will be showcased in the macro section, which emphasises the importance of long-distance movements and the vulnerability of these migratory species to global change.

The narwhal was chosen for the final level as it is the totem animal of the European scientific network that co-sponsored the game - SEA-UNICORN, which is unifying approaches to marine connectivity for improved resource management for the seas. This network brings together scientists and stakeholders to advance knowledge on marine functional connectivity (the exchange of individuals among habitats) and to contribute to the conservation and sustainable management of the seas.

Dr Anna Sturrock, from the University of Essex's School of Life Sciences, who is also co-leader of SEA-UNICORN’s Working Group 1, said: "Our primary goal was to raise awareness of the many perils that migratory animals face – particularly among younger players who will play a critical role in protecting marine and freshwater ecosystems in the future.”

With the exception of Nora the Narwhal, the heroes of the game are not specified to species level, as the team wanted to emphasise the variety of stressors that different salmon and turtle species encounter. Similarly, many of the questions in the third level focus on general whale ecology given how important they are at a global level. The team also wanted to cover a range of habitats and latitudes, covering temperate systems and river spawning grounds for salmon, tropical systems and beach nesting habitats for sea turtles, and polar systems and pelagic breeding grounds for the narwhal.

The Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition attracts around 13,000 visitors each year so is an excellent opportunity for public outreach. The multidisciplinary Ocean Travellers team have developed various interactive displays highlighting the importance of movement and the impacts that human activities are having on individuals and ecosystems.