Playing games to address conservation conflicts

May 17, 2018 by Laura Graham, University of Aberdeen
Playing games to address conservation conflicts
Credit: University of Aberdeen

A new study, led by Professor Steve Redpath at the University of Aberdeen, explores the role that playing games can have in helping us understand and deal with conflicts that impact on biodiversity and on people's lives.

Conflicts are common in conservation. For example, farmers may seek to maximise their profit from crops by minimising damage caused by increasing numbers of geese. Yet attempts to reduce geese numbers would bring them into with conservationists, who seek to protect geese populations.

The study, Games as tools to address conservation conflicts was published today (Wednesday, May 16) in Trends in Ecology & Evolution and focuses on three different types of games and how they can help address these sorts of conflicts.

Researchers from Universities of Aberdeen, Stirling, Edinburgh and Oxford in the UK, the University of Agricultural Sciences in Sweden and CIRAD in Montpellier in France, were involved in the project. Together they explored the challenges in understanding and managing conflict and on the utility of games to untangle the complexity.

They found that theoretical games that model player strategies can help identify novel solutions to real-world conflict; experimental games that explore player behaviour can help test the consequences of practical interventions in conflict; and role-playing games where the players help build the and interact can aid those involved in the conflict to explore the different viewpoints of those involved.

Professor Redpath said: "Across the world, there are many species, such as wolves, lions and brown bears, whose presence in a landscape often leads to controversy and conflict. Managing these sorts of conflicts is notoriously complex and challenging. Yet games offer an opportunity to help us unlock these problems. We all like playing games, and we can use them to provide real insight into how we understand and manage conflicts.

"Games are fun to play, but they also provide a complementary approach to the more traditional methods of interviews and questionnaires and surveys that seek to gain insight into people's behaviour in conflict. Yet, these approaches are underused in conservation conflicts and they can really help us develop solutions.

"The authors of this paper are all currently involved in projects using games to help understand conflicts over lions in Tanzania, over geese in Scotland and over elephants in Gabon. Testing the ideas and understanding which approaches are most effective will hopefully help us be more successful at reducing conflict and providing effective management solutions."

Dr. Aidan Keane from the University of Edinburgh added: "Ideally, actions aimed at reducing conflict should be chosen based on evidence of their effectiveness, but this can be difficult to obtain in real-world settings. Carefully designed games can help to predict which strategies are more likely to be successful."

Professor Nils Bunnefeld from the University of Stirling added: "Conflicts often involve emotions running high, leading to heated discussions which prevent the exchange of ideas. Games can provide an experimental safe space where hypothetical game scenarios can be explored and discussed".

Explore further: Research could improve management of conflict between wildlife and farmers across the globe

Related Stories

The evolution of conflict resolution

May 11, 2018

Recently published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface, Assistant Professor Christoph Riedl's latest research examines a model that might explain how humans resolve conflict, and what these actions say about biological ...

Recommended for you

Paleontologists report world's biggest Tyrannosaurus rex

March 22, 2019

University of Alberta paleontologists have just reported the world's biggest Tyrannosaurus rex and the largest dinosaur skeleton ever found in Canada. The 13-metre-long T. rex, nicknamed "Scotty," lived in prehistoric Saskatchewan ...

NASA instruments image fireball over Bering Sea

March 22, 2019

On Dec. 18, 2018, a large "fireball—the term used for exceptionally bright meteors that are visible over a wide area—exploded about 16 miles (26 kilometers) above the Bering Sea. The explosion unleashed an estimated 173 ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.