Bengaluru birds flock together in this board game

Birds in the City is a board game that attempts to capture the relationship between urbanisation and its effects on bird biodiversity in Bengaluru. It seeks to act as a playful resource that will help develop a deeper understanding of the bird life in the city

Updated - December 29, 2023 11:33 am IST

Published - December 29, 2023 09:00 am IST - Bengaluru

Birds in the City board game.

Birds in the City board game. | Photo Credit: HANDOUT E MAIL

“Games are an excellent medium to engage with people and draw their attention to issues that they are surrounded by,” says Bengaluru-based ecologist Priti Bangal, the co-creator of Birds in the City, a board game that attempts to capture the relationship between urbanisation and its effects on bird biodiversity in Bengaluru. 

 Prasad and Priti.

Prasad and Priti. | Photo Credit: HANDOUT E MAIL

Priti, who has worked with applied game designer Prasad Sandbhor to create this, adds that games also invoke emotions and create scenarios that replicate real life. “They give people an opportunity to reflect,” she says. “All of these reasons make games an excellent medium for people to engage with conservation and nature-related issues,” believes Priti, who currently works as a programme coordinator with the Education and Public Engagement programme at the Nature Conservation Foundation. “And yes, they are fun.”

The idea of developing a game to further a conservation narrative stretches back to 2017 when Priti, as part of her PhD at the Indian Institute of Science’s Centre for Ecological Sciences, was studying mixed-species bird flocking, “an ecological phenomenon which occurs in tropical forests across the world,” she says. Prasad and she had known each other for a while by this time and, given their skill sets, had always wanted to do a project together. So, they decided to develop a game called Flocks, which drew from this ecological phenomenon. “We thought it really lent itself to a playful interaction,” she says.

In urban setting

They worked on Flocks between 2017 and 2019, but when people played it, their feedback set them thinking, says Priti. “People said that these are birds that they are unfamiliar with, that are somewhere far away in the forests,” she says. “They asked about the birds around us, those we see daily,” says Priti. So, they decided to work on something that brings in birds and other biodiversity in an urban setting. “Something that people see every day and relate to,” she says.

In 2021, they got funding under the Bengaluru Sustainability Forum’s Small Grants Programme and began working on a board game focusing specifically on Bengaluru and its bird biodiversity under an initiative titled Play in Nature. “Birds in The City game and some of our other work are a part of this initiative,” says Priti, adding that through this, they intended to create games and other content that connect players to nature around them and help them access and understand various ecological phenomena.

Also read: Nature lover’s journey of documenting delightful birds

“We wanted to work in an urban setting and thought that Bangalore was a great city to start with,” she says. “We are hoping that because of the simplicity of the elements we have brought into the game and the connection to the city itself, we could draw people who aren’t already birders or researchers.”

Birds in the City  board game.

Birds in the City board game. | Photo Credit: HANDOUT E MAIL

Deeper understanding

According to the Play in Nature website, the board game seeks to act as a playful resource that will help develop a deeper understanding of the bird life in the city and create awareness about the changing cityscape that affects the life history of birds. The game is played on a map of Bengaluru on which specific events that have happened in the city in the last 20 years are captured. “Due to these events, the map changes…the habitats the city offers changes,” points out Prasad. “This, in turn, affects the bird diversity in the city,” he says. 

During the game, players get opportunities to bring more birds into the city as well as maintain the birds that are already there.  “The players take on the role of true Bangaloreans who bring positive changes to the city, “explains Prasad, who is currently based out of York, England, where he is pursuing a PhD in Intelligent Games and Games Intelligence (IGGI) at the University of York. 

Prasad and Priti call the game, which has gone through many versions and prototypes since they began working on it, a collaborative effort. “We worked with researcher and writer Anushka Dasgupta to gather information about changes that have happened in Bangalore that will affect biodiversity in general,” says Prasad. “That was one strand of research. It was a starting point for us to understand how Bangalore has changed and what specific events have impacted birds,” he says. “What we are essentially doing is trying to understand the underlying connection between urbanisation and bird life.”

Collective effort

They also spoke to ecologists and ornithologists in the city, including veteran birder Dr. S. Subramanya aka Subbu, one of the best-known in Bengaluru’s birding circles, “to understand which birds would represent Bengaluru best and generate some curiosity, ”he says, adding that they attempted to bring diversity in the final selection, choosing birds such as parakeets, koels, mynas and kites based on size, food habits and behaviours.

The game, which will be available in both English and Kannada, will be accompanied by a book offering information about the ten birds featured in the game, among other things. “A seasoned birder is not going to learn more about birds through this game,” says Priti. However, anyone uninitiated and curious to know more about the natural world around them could benefit. “After you play this game and go into your backyard, you should be able to identify one or two of these species,” she says.

If you want to play the game, collaborate or just know more, email the team at contact.playinnature@gmail.com.

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