Pokémon-like card game can help teach ecology

Playing a Pokemon-like card game about ecology and biodiversity can result in broader knowledge of species and a better understanding of ecosystems than traditional teaching methods, like slideshows, according to a study.

The research, published in the journal Palgrave Communications, works similarly to Pokemon trading cards, but uses real organisms and natural events instead of imaginary characters.

Researchers from the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Canada examined how people who played the Phylo 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 Meggie Callahan, a PhD candidate at the University of British Columbia.

"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," said Callahan.

Participants in both the Phylo Game group and slideshow group improved their understanding of ecosystems and species knowledge.

However, 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 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.

"Our study shows that this can be a really beneficial way of learning about species, and their ecosystems and environments," she said.

Researchers used a deck created for the Beaty Biodiversity Museum that focused on British Columbia's ecosystems, but there are many other versions of the Phylo cards circulating the world.

A global community of artists, institutions, scientists and game enthusiasts have created numerous iterations of the game – including decks featuring west coast marine life, dinosaurs, and


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