Habitat the Game: A free, fun and educational app for kids

Department of Conservation —  25/09/2014

By DOC’s Lower North Island Outreach and Education Coordinator, Angeline Barnes

Like many parents, I am concerned about the amount of time my children spend glued to screens at the expense of being outside. But with Habitat the Game—a free, fun and educational app that rewards kids for their real world behaviours and for spending time outside—launching in New Zealand, my worries have subsided.

Kid's exploring Otari-Wilton's Bush.

Enjoying Otari-Wilton’s Bush

Why a child would choose to play computer games over climbing a tree, exploring the forest, or interrogating defenceless insects, remains a mystery to me. Some would say it’s because they are not connected to nature.

My role at DOC focuses on connecting children to nature. Encouraging kids to enjoy the outdoors, build empathy for animals, have a sense of oneness, and hold a sense of responsibility for the world around them. This is what gets me out of bed in the mornings.

Technology is now part of a child’s life. My attitude is, let’s not fight it, but embrace it. The big question is: Can apps connect children to nature?

Ruby, looking through binoculars backwards.

Ruby, exploring nature… backwards!

Illustration of polar bear mum and cub from the Habitat Game.

Habitat is an interactive mobile game designed to teach 7—12-year-olds ecologically sustainable habits. It is both educational and empowering.

In the vein of Tamagotchi, the aim of the game is to keep a virtual polar bear happy and healthy.

The game is attracting interest globally as, unlike other games, this one rewards kids for performing real world actions and visiting nature locations.

Over the past few weeks, my kids and friends, both boys and girls, have been playing the game and they love it!

Angeline and four children in the bush, with phones, at Otari-Wilton's Bush.

Playing Habitat with the kids at Wellington’s Otari-Wilton’s Bush

We have seen changes in behaviour at home; the taps and lights are turned off and when asked to put the compost out, I get an “ok” rather than a “yuck”—because these real life actions they perform earn them game points. It’s helping them understand their behaviour impacts the world around them.

While it may take decades for evidence of their actions to show in the real world, when faced with a sad polar bear that is forced to swim in a black sea in search of the absent fish, they are motivated to stick with their actions.

Another adventure outdoors. This time at Khandallah Park.

A geo caching adventure at Khandallah Park

Angeline's favourite 'pin' - the hihi / stitchbird.

Hihi / stitchbird: A virtual habitat pin

Collecting virtual habitat pins is part of our weekend activities. We pack a picnic and our ‘screens’ and head out on a scavenger hunt/geo caching adventure to hunt down and collect the 14 virtual pins that are scattered across the Wellington region. We don’t have a full set yet, but we are working towards it.

I’ve enjoyed watching my kids explore rock pools, run freely in the forest and recognise birds, and have welcomed the improvement in their behaviour as a result of the regular dose of nature.

Exploring rock pools.

Exploring rock pools.

The jury is out on which pin is ‘the cutest’. My favourite is the hihi / stitchbird that I found in Zealandia; but Sasa the sunbear, who lives in Wellington Zoo, and the animals who reside at Taputeranga Marine Reserve are also contenders.

There are 160 pins scattered across 13 countries; with more pins being added regularly.

Ponga - Silver Tree Fern 'pin'. Trading pins is fun and teaching my kids that the conservation story is far wider than just New Zealand. Last week we traded a Ponga for a Kangaroo!

The game can be played across New Zealand but, for now, the virtual location pins are only available for collection in Wellington.

If this pilot programme involving DOC, Wellington Regional Council, Wellington City Council, Zealandia, Wellington Zoo and Pukaha Mount Bruce is successful, we hope to expand pins across other New Zealand locations.

Finn with smartphone in the bush at Zealandia.

Finn at Zealandia

This is the game that I don’t mind my kids playing.  Secretly I’ve become quite fond of my pet polar bear and the collection of cute animal pins that I’ve picked up while discovering the world where we live.

More information: www.doc.govt.nz/habitatthegame.

The app,’ Habitat the Game’ is free to download from the Apple Store or Google Play, and there are no in app purchases.

For information about how to play the game, there are some great player tutorials at www.habitatthegame.com.

Free family event at Zealandia in Wellington

To celebrate the launch of Habitat the Game in New Zealand, come along to Zealandia in Wellington on Saturday, 4 October 2014 between 11 am and 3 pm.

Ensure you have the app on your phone/device and kids will go free as will the first 100 adults.

This is a great opportunity to explore Zealandia, learn more about the game, collect the three virtual pins that are hidden within Zealandia and be in to win spot prizes.

One response to Habitat the Game: A free, fun and educational app for kids


    This is really great, well done!