How Pokémon GO Turned Me Into a Bird

Niantic celebrated 25 years of Pokémon last week, taking the opportunity to roll out a massive event in its hit mobile game Pokémon GO . I have been playing this game for a couple of years now, ever since my son became interested in Pokemon through his friends in kindergarten. In the beginning, we walked around the city in search of new creatures that we had not yet found, slowly progressing on our journey with the Pokémon.

Suddenly, over the last year, as I started playing more gaming, I started doing a new thing that I took up in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic: random bird watching.

The recent anniversary event gave me the opportunity to reflect on the connection between two pastimes, both of which involve the “gami cation” of the natural world. Of course, if I spend a couple of hours every week catching digital creatures, it helped me tune in to birdwatching, and it might do the same for you. Basically, the game rewards collecting rewards, and since the special structure of Pokemon GO requires you to get out of the house and explore your area – both to visit Pokéstops to stock up on items and to find tiny digital creatures – it’s a small jump to do the same. most in search of animals of flesh and blood. Basically, birdwatching and Pokémon GO are very similar: you try to keep track of every entry in the creature list. And my last months playing this game (along with the fantastic bird board game, Wingspan ) have motivated me to not only look for new birds in my region, but also protect their interests.

How to collect Pokémon is a bit like birdwatching

I wasn’t really into Pokémon until Niantic released Pokémon GO in July 2016. Like everyone else that summer, I downloaded the app and tried it out, but it was a video essay from a guy named Christian Williams that really helped me understand the long-term appeal of the franchise.

As Williams points out, Pokémon was a huge success because it was community-driven from the outset: you play a game to collect small, elusive, often cute creatures; each collection is unique and only yours, and to complete it you need to go out into the world to find more Pokémon and trade with other people. Different versions of the games have unique, exclusive creatures that you can’t get alone.

The more you play – on a handheld game console, a collectible card game, or on your phone – the more your collection grows. For someone with a vivid imagination, this isn’t much different from a collection of anything else: beetles, stamps, figurines – or a life list of birds they’ve encountered in the wild .

I came across the concept of a “life list” while reading about birds. These are the lists that birdwatchers use to count the birds they encounter in the wild, by species after species. Birds can travel to new regions of the world, expanding their rosters as they enter new habitats with new species, by recording them on physical rosters – or, nowadays, in apps like the one released by the Audubon Society or eBird. Cornell Laboratory .

Similar to voracious Pokémon GO players, bird watchers come together to take bird tours or excursions, share search tips in their local communities, and generally help one another.

Pokémon GO isn’t the only game that encourages gathering and curation. When the pandemic hit last year and faced the prospect of extended stays at home, we did the same as many other families: We turned to board games for fun. Wanting something a little educational, I ended up choosing a game that I had been eyeing for a while called Wingspan .

The game, developed by Elizabeth Hargrave, came about because she needed an alternative to the popular war games. An avid bird lover, she wanted something that was in her best interests and that was scientifically accurate.

In this game, players create habitats for various birds, spend eggs and food to place them on their board for four rounds. By the end of the game, you have created a vibrant bird habitat. The game is beautiful, with a fantastic design that contains facts about each bird on the cards. The game helps focus on the delicate balance of nature needed to maintain the avian ecosystem in forests, fields and bodies of water.

Together, Pokémon GO and Wingspan took a keen interest in the birds from the real world that inhabited the space around me, and directed my attention to not only observing them, but finding them and finding ways to help them thrive.

How Pokémon GO Can Help You Birds

It takes you outside

While we had a house, we had some kind of bird feeder. The place came with two set up in the backyard: wobbly roofed platforms on poles, as well as a pair of regular hanging feeders that we hung on the porch, all of which we left filled only occasionally.

We had the usual assortment of birds: cardinals, tits, robins, blue jays, and from time to time, ravens were killed, which settled for the night in the woods behind our house. We even had an owl that kept the local rodent population at bay for a while, until I found it torn apart in the woods for a walk. But in general, the birds were just random visitors, whom we noticed only when we looked out the window, but the daily Pokemon hunt helped me focus on the fact that real animals flutter among the virtual ones. As with any hobby, the most important part of bird watching is doing it, and the first and most important part of that is going outside.

This requires you to pay attention to the world around you.

The games helped me focus on the idea that birds are more than just something more to look at from time to time, but a fragile part of the natural ecosystem around us. As we took long walks through the woods and trails around central Vermont, both for training and for hunting Pokemon, I found myself listening to birds singing as we trudged, catching fleeting glimpses between trees, or hearing new songs. that were unfamiliar to our ears.

This summer I was inspired to start keeping feeders stocked, and as a reward, we were rewarded with a crowd of birds (and five increasingly responsive squirrels) that were constantly fed up with our four feeders. We watched them with more intense interest, paying attention to the different types that appeared at different times of the day. Tits were small pigs – they stayed the same throughout the year – but we also spotted shiny red and brown cardinals in the middle of the morning and crested tits and nuthatches during the day. We spotted new visitors in the middle of winter: bright golden finches and the occasional influx of evening coffins .

As we travel around central Vermont and elsewhere, we notice what we encounter: flocks of turkeys wading through cornfields, timid loons swimming across lakes, killing hundreds of crows, pigeons exploring their urban environs. Games opened our eyes to the systems in operation: one encourages us to record and collect results in application lists, and the other gives us an idea of ​​where animals live and how fragile their existence is.

This gives you more information about how animals interact with their environment.

With observation comes action. This summer was radical for me personally, especially as our family hiked further and further away from the familiar bike and hiking trails that were closer to us. We searched for Wildlife Refuge sites and places like the Vermont Bird Museum and the Vermont Institute of Natural Sciences, aiming to research their respective collections of carved birds and rehabilitated birds of prey. We took part in the last bird count and became members of the Audubon Society. I have taken part in advertising campaigns to encourage our officials to preserve the laws and land that protect this natural resource. It has become an unexpected fad and obsession that will undoubtedly continue.

Pokémon GO helped – and is helping – get me out of the house, and Wingspan taught me to pay more attention to the birds outside my window. The engines behind this entertainment – collecting and storing collections – help me look at trees, ponds, fields, sidewalks and all the other places that birds gather, looking for new ones to add to my growing list.

This means that I am not only looking at birds. I look and think about the health of the planet in a new way. It inspires me to help preserve what we have for other beings who live with us on the planet. He also sent me back and forth from the local hardware store for another 40-pound bag of seeds that would be gone in a week. And all the while, I watch the digital creatures popping up on my phone while I’m on it.

A version of this story originally was published for the subscribers of the newsletter Andrew Liptak Transfer Orbit. You can learn more about this and subscribehere .

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