Tag Archives: nature

How video games imagine the natural world

When I am not working to protect nature, being outside or reading books, I like to play video games. They offer a necessary escape from the constant knowledge and understanding of just how badly we have damaged – and continue to damage – the Earth’s environment. Throw in a daily dose of constant news cycles covering war, refugees, famine and geopolitical tensions, a half hour escape into a virtual world is refreshing if not mandatory. Now that I have a bit of time on my hands, I have decided to dive back into the virtual world of The Last of Us. Developed by Naughty Dog, the game follows two individuals who are navigating their way through a dystopian America that has been devastated by an infectious fungus. The pockets of humanity that survive do so behind dysfunctional quarantine zones, wrecked vehicles, crumbling buildings and armed militias.

Playing through this unique story made me realise how powerful videogames can be as a tool for helping people imagine a world where nature thrives. One of the most striking scenes in The Last of Us is when Ellie and Joel find a herd of giraffes in the middle of a crumbling city. They let their guard down and interact with one of the giraffes. And through this, so does the player.

Ellie interacts with a giraffe (Naughty Dog, 2013)

After the encounter, Ellie and Joel take a moment to look at the city. In amongst the crumbling, grey and depressing buildings and bridges are pockets of green trees, shrubs, grasses and vines. In reflecting over the entire game, I realised that the most tense, dangerous places were built environments where the violent infected were present. By contrast, the scenes that took place outdoors were serene, peaceful and safe.

Ellie and Joel take in the views after the encounter with the giraffe (Naughty Dog, 2013)

The Last of Us made me wonder what a city would look like if planners and government officials paid attention to the role of nature. A city that was built in such a way that wetlands, rivers, meadows and native forests were left untouched. One that took account of the movement of animals so that we could look out our office windows and see them. Sadly, nature is still treated as an afterthought when we build cities and suburbs. Even in the greenest cities around the world, the nature that exists is often tamed and manicured to conform to our needs.

The Last of Us is not the only game where the natural world has been so wonderfully imagined. I remember having similar experiences when playing through games like Horizon Zero Dawn (Guerrilla Games) and Uncharted: Lost Legacy (Naughty Dog). While each of the games told a different story, the underlying themes were the same. Both featured ancient civilisations that had fallen while nature slowly reclaimed the built environments.  

Nature reclaiming remnants of the human civilisation (Guerrilla Games, 2017)

As a conservationist, these games reinforce the message that nature will thrive without people. It is us who cannot thrive without nature. Playing these types of games is one of the reason why I like being outdoors so much. They help me imagine the possibilities of a world where nature is allowed to thrive. I think that these video games are a powerful tool for fueling the imagination and we should learn from them when it comes to telling stories about conservation.

A different game, a different re-imagining of nature in the absence of human interference (Naughty Dog, 2017)

My green goals for 2018

It is the start of a new year and like most of us it is a time for reflection and for setting some goals for 2018. Below are some of my ‘green’ goals that I hope will have a small but positive impact on the world.

  1. Spend more time in nature

This is my a top priority for me for 2018. I want to spend more time outdoors with loved ones going on hikes, kayaking, camping and snorkelling. Australia has so many natural wonders that I want to explore. And I miss field work and being stuck in an office, even though I work for an ENGO seems like a great irony to me. My top three for this year are completing the Royal National Park hike, climbing to the top of Mount Kosciuszko and visiting the Great Barrier Reef.

2. Eat less meat

This is something I have spent the last twelve months thinking about and I am going to try it out. The consumption of meat has an enormous environmental footprint and eating less meat is considered a simple, yet impactful approach. Coming from a religious family which does not eat beef or pork, I feel as if my meat related footprint is low but I think I can do better. I do concede that this will be the hardest goal for me to stick to as I do not know how it will affect my post training recovery.

3. Pick up litter

We all know that we produce too much waste in our daily lives. We consume and we discard without a moment’s thought. It is so bad that I believe that there are no longer any pristine, natural places left in the world. So instead of feeling sad and angry, I have decided that everyday I will do my absolute best to pick up one item of rubbish (plastic preferably) off the street and throw it in the appropriate bin. And on days where I have more time, I will pick up more.

4. Harvest more

Like most people my age, I dream of having enough space to grow my own fruits and vegetables and live a truly, organic farm life. And like most people my age, I know that this life is hard to afford given how expensive the Sydney housing market has become. My work around is to harvest as much produce as I can from my small balcony. We already grow chillies, mint, taro and spinach. We have also grown tumeric, garlic and potatoes in previous years and my plan is to continue doing this for the rest of the year (strawberries and tomatoes remain elusive). Nothing beats fresh produce, particularly ones that you have grown yourself.

5. Join a local bushcare group

This ties in with my goal to spend more time outdoors. I spend a lot of time at work looking at local green groups who have put in the hard work to rehabilitate and revitalise a local creek, riverbed or park. I find this hands-on approach that has a positive impact on the local environment and community really appealing and want to be a part of it. Plus, I think it will help me brush up on my local flora and fauna identification skills.

More green time, less screen time

Planet Ark’s National Tree Day event is considered to be one of the largest, nature-care event in Australia. For over 20 years, the organisation has helped Australians plant more than 20 million trees. The biggest supporters of National Tree Day have been thousands of schools and their students, taking the opportunity to beautify their school grounds and spend a bit of their time outdoors. With an emphasis on local natives, National Tree Day has made a significant contribution to providing habitat for native birds, insects and mammals as well as help absorb and lock away carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

But it is not just the environment that has benefitted from this 20 year, nation-wide program. Some of the greatest benefits of National Tree Day have been to the people who have participated in the event. More specifically, the simple act of planting trees has helped redefine our relationship with each other as well as with nature. This is incredibly important, given how hyper-connected and technology dominated our lives have become. Over the past five years, Planet Ark has been researching the impacts technology and reduced nature time is having on society.

Some of the key findings include;

  • 1 in 10 children play outside once a week or less
  • 1 in 4 children have never climbed a tree
  • For every hour we spend outdoors, we spend seven indoors watching tv or surfing the internet
  • 51% of Australians feel stressed, depressed and isolated after visiting social media sites

How much time do we need to spend in nature to get the benefits? In the latest research, Planet Ark is prescribing a minimum daily dose of 10 minutes outside. Even 10 minutes a day has been found to be enough to make us ‘happier, healthier, calmer and smarter’, leading to a more fulfilling life. The most profound benefits of nature-contact have been observed among students and children.

Some of the key findings of the latest research include;

  • People living in green areas are 40% less likely to be overweight or obese
  • 77% of teachers have reported that students perform better in standardised tests when outdoor learning is part of the school curriculum
  • People who work in offices with indoor plants are 17% more productive and come up with more ideas

Many other organisations are now recognising the benefits of nature time to those identified and championed by Planet Ark for 20 years. In Canada, the David Suzuki Foundation is promoting the 30 x 30 Challenge, providing thirty creative ideas for doing something nature related everyday for a month. The National Geographic recently published an article examining the positive impacts nature has on our brains. In the UK, The Wild Network is promoting nature play and learning for children. And this movement to encourage people to have more ‘green time’ and less ‘screen time’ is increasingly supported by medical and academic studies.

One of the greatest things about this ‘nature prescription’ is that it very easy and fun (and cheap). So next time you are feeling a little tired, or feel like you cannot concentrate or stuck on an idea, maybe it is time to head outside. Better yet, take the family and friends and enjoy some quality green time. You never know what you might end up finding in the trees.

Hanami: A celebration of Nature


Hanami, or flower viewing, is an annual Japanese tradition dating back many centuries. It signifies the arrival of spring, when the landscape becomes ornamented by delicate bursts of pink, white and red cherry blossom flowers. The event is eagerly anticipated by locals (and tourists), who decorate their surroundings in splashes of pink and red. The excitement is such that even the daily weather reports on television feature segments about when and where the first cherry blossom blooms will occur.

This year, I was lucky enough to be in Japan during the peak of the cherry blossom season. During my first weekend in Japan, I made my way to Ueno Park, a popular destination for hanami. The park has been a dedicated public green-space since the 1870s and it’s sheer size is impressive, particularly for a highly concentrated metropolis like Tokyo. Despite its size, Ueno was very busy. I saw many people sitting under the pink cherry blossom canopies, enjoying food, drinks, music and games. Market stalls, buskers, and street food vendors all add to the atmosphere.

People were so caught up in the hanami that they did not seem to mind us tourists weaving our way through the mosaic of picnic blankets. The beauty of the cherry blossoms and the celebrations had me mesmerised as well. I forgot the fact that there were a number of shrines, two museums and a zoo at Ueno Park. At night, the fairy lights and paper lanterns that ornament the cherry blossoms make them more magical. The cherry blossoms captivated me even as they wilted and rained down like pink snow and littered the ground.

I must admit, I was a little envious that the Japanese people and their hanami. Seeing the delicate pink and red cherry blossom flowers stop an industrious nation made me wonder what type of impact a similar celebration will have in Australia. A celebration which transcends the occasional bushwalk or trip to the beach. One where the entire nation stops and collectively enjoys being outdoors, reconnecting with nature and their family and friends. Many organisations in Australia are actively seeking ways to encourage people to spend time outdoors. The health, wellbeing and economic benefits of reconnecting with nature are well documented.  Maybe it is time for us to come up with our own hanami.