by Anmol AhujaNov 12, 2020
The evolving data on the global decline of pollinator species has been as much a part of the contemporary ecological conversation as climate change. The European Commission has even created the EU Pollinators Initiative to raise awareness on the matter. The initiative is meant to supplement the efforts of the European Green Deal in addressing the natural crisis that would emerge from this decline. The term pollinator is an all-encompassing descriptor that includes a variety of species, including insects, marsupials, and small animals. While the bee has garnered a lot of attention due to the deterioration in its subspecies variety and population, the threat exists across a wider range. From the destruction of natural habitats to the growing ecological changes, various species have had to relocate. This has an enormous impact on our biodiversity. There is a fear that the rate at which these natural habitats are being forced to adapt far supersede our ability to restore them. There is a growing consensus that the consistent disregard for biodiversity and ecosystem stems from a lack of understanding and education in the matter.
A recent project conceived as part of the EU Pollinators Initiative, titled the ‘Pollinator Park’, is an attempt to bridge that educational gap. Pollinator Park is a virtual game set in the year 2050. The premise speculates humanity’s inability to resolve the man-made crisis, in a world where pollinating insects have disappeared. Set in a futuristic structure, designed in collaboration with Belgian ecological architect Vincent Callebaut, Pollinator Park is an oasis of sustainable food production. It is up to humans to revive the ecology and barren landscape and offers a glimpse into a bleak future. While the initiative is essentially a game, the idea is to create a platform through which players can radically re-evaluate the relationship between oneself and nature. Speaking on the viability of this approach, Yuri Matteman, Head of Education at Naturalis Biodiversity Centre in the Netherlands, say, “If you want people to fall in love with nature and empower them to act, you can't only do that in a museum. You have to connect with people where they are”. And right now, we are all online.
One can visit the park as a digital experience through their computer screen or as a VR experience, using the Oculus. Callebaut, who is often referred to as an archibiotect, created the fictional world of Pollinator Park as a radial plan covered in domes that contain meadows, farmlands and an urban lab. The welcome screen starts at the Central Park, which features the elaborate vertical structure meant to wow visitors. “Pollinator Park and its biometric architecture aims to repair the fragile and broken bond between humanity and nature,” says Callebaut in an official statement, while adding, “under its futuristic domes Pollinator Park promotes the noble role of the farming profession. It shows good practices in pollinator preservation on multiple levels of land use; agriculture, forest, and urban”.
The fictional founder of the Pollinator Park, Beatrice Kukac, acts as a guide throughout the programme, which is further explored in three distinct spaces. The heart of the game is Miro’s Meadows, a rare unspoiled patch of nature that has survived in this future. This meadow is the central hub of the game and is where one can pick up a flower and watch the accurate insect land on it to initiate pollination. A simple act but its impact is profound. It creates a visual connection, explaining the complex cycle and layers of our biodiversity.
At the project launch, Maja Lundy, the author of the book History of Bees, explained the importance of creating these narratives. “Fiction talks to our feelings. Through a book you can relate to a situation in a completely different manner then you would through reports or numbers or political speech,” she says. One of the ways in which the repercussions of a dying pollinator species is shown is through the game’s section titled the Hungry Hive, where players go virtual grocery shopping. It contextualises the act of shopping in a future without pollinators. The project plays on existing online gaming dynamics to make players more aware of the consequences of our continued inaction.
What the game hopes to achieve is an inversion of scale. Insect pollinators are often tiny and are not visible to those who are not looking for them. As they achieve their tasks of pollination in the game it is perceived by the player at a human scale, where the body is actively engaging in the act of pollination. It scales the effort, the distance, and the process into one that is perhaps more recognisable to humans. Pollinator Park is not just an awareness campaign or a game, it is an educational tool.