Researchers seek to ignite children’s green passion through online gaming

University researchers are hoping to encourage more children to care about their local environment by creating tree-planting games on global online gaming platforms, Roblox and Unity.

A team of researchers led by University of Cumbria want to excite children about the future of their local environment through online games.

Previous research by the team reveals that not all children are easily inspired to value trees and ‘treescapes’ as key nature-based solutions to climate change. So, the researchers are taking their reforestation message direct to children in the online world instead.

The research team, which includes the Universities of Cumbria, Manchester Metropolitan and Middlesex, have teamed up with independent games designers X||dinary Stories and The Mersey Forest, one of England’s 13 Community Forests, to realise this aspiring project.

The Digital Voices of the Future team will work with children from Merseyside to help create together online games where children can control planting trees in the Mersey Forest and see the projected impact on the landscape.

The games will be open-source and developed within two global online games platforms, Roblox and Unity, with potential to reach a global audience.

Picture: Simon Carr, Associate Professor in Geography at the University of Cumbria,


Dr Simon Carr at Ambleside


Simon Carr, Associate Professor in Geography at the University of Cumbria, is project lead for Digital Voices of the Future, and had this to say about the project:

“During our associated project Voices of the Future, we realised that there were always children who were not as engaged in activities, and we wondered how best we could reach them. We identified that many were keen gamers, particularly Minecraft and Roblox, and this got us thinking about how we could link our research to their interests.”

“The online games will show how different decisions made now with regard tree planting will change children’s neighbourhoods in the future. We hope this will engage more children to care about their local environment, recognise the value of trees in their local settings, and plant a few trees in the real world as result.”

Now, the new project, Digital Voices of the Future, will see children aged 11-14 in The Mersey Forest area of Cheshire and Merseyside, given the opportunity to design, create and share their own online tree-planting games using the team’s research, that will empower them to change their local environment.

Picture: Image of a treescape created in Roblox, courtesy of Simon Carr


Images of treescape in Roblox


These games will inform a new 25-year Mersey Forest Plan, offering channels for children’s voices to be heard in the strategic development of a major community forest, and will be evaluated by DEFRA as a model for wider community engagement in planning woodland growth across the UK.

The project will last a year and will involve children taking part in workshops facilitated by the project team to create the game. The game will initially focus on The Mersey Forest area but there is potential for it to feature any global location on Google Earth.

Picture: Paul Nolan, CEO The Mersey Forest


Paul Nolan CEO The Mersey Forest


Paul Nolan, CEO of The Mersey Forest, added: “We have been working to increase tree and woodland cover across Cheshire and Merseyside, for the many benefits they can bring, since the early 1990s. Yet it is today’s children and young people who we hope will benefit most from the work to achieve The Mersey Forest vision, and who will be responsible for the future care of any trees and woodlands being established now. This project is an exciting opportunity to engage young people with trees and to envisage different possibilities of what their neighbourhoods could be like in the future”.

Digital Voices of the Future is made possible by the latest round of funding from the UK Treescapes Programme, a national programme that aims to improve treescapes for the benefit of environment and society.

The project is one of four that takes a share of £500,000 funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

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