Mobile Gaming for Gorilla Conservation
April 14th, 2008

Four years ago, wildlive!, a project run by Fauna & Flora International with funding from Vodafone, developed a mobile phone game dedicated to gorilla conservation. The game was received favorably by the media, and proceeds from sales to mobile owners went to gorilla conservation. But when the wildlive! project ended three years later, so did the game…until today. Silverbacker is back! Within the next few hours, the game will be officially re-introduced by Ken Banks, a former participant in the wildlive! project and founder of kiwanja.net, a non-profit organization dedicated to mobile technologies for development. Banks acknowledges how fighting and rebel activity in the Democratic Republic of Congo are putting pressure on the local environment, including gorillas and the people who protect them. Caught between the crossfire, rangers have had to withdraw from the DRC’s Virunga National Park, leaving little protection for the already-endangered gorillas. In response, Banks decided to resurrect Sliverbacker as a mechanism for raising public awareness about gorilla endangerment and raising funds to help rangers. And he’s distributing the game à la Radiohead, hoping that the admirable cause will inspire gamer-cum-citizens to make a donation.

Silverbacker is a convergence between mobile gaming, games played on mobile phones, and serious games, games for purposes other than gameplay itself. In this case, a mobile game is being used for purposes of educating the public about the predicament of gorillas and generating funds for their conservation. Silverbacker may therefore be considered a proto-instance of what I refer to as “ludo-governance,” the use of play as a medium for governance (for more on that, stay pending for my thesis). Can we play our way to gorilla conservation? According to Banks, it’s worth a try.


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