Pollinator Panic: Interdisciplinary team creates pollinator education video game

"Pollinator Panic!" is a video game created at Penn State to address bee population decline. Credit: Penn StateCreative Commons

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Communicating the intricate structure of pollinator communities can be a difficult task, but thanks to a collaboration between the School of Visual Arts and the Center for Pollinator Research at Penn State, there is a new tool that could have success both inside and outside of the classroom.

When Erica Krieger, a student in the creative collaboration studio course AA 310, reached out to Harland Patch, assistant research professor in the Department of Entomology, with the idea of creating an online game that could be used to teach bee colony dynamics, he jumped at the opportunity.

“I was having a challenge teaching, both to graduate students and undergraduates, how pollinator communities are structured and the implications of that,” Patch said. “If you understand how they are structured and what their interactions are like, then you can make predictions about what can happen ecologically.”

With Patch’s vision in mind and under the instruction of Carlos Rosas, associate professor of art, Krieger teamed with School of Visual Arts students Adam Kling, Candace Price and Kevin Liang to create “Pollinator Panic!,” an online strategy game that allows a player to assume the role of a field researcher who is working to restore a bee community.

Aside from attempting to address the need for pollinator education teaching aids, Krieger said the development of the game offered the team a unique opportunity to bring together the School of Visual Arts and the Center for Pollinator Research to raise awareness around the issue of bee population decline. 

In March, the center was awarded just more than $2 million from the Foundation for Food and Agricultural Research and the United States Department of Agriculture to collaborate with researchers at the University of California, Davis; the University of Minnesota; and Dickinson College in an effort to provide support tools for beekeepers and land managers to maintain and expand populations of managed and wild bees.

Contrary to reports suggesting that bee population decline is improving, Patch said research has shown that the phenomenon continues to be a major issue.

“The fact is that last winter, Pennsylvania beekeepers lost about half of their bees,” Patch said. “That’s important because one out of every three bites of food you take in your diet depends on a pollinator.”

Those are the types of statistics and facts that Krieger said the game offers to a casual player, which the team hopes creates an engaging gameplay experience that moves beyond students and researchers.

“It’s fun to play and it’s aesthetically pleasing,” Krieger said. “We’re really excited about our work and we’re hoping to make it available to all age groups with the goal of raising public awareness around bee conservation.”

Development of the game is expected to continue this summer, and the team will promote the game at various exhibitions in the coming academic year.

Last Updated September 23, 2020