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A new board game brings you closer to the birds of Bengaluru

‘Birds in the City’ explores the relationship between urbanisation and its effects on the avian population in Bengaluru

People play-testing 'Birds in the City'. The game has been designed by ecologist Priti Bangal and applied games designer Prasad Sandbhor. (Courtesy: Priti Bangal and Prasad Sandbhor)

By Aisiri Amin

LAST PUBLISHED 01.02.2024  |  06:00 PM IST

Birds are a crucial part of the natural ecosystem and its health. Observing changes in their behaviour can often give us clues about the state of the environment. But in most cases, people look at birds but don't really notice them. A new board game is aiming to change this lack of curiosity about the avian population. 

‘Birds in the City’ – a board game designed by ecologist Priti Bangal and applied games designer Prasad Sandbhor – attempts to capture the relationship between urbanisation and its effects on avian biodiversity in the context of Bengaluru city. The idea, according to the makers of the game, was to make it a resource that can help people better understand the avian population of the city while creating awareness about how change in habitats affects birds.

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‘Birds in the City’ is a collaborative game where players must strategise to ensure that the birds in Bengaluru thrive. It comes with a representative map-board of a cityscape based on the habitats and landmarks of urban and peri-urban regions of Bengaluru.

“Some topics are complex, or not very well discussed. Games like these can bring them to the forefront and start conversations. Awareness about changing biodiversity and climate change can come through books, films, and other media. But interactive games like ‘Birds in the City’ take it one step ahead by making it possible for you to get involved and see the impact of your action in a safe environment," Sandbhor explains. He is currently working as an independent consultant.

The idea for creating a game like ‘Birds in the City’ is rooted in another game, Flocks, that Bangal and Sandbhor worked on in 2017. 

Bangal was studying mixed-species bird flocks—birds of different species that flock together—as a PhD student at the Centre for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru. It was a topic that also fascinated Sandbhor, whom Bangal had known for a while. Together, they decided to create a card game around it.

For the game, they focused on bird species found in Anshi, Karwar in Karnataka. While playtesting it with people living in cities, some asked why the game doesn’t have birds that they see in the city. It was this question that sparked the idea to create a game on city birds. In 2021, they got funding from the Bengaluru Sustainability Forum Small Grants program to develop the game and now, the duo is gearing up for the game's launch by April.

Priti Bangal and Prasad Sandbho with the game. (Priti and Prasad)

Bangal and Sandbhor’s team conducted extensive research on how Bengaluru has changed in the last two decades, marking specific events that affected the biodiversity in both positive and negative ways. 

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They incorporated these events into the game in the form of changed habitats. Birds need certain kinds of habitats and resources in the game. Players can take action to change these habitats to bring more birds into the city.

"As you play, you take on the role of an aware city dweller who can perform actions such as composting, gardening, making bird feeders, and so on. You start noticing how urbanization-specific actions affect the habitat and in turn, resources, which ultimately leads to bird movement, either into the city or outside it," Sandbhor explains.

There are 10 different bird species in the game; some eat fruits, some nectars. There are also those who eat rodents and waste. They live in different habitats and have varied behavioural preferences.

“You’ll find the red-whiskered bulbul and rose ring parakeet. There is also the white-cheeked barbet, which is a Bengaluru-specific bird. Although they are often found in the wooded areas, in Bengaluru you can find them in the city and hear them through the day," says Bangal, who works as a programme coordinator with the Education and Public Engagement Programme at Nature Conservation Foundation. “If you were to step out into your balcony or terrace, you’ll surely find at least one of the species from the game," she adds.

The duo says such games can be a good way to start discussions about the environment, biodiversity loss, and climate change. During the playtests, people expressed that they didn’t know how actions such as the construction of a ring road in a specific area could affect the biodiversity around it.

“When you play in a group, there is also a sense of belongingness. There is learning that happens through group discussions, which leads to people sharing personal experiences about what they have observed or done in the past as well as confusion about some actions. And regarding climate change, people tend to realise that they are in the same boat and maybe the next step is to think about action," says Sandbhor, who adds that the game could also make people think from the perspective of co-habitation whenever they are doing anything in their day-to-day lives.

The game’s target audience is people who are not birders or those who are expert board gamers, Bangal says. “We are focusing on people aged 10 and above who can learn the changes happening around them, discuss how they are affecting the environment, and ask questions about what they can do," she adds.

The game comes with a companion book that offers more information about the birds and concepts used in the game. It will also have thoughts and questions about birds that people can reflect on – for instance, should we feed birds in our balconies or not. “The board game is designed to be a fun activity but if you want to take something out of it or make use of it then people will find some tools which can lead to a larger impact," Sandhbor says.

Birds in the City will be available in April. 

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