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Online Birding Games
With the pandemic's grip and restrictions seming to increase rather than abate, this month's review again focuses on virtual birding, specifically in the form of online games. Some of these were discussed briefly in the April 2020 Supplement, but there is much more to be said. And perhaps there's now an even greater need.
Cornell's Bird Academy Learning Games presents a diverse collection of eight online activities, consistent with the Academy mission and categorized by age-level and style of game play. There are "quiz", "puzzle", and "tutorial" opportunities, for example. The graphics, animations, and interactive features are all outstanding, but whether these would be "fun" to play would depend on the levels of engagement that are brought to them. The learning opportunities are evident, and vast, but what might feel like mere schoolwork for some participants whether young or old can potentially be absorbing entertainment for others. Each unique game is worth a try, particularly for bright homebound adolescents who already take an interest in the natural world.
Particularly noteworthy among the Academy games is Flap to the Future. A simulation of evolutionary pressures and processes that lead from land-bound dinosaurs to free-flying birds, it requires thought, device dexterity, and quick reflexes, offering many hours of well-crafted, challenging, gaming pleasure.
On the other hand, like many of the rest of the Academy selections, the app version (see note below) of Where the Birds Are (iOS only), from the Mr Nussbaum educational website, is essentially a series of multiple-choice flash cards. However, the graphics are excellent, the scoreboards are designed to encourage repeat play, and the geographic focus develops an understanding of regional species variation. An email log-in and password are required, but play is free, and this reviewer has never received any unsolicited mail from the developer. There's a gentle feeling to the app, with no sense of taking itself or even birding too seriously.
That said, perhaps those who do prefer a more serious approach to both their birding (listers, maybe?) and their games (gamers, might we say?) should take a look at Fantasy Birding (this month's Favorite) and be ready to get hooked. Affectionately called "FanBird" by afficionados, it takes inspiration from the "fantasy" sports concept and rockets it to a new dimension. Built around eBird reports and the ABA listings, players can select their games from an extensive Big Year list based on states or continents, with even a global competition and other time periods. The level of complexity and choice is astonishing. Plus, it's free and ad-free!
Players choose daily birding spots with an interactive map and calendar, using eBird hotspots and realtime sightings, with full-year scheduling possible. Any birds reported on eBird as being (actually) seen at a chosen spot on the day selected will be added to the player's tally. Global competitors can bird on a different continent each day of the week; state contestants can zigzag at will. Fantasy, indeed, and with no carbon footprint! Strategy and luck are both involved - just like real-life birding - with player rankings adding to the competitive thrill.
Tempted? The Fantasy Birding Help site turns out to be a complete set of instructions, explanations, tips, and more. The developer, Matt Smith, also provides an excellent illustrated introduction to his creation on the ABA website.