Stepping into the wildeverse: evaluating the impact of augmented reality mobile gaming on pro-conservation behaviours.
Promoting pro-conservation behaviours has become a priority for conservation organisations world-wide. Yet, current engagement strategies still face a number of barriers to creating successful interventions at the scale needed to meet global sustainability challenges. Online and mobile games enjoy immense world-wide popularity, tapping into an audience not normally reached through conventional conservation outreach channels. Despite this potential to be a new, high impact and scalable platform for promoting pro-environmental behaviours, the opportunities within digital games for conservation have thus far been little explored and organisations have called for robust impact evaluations for this medium. Therefore, we investigated the effectiveness of the augmented reality game Wildeverse, which seeks to generate support for ape conservation and encourage pro-environmental behaviours. We conducted a randomised control trial to experimentally compare the impacts of this game against watching a documentary, a conventional conservation outreach intervention. We compared changes in participants' knowledge, attitudes and revealed donation behaviours across the two groups and found that games performed as well as documentaries in supporting positive environmental knowledge and attitudes. The results gathered from this study provide experimental insight into the potential for the broader use of digital games for conservation outreach and also provide evidence against the argument that gaming can detract from real-world environmental problems creating a disconnect with these issues. However, results from this study could not provide any evidence that Wildeverse was successful in achieving its additional aim of encouraging players to donate to conservation, which provides evidence for the existence of an environmental values-behaviour gap in conservation gaming. The gaming industry is global and rapidly growing and should no longer be ignored as an avenue for conservation outreach. We recommend several ways in which future studies can expand on this work to better understand how to effectively harness the power of digital games to drive tangible change that benefits biodiversity.