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ISU video game shows what it’s like to farm

Aimed at piquing interest of young potential farmers

Children take photos at a display to promote a new video game that teaches farming. The game was produced by the Iowa State University Extension and Outreach in collaboration with three other institutions.
Children take photos at a display to promote a new video game that teaches farming. The game was produced by the Iowa State University Extension and Outreach in collaboration with three other institutions.

AMES — The early morning crowing of a rooster might be one of the many traditional sounds on a farm. But to some Iowa young people, the sounds they hope to hear in the future don’t involve a farm at all.

Rebuilding an interest in farming is one of the aims of a new video game, developed by the Iowa State University Extension and Outreach in collaboration with three other institutions.

The C6 BioFarm game teaches the values and steps to having a successful farm. The game, which has a target release date of August, is an interactive lesson for young people about the agricultural concepts involved in providing food, fuel, fiber and products.

Jay Staker, a youth development specialist with ISU Extension and Outreach, said one unique element of the game is that Iowa students can relate it to their own communities.

“We’re learning about the carbon economy around us,” Staker said. “You’re not looking at the ocean or the rain forest. You’re looking out the window at the ag community and you’re learning all of this by doing it in the context of Iowa. It brings (students) not only to science, but agricultural literacy.”

Participants learn to create products in a manner that is environmentally and economically sustainable. A news release about the game points out an observation made by one of several middle school girls who recently tested the game.

“Why would anyone farm?” the student said. “It’s really risky and stressful.”

This isn’t the kind of statement the game program attempts to refute. In fact, getting a point across about the difficulty of farming is a main objective of C6 BioFarm.

The game is aimed at students in grades 5-9, and can be played much like FarmVille or similar “legacy” games. A legacy game is one that can be built upon forever, as users are essentially writing code when they create and maintain new elements.

Participants manage a farm, deciding what to plant, how many acres they’ll plant and how to mix corn, soybeans and switchgrass. They must decide if they’ll insure their crops or not — a huge factor in expenses. Variables like drought, excess rain and frost are built in as random acts using historical data.

Market prices will fluctuate by the day and week, affecting what players will receive for their crops, with the research based on what is happening in current years. Staker said the game has realities of economics, environment and social actions built in.

Content is being developed by Iowa State undergraduates in the colleges of Engineering, Agriculture and Life Sciences and Business who are working with campus partners and industry producers for realistic information.

The core of C6 BioFarm is the interactive application, which can be played on the Web or on an application that will be available via the iTunes store. Abigail Peterson, an ISU student involved with promoting C6 BioFarm, said there will be several efforts to let the public know about the game.

“I have not experienced an uptick in interest in the game since the article is published (April 3 on the Extension Office’s website),” Peterson said. “But we are planning on presenting the game at Rieman Gardens, the Science Center of Iowa and several other camps and programming opportunities in the future.”

An accompanying iBook, which also can be downloaded from the Apple iTunes store, offers additional information that supports and builds off concepts in the interactive farming game, provides supplemental materials and information about ag-related careers also will be available, as will additional lesson plans and teaching materials.

The project is being funded by grants from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture and the National Science Foundation. The ISU Extension Office collaborated with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Purdue University and the University of Minnesota on the project.

Teachers can use the iBook as well as available curriculum as support materials.

Staker said the style of the game is fairly basic, but the plan is to make it more elaborate once a commercial developer gets involved. For now, farm basics, such as deciding which crops to insure, are what’s emphasized with C6 BioFarm.

“If you don’t insure it and you have a good year, great,” Staker said. “If you have a bad year, uh-oh. There’s a lot of decision-making involved.”

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