Nurturing nature
Edge|July 2021
How Afrofuturist strategy game We Are The Caretakers is helping to tackle real-world rhino poaching

The coronavirus pandemic has sparked a surge of interest in wildlife poaching and conservation, with the UN suggesting that so-called ‘wet markets’ for illegally exploited wildlife may have facilitated the transfer of COVID-19 to humans. There’s no virus to contend with in Heart Shaped Games’ We Are The Caretakers, but it’s a timely project nonetheless – a story about interspecies empathy in an age of mass extinction. Set in the fictional realm of Shadra, the game puts you in charge of teams of rangers who explore regions confronting poachers and tending to the Raun, a sorcerous blend of rhino, elephant and walking energy resource.

It’s an easy game to break down by influence: XCOM’s army management layer (there are also alien visitors to wrangle with), a mission-based campaign reminiscent of Warcraft and a JRPG-style turn-based battle system. What makes it fascinating – art director Anthony Jones’ beautiful Afrofuturist character designs aside – is how it combines all this with research into real-life conservation. Among other things, the game draws on lessons from the WWF’s third Asia Poaching Prevention Conference in Nepal, where Heart Shaped Games not only interviewed rangers but followed them in the field.

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