AMES, Iowa — A video game that is fun, educational and attracts an audience of both kids and adults is almost unheard of. The new online computer game “Rock Your Watershed!” does just that; it entertains while it teaches players of all ages.
As part of the youth water awareness campaign Water Rocks!, the object of the “Rock Your Watershed!” game is to earn a high score by balancing productivity and environmental impacts, based on land management choices on 10 parcels of land within a watershed. Factoring in fertilizer use and tillage, players try to make the best balance of costs, profit, soil, nutrients and water quality on each piece of land. The big variable in the game is the amount of precipitation, just as in real life; the same land management practices under different rainfall scenarios can yield very different results. High scorers are recognized on the game’s leaderboard.
The game requires making decisions on the computer screen just as a producer would make on an actual farm. It is a correlation of soil erosion, nutrient transport, precipitation and land management practices.
While developed for youth, “Rock Your Watershed!” is essentially the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy presented in a unique, interactive format. The NRS suggests a suite of practices that fit the land best to reduce nutrients entering streams and rivers. It is part of the larger plan to reduce nutrients in Iowa waters and the Gulf of Mexico. To learn more about the NRS, visit the website: http://www.nutrientstrategy.iastate.edu/.
The “Rock Your Watershed!” game is designed using scientific data specific to Iowa. Scoring computations are based on research findings related to hydrology, nutrient transport, soil erosion, costs of conservation practices and soil loss, and the benefits of strategic placement of conservation practices on reducing nonpoint source pollution.
“To ensure the effectiveness of the game, it was beta tested with seventh graders,” said Ann Staudt, Water Rocks! science director. “One student told us that he had to play the game 17 times before he figured out how to get a high score. The game is teaching youth to think, analyze and solve agricultural and environmental problems. It also keeps them engaged — can you imagine a seventh grader sitting through a textbook-based water quality lesson 17 times?”
“Rock Your Watershed!” can be found on the Water Rocks! website. The website also has videos, music videos, songs, geocaching and enhanced learning activities about all things water. Visit the website www.waterrocks.org or follow on Facebook to learn more and to play “Rock Your Watershed!”
Partners of Water Rocks! are Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, Iowa Water Center and Iowa Learning Farms.