Playing video games is rarely a portal to exploring the great outdoors, but a new app benefiting U.S. national parks lets you try out volunteering without leaving your couch. In Save The Park, an iPhone game created by the social-impact-focused nonprofit Games for Change, you volunteer in different national park environments doing a whole host of tasks, from greeting visitors to taking soil samples, in a cascading series of levels. And though volunteering is not your typical video game challenge, it’s not as tedious as you might initially think—just like real-life volunteering.
As a way to showcase the diversity of the types of people who volunteer at national parks and the activities they assist with, there are four different characters you can play as, each with a different backstory and volunteer specialty. One is an Army veteran who helps monitor animal habitats and species, another is a graphic designer who volunteers with guest services, another is a nature lover who helps plant trees, and one is a college student who lends a hand in conservation efforts. The levels are tailored to the characters’ specialties, so you can pick up trash with Mei, the 25-year-old Californian nature lover, but if you want to play as Ben, the Army vet, you’ll get to catalog butterflies. With each level, a junior park ranger is there to assist the character, meaning that you play as two people at once (intended to make the game more challenging, and thus more fun).
“What we are able to do with a casual mobile game like Save The Park is reach audiences who may not be engaging with the parks, much less volunteering,” Susanna Pollack, the president of Games For Change, said in an emailed statement. Games for Change created the app to benefit the National Park Foundation with support from American Express. “The game was designed to give players the opportunity to 'virtually volunteer' as the first step to converting them into real-world volunteers.”
In three different environmental settings (desert, forest, coast) there are a total of 48 different levels to unlock—an estimated one to two hours’ worth of play. While the levels have a similar set-up (move the characters up and down to avoid obstacles and pick up points), playing with two characters at once can be surprisingly difficult, sucking you into the game. The game can get a little rote after several levels, but is great for those waiting-in-line moments when you need a little distraction.
For every download of the game (up to 50,000), American Express will donate $1 to the National Park Foundation. It’s available for iOS.