Educating Youth About Human Impact on Freshwater Ecosystems Using an Online Serious Game

Daniel A.Burbano Lombana, Roni Barak Ventura, Yin Tian Chen, Maurizio Porfiri

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Freshwater ecosystems are among the most biodiverse ecosystems on the planet and constitute key natural resources for human economies. These ecosystems, however, are endangered due to persistent human activities, whose effects range from temperature changes to water pollution. Here, we develop an online serious game to educate youth regarding human impact on freshwater ecosystems. In particular, we focus on how environmental variables can affect the behavior and well-being of freshwater fish, which are critical to the food web and the function of the whole ecosystem. In the game, players aim to maximize fish fitness by foraging and reproducing, despite adversarial environmental conditions. We leverage dynamical systems and control theory to create mathematical models for all game characters and components, including animal locomotion and hydrodynamic interactions with the flow physics of a virtual river. We test the educational value and usability of the game on a group of middle-school students from New York City. Our results suggest that games like the proposed serious game could be a viable tool to engage youth in environmental education about freshwater ecosystems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)590-602
Number of pages13
JournalIEEE Transactions on Games
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1 2023


  • Dynamical systems
  • education
  • freshwater ecosystems
  • human-B Bcomputer interaction
  • serious game

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Software
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering
  • Control and Systems Engineering


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