Recently the good people over at Large Animal Games sent our family a PC game to try out, called Snapshot Adventures: Secret of Bird Island. This game was created in collaboration with Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology, the same organization which hosts the “citizen scientist” projects Celebrate Urban Birds and the Great Backyard Bird Count.
The basic plot of the game, as penned by Jacob (who is 11): The player’s grandpa has been lost, and for some reason his friends don’t know where he is. To find him, has to go from state to state to find clues. This is where photography comes in. Each one of his friends has a magazine or blog or something like that. They challenge you to take pictures of certain birds. They reward you with praise, a clue, or an item to help you with your photographs.
I was fairly impressed by the whole photography aspect of the game. There are tutorials on what constitutes a good shot- bird facing the camera, wings outstretched, level of zoom, and so forth. When you wind up with multiple shots of birds, the game asks you to select your best shot. Maverick (8 years old), ever a perfectionist, was very careful to always try to achieve “magazine cover” shots; even Cassidy (4 years old) quickly recognized the basic rules of photo composition.
By asking the player to take pictures of specific birds (pictured at the corner of the screen for the non-reader), the kids learned how to narrow down characteristics to identify a bird. Cassidy would carefully scrutinize the picture- the bird pictures are fairly realistic, by the way- and decide that bird she needed to find had a red chest (robin). Then when she saw a red-winged blackbird or a woodpecker, she knew to ignore it, it didn’t have the marks that she was looking for.
What made this game really fun for all three of my kids- and that’s a fairly serious age range, 4 through 11- was the capability to create and name your own birds, write their descriptions and release them into the “wild”. My hooligans, of course, named their birds things like “Dad Stinks” and “Moonchomp” (Moonchomp eats only moons and suns) and this amusement alone will keep them going back to the game, even though they’ve beaten it.
Importantly, this invented bird section is completely separate from the main part of the game; there’s no “Death Star” birds hobnobbing with cardinals and hummingbirds.
From a mom perspective, I’d like to point out that the accompanying music was nice and soothing, with bird calls in the background, and I didn’t want to throw anything after listening to it for an hour. It would have been nice if there was an option to have text read aloud- Cass can’t read yet, and Maverick is sometimes a slow reader; but this didn’t seem to diminish anybody’s enjoyment.
Is this game a substitute for going outside with the kids and doing your own birdwatching? No, of course not. But it did teach the kids some bird species and calls they didn’t know yet, and prompted them to voluntarily take the camera out to “capture” some birds (as opposed to me dragging them out with me). Birding has been legitimized and is somewhat cool again around here. For a kid just developing an interest in birds, I’d say this game would be ideal.
Sure, I’d rather they spent all their time reading and painting and playing outside. On a rainy Sunday, though, all they want to do is play video games. I figure time spent playing Snapshot Adventures: Secret of Bird Island together, as a team, is time they’re not playing Sly Cooper: Band of Thieves (the most annoying game in the world). And really, that’s good enough for me.