WIRED: I threw an apple at him. And then I also added the bow tie and graduation hat with the game’s editing tools.
Groo: I think the bow tie is cute. I wish the hat wasn’t cut off. And I don’t like that he’s uncomfortable. I totally understand the need for ways for people to interact with what’s happening on the screen, but what if there were a little receptacle in the background and it was like, oh, you have to throw a ball in the receptacle near the animal. Something where the object of hitting was not the actual animal. God, there are so many geniuses they had working on that game. Could they have come up with some other means of engagement than provoking an animal?
WIRED: Do you think, right now, during the pandemic, when not everyone has access to nature, and they can’t necessarily travel to it, an experience like this is valuable?
Groo: I think there’s no substitute for the real thing. The benefits that nature gives us, even if you’re just walking in an urban park, far surpass anything you’re going to get from a screen. But if they can teach people something about the importance of land for an animal—every animal needs a home, and animals have very specific kinds of homes that they need, so if there’s anything that talks about conservation of animals, that’s a good thing. If there’s some sense conveyed that there’s this rich world of wildlife out there, something more fantastic and amazing than we can dream. It’d be great if the game had something like, “Go out there and see wild animals, and respect them and protect them!” or a disclaimer like, “Please don’t throw things. Please don’t feed wildlife. This is a game.” Do they have that anywhere?
WIRED: I haven’t beaten the game yet.
Groo: I strongly recommend that they add something like that. If they want me to advise them on it, I’m happy to do it.
WIRED: I’ll let them know. In the game, you have a rival photographer who’s jealous of the great pictures you’re taking. Have you ever had a rival photographer?
Groo: There’s no question that photography can have a really competitive strain to it. There are so many photographers out there. Digital photography has made incredible photos within the reach of just about anyone. There are just so many talented people out there. Social media is just flooded with stunning shots. Everyone is trying to up the ante and get the spectacular shot for more likes and comments and followers. And on and on. There’s definitely a competitive edge there. Some people don’t really see photography as a way to celebrate nature as much as a way to compete and get trophies. It’s almost like the modern version of trophy hunting. They go, they get their shot, and they’re on to the next thing. For them, it’s about accumulating, collecting, and listing. But it’s like any profession, where you have people who are competitive and people who are not necessarily in it for the best reasons. So I wouldn’t say it’s unusual, by any means, from any other hobby or profession.
WIRED: Can you tell from these photos if I have any natural talent for photography?
Groo: You could be on your way. You have some good compositional grasp and some good concepts about lighting. You just need to get out there and get some practice with the real thing.
Groo and I discussed the importance of nature photography to conservation efforts. I asked her about the role nature photography plays in conservation and whether players will understand the role nature photographers play in environmental protection and awareness.