VR Scout - Hops

Sustaining Farms Through Virtual Reality Agricultural Training

A huge misconception we want to break at GameTheory is that games are just for gamers. Everyone plays games in some way or another, and you don’t have to partake in gaming as a hobby to earn the educational benefits that many games have to offer. The truth is, games are often just a really helpful format for explaining how systems work, assessing knowledge, and feeling rewarded for the work you do. Games can be a great, straightforward solution to an otherwise complex problem.  VR Scout - Hops is the perfect example of how two otherwise distant fields, farming and technology, can come together to use games to solve a difficult problem - year-round realistic, and consistent training for hops farmers.

Finding a Solution Together

For this project UVM Extension approached us with a clear need - hops farmers in Vermont have to have essential training on scouting practices to identify problems in their fields like pest infestations, mold, or crop damage. However, with a fast growing season, and a long winter in Vermont there’s limited time for farmers to get into the field and practice identifying these problems. Harder still, there’s a limit to the real world experience which farmers can get with damage since when their crops are maintained and treated they’re less likely to show the full range of damage and infestation that can happen.

Together we came up with a goal -  create a realistic way for hops farmers to simulate all the different issues their crops can face, self-assess their ability to scout, and to help them learn scouting in any season. Our solution, VR Scout - Hops is a virtual reality hop scouting game that systematically meets this goal through a few simple mechanics and interactions.

The Experience in VR

In VR Scout - Hops you’ll put on a virtual reality headset and find yourself in a hops field in the middle of the growing season. You can look around and see rows of hop bines and leaves based directly on the look and layout of local farms in the region. In each level you’ll visit a new farm with a unique and important problem that it’s facing. In some levels you’ll see Potato Leafhoppers damaging the field, as they eat away at the liquid within a leaf, leaving it yellowed and weak. In other levels Japanese Beetles have chewed away the soft leaf between the veins, so that the plants will have holes across them in a pattern similar to lace.

With this crisp view into the field, you’re in the perfect environment to practice scouting, the process of choosing a representative sample of leaves and scavenging them for signs of damage and pests. You can pull leaves off the hops plants, flip them, and get an up close view of bugs, and damage throughout the field. As you scout the field for issues that are threatening the crop, you record what you see just as you would on a real day of scouting. You write down what you notice and how severe the symptoms appear to be.

When finished, you get to see how you did. You get a score based on how accurately you identified pests, damage, and helpful bugs so you can see what you got, and what you missed. Even better, each time you play the game is slightly different. Just like in real life, the pests you see will be a little different in each field every time you visit. This helps farmers understand where their assessment strengths are, see accurate examples of damage and understand when a pest is just an outlier, versus an indicator of a larger issue.

The Impact

Although games are rarely thought of as an agricultural solution, in a case like this a game was the perfect fit. Games offer the ability to create a new world for us to practice and build our skills, whatever they may be. In VR Scout the world we needed to build was an amped up version of our own local farms. Now the skills built in VR Scout can be developed in any season, and used to foster better, healthier farms across Vermont.


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