A couple of weeks ago, Kiwi Dreams creator Stacey Bartlett and Sustainable Coastlines shared their litter awareness game Pick Up Quick! with the world. The concept is simple, but with an important message: collect as much litter as possible within 45 seconds from one of two New Zealand beaches, and then see how what you found compares with litter found in real-life clean-up efforts from those same beaches.
It’s a great example of the democratisation of game development. Tools like Unity, RPG Maker, and Dreams are lowering the entry barrier to game development, allowing people with no background in programming or animation to make their own games. That in turn opens the door to more creative ideas, with a much wider pool of people—and, crucially, people who might not otherwise be interested in learning “traditional” game development—able to bring their ideas to life and explore things that are important to them. So it is with Stacey Bartlett and Pick Up Quick!
Aimed primarily at children, Pick Up Quick! is a short and straightforward game. You simply run around on your chosen beach, picking up litter (and sometimes other helpful things, like speed boosts) and shooting for a new high score. But that simplicity is its strength; it’s easy to jump in, play a round, and see the impact of litter on our beaches.
That impact is most apparent when the round ends, and your score gets compared with real-life data. You can’t pick up a whole lot of litter in 45 seconds (the high score, at the time of writing, is 24), but it still feels like a lot in the moment. Then you see the real-life data: 64 pieces of litter collected from Tokahaki Point, Kāpiti Island in a single day in 2019, and 307 from Tāhunanui Beach, Nelson. The Tokahaki Point figure is particularly shocking when you consider that Kāpiti Island is only accessible with a Department of Conservation permit, typically as part of a guided tour.
Though litter awareness is the focus, Pick Up Quick! also has a few other messages built into its design. Each beach is home to wildlife like seagulls and seals, but if you get too close to them, the game will warn you to give them space and prevent you from going any closer. They double as obstacles to contend with, since you can’t always just make a bee-line to the next piece of rubbish—you have to factor wildlife conservation in, too. When you approach the water, you get a message about water safety and making sure to swim between the flags.
The effort that’s gone into re-creating the two beaches in question in Dreams is particularly impressive. Tāhunanui Beach is immediately recognisable with its sandgrass-covered dunes, rope fencing, and busy State Highway 6 running alongside. You can even see the Abel Tasman statue nearby, though you can’t visit it, and the houses built into the hillside on the far side of the road look impressively like their real-life counterparts. Tokahaki Point captures that beach’s rocky terrain and the feeling of uninhabited wilderness perfectly, complete with the seals that make Kapiti Island their home. Both locations have that dreamlike art style typical of Dreams, while staying as true to real life as possible.
Pick Up Quick! is an impressive achievement. It’s a fantastic example of what’s possible with Dreams, but more than that, it demonstrates the value of creative tools that can fling the doors to game development open as wide as possible. It’s hard to imagine something like this coming out of a typical game development studio, but someone had a novel idea to share a message about something important, and found a way to bring that to life.
Pick Up Quick! is a reminder that gaming can be an important force for social change, and it’s great to see software like Dreams giving people a platform to explore and share that.