I Wish for an Animal | حیوانم آرزوست

A mixed-reality game about wildlife conservation


Help urbanites see the impact of their daily decisions on wildlife and wildlife conservation.


A multiplayer mixed-reality game in an imaginary city where players need to accomplish missions in a three-day long gameplay, to save the wildlife surrounding the city.

Iranian urbanites living in Tehran
MDes Thesis at University of Washington School of Art+Art History+Design

Amirhossein Khaleghi (wildlife conservationist), Mahyar Tarafdar (developer), Advisors: Tad Hirsch, Karen Cheng, Dominic Muren


AIGA (Re)design 2015

Arcade magazine issue 33.3

Henry Art Gallery, Seattle, WA and Dastaan Gallery, Tehran, Iran

Photo credit
Tarlan Ghassemian

“I Wish for an animal” is a multiplayer mixed-reality game played in three days. It consists of a physical component, a model of a city and a virtual component, text messaging. Players only need to see the model in the beginning and after that using their cell phones they can play from anywhere at any time in the three days of gameplay.

The model that is crafted and located in a center-point, tells the story of a city called “Heemand”, the “five-valleys” village and the protected area surrounding them. Players enter the city (physically in the model and virtually by text messages) on a mission to save the animals in the protected area.

As they move around the city (e.g. from bank to park) they are given different missions that they need to accomplish collectively. By succeeding or failing in those missions they affect the city, other players and also the animals in the protected area. Scenarios are driven by a strong narrative that is crafted from destinations, times and events and yet support interactivity through chat, the use of objects, health and dilemmas, all of which can be combined into more complex missions.


In an event, players visit the model and “Fairy” of the game at the center point. Register their phone number and a username to play with.

Then Fairy explains the rules of play and asks them to leave and expect to receive the first text message first thing in the morning.

For the next three days they can play from wherever they are, but there are bonuses for those who come back to the center point.

Meanwhile, the Fairy is transforming the city and its animals, based on players’ performance: tracking players, killing animals, destructing locations, etc.

The last day is when Fairy asks players to come back and see the changes they have caused, both to the city and to its surrounding environment. Providing a sphere for discussions and questions, within themselves and with the conservationists who are there.

Dastaan Gallery Gameplay

Tehran, Iran

April 14-17, 2015

I went back to Tehran in March and April 2015 to test-play the game. Here’s a video of the preparation and gameplay from April 14-17, 2015 at Dastaan gallery, Sam Center basement.

All the pictures are from that event and credited to Tarlan Ghassemian.

Henry Art Gallery Show

Seattle, WA

May 23 – June 21, 2015

In “The 2015 University of Washington MFA + MDes Thesis Exhibition” I showed the game experience and results from the test-play in Tehran. Visitors’ feedback and enthusiasm to play the game were amazing.

The significance of this project to me was trying a process that resulted in the transformation of an idea into a testable artifact. With all the mistakes and failures I learned the long road from theory to practice, plus complications and logistics of implementing a collaborative design project.

To demonstrate the process, I’ve put together a summary of research and implementation:

Environmental Unconsciousness – Iran is a developing country with a large population, which has increased by eighty percent in the past thirty-five years. The country is now facing the imminent extinction of many native flora and fauna species because of rapid alteration of their natural environment, coupled with poor management and over-exploitation. The IUCN contends that from the 1127 vertebrates living in the boundaries of Iran, 74 species are listed as vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered.

The major cause of the rapid decline in the wildlife resources of Iran has been habitat disturbance. Overgrazing, defragmentation, droughts, industrial pollutants, and deforestation have now altered about 96% of the natural habitat of the country. In addition to all of these causes, direct killing and shooting of wildlife are a very straightforward reason for extinction for endangered species.

Design Process

Insights – Ethnographic research and expert interviews led to nine important insights and I chose five of them that resulted in a design statement:

1. Disconnection Between Urban And Rural Communities
Along with the problem of false judgments and recognizing each other as the cause of the problem, which is shifting the burden of wildlife extinction only to the shoulders of the rural community; these groups have no access to actively engage in helping each other or knowing the living situations of the other group.

2. Wrong Beliefs About Environmental Issue
People tend to judge environmental issued based on the wrong beliefs on social media and verbal anecdotes spread by the uneducated. One repetitive example is believing that urban water-consumption has a huge effect on water shortage, while in reality, the main waste is in industrial and agricultural uses.

3. Poaching: A Market Demand From Cities
The biggest market for poach meat is from rich city-dwellers, who show their affluence off by serving it to their guests.

4. Poaching: Poverty, Pleasure, And Revenge
There are economic, cultural, emotional and political reasons for poaching in rural communities.

5. Modernity vs. Tradition
Iran is a society in transition, moving from traditions to modernity. Because of many socio-political situations governing the society and culture of Iran, this progress has been very slow. This is creating a great gap between city dwellers and rural communities: city dwellers do not recognize a social status for those who are not “modern”, which means anyone living out of cities having non-modern jobs such as farming and ranching. And villagers feel a deep resentment towards urbanites who benefit most from all the money gained from oil sold by the government.

6. Tech-savvy Youth
Iran has the biggest tech-savvy population of youth in the Middle-East.

7. Disconnected Consumption-Oriented Urban Lifestyle
Urbanites are removed consumers of products that are provided outside of cities and the production process is not transparent too.

8. Emotional Response To Environmental Issues
There are many recognizable patterns of hasty decisions made by the public for complicated environmental issues based on emotions, such as voting for the abandonment of legal poaching for 5 years.

9. Antagonism Towards The Government
Among the majority of youth in Iran, the government is not very popular. Both because of the oppressive behavior and dated religiously biased solutions services they provide for problems.

Who Is Involved? – There are many direct and indirect stakeholders in wildlife conservation; almost every living creature is reliant on wildlife. From this wide range, I focus on the connection between city dwellers and villagers in Iran and the importance of this missing correlation in protecting the wildlife. Villagers are directly dealing with the wildlife and at the same time, they consist ninety percent of the poachers in Iran. This paradoxical situation arises from many environmental injustice issues combined with the demands from urbanites. Urbanites have the three main criteria of environmental justice accessing the infrastructure (distribution), involving in the process of decision-making (recognition) and having a direct political impact (participation), while rural communities are disregarded in all three of them. At the same time because of their direct interaction with wildlife, rural communities are blamed for most of the problems that stem from this interaction, one of them being poaching.

So this conflict shows one social aspect of the problem of wildlife conservation, which this project will address. It will initially explore both ecological and cultural pieces of the problem in that region.

And by addressing the urbanites as the target group, tries to put them in situations where they can understand the difficulties of living in a village (scenarios happening in the “five-valleys” village in the game) as well as unveiling the demands that are imposed from city-life on wildlife (scenarios that happen in the city of “Heemand”).




“I mean, that, you know, ought to be the ideal of teaching, anyway, whether it’s children or graduate students. They should be taught to challenge and to question. Images that come from the enlightenment about this say that teaching should not be like pouring water into a vessel. It should be like laying out a string along which the student travels in his or her own way, and maybe even questioning whether the string’s in the right place.”
– Noam Chomsky


“Volunteers will commit more to volunteering for conservation activities if such activities meet their more pertinent personal and social goals of connecting with and giving back to their communities, social interacting with other volunteers and defending and enhancing their egos.”
– Stanley Asah, et al.


A Game That Would Start
A Conversation About Wildlife Conservation


I chose the game as a tool for raising awareness since based on my secondary research, young adults are used to playing. And delivering knowledge about sensitive issues such as conservation needs a thorough investigation in choosing the instruments. Research shows that volunteers will commit more to volunteering for conservation activities if such activities meet their more pertinent personal and social goals of connecting with and giving back to their communities, social interacting with other volunteers and defending and enhancing their egos.

Also since there is only one main goal in the game and that is saving the animals, competition does not help. As the game proceeds players understand that they need to cooperate, compromise and sacrifice in order to win the game together. They either win as a team or lose.

Phase One – Experimenting With Boardgame Design

I was fortunate to have a group of gamers among my friends who were ready to try all the boring and failing board games I mocked up. The feedback they provided after each gameplay along with my observations made a great basis for each iteration.

Phase Two – Combining Interactive Fiction With The Game

I had no idea what “interactive fiction games” were until I was lead to a group of old examples in my research and I got fascinated by how the gamer is included in the fabrication of the story. It made complete sense to use the mentality in delivering the notion of “creating consequences in others’ lives and our environment by daily choices”. I started developing scenarios and tested them manually with my group of testers. By manually I mean that I had the script in front of me and sent texts to players through Telegram app based on their answers. It was crazy, with a lot of lessons to learn of course.

Phase Three – Finalizing “I Wish For An Animal”

After experimentations and designing different board games and looking into existing games such as Day of the Figurines by Blast Theory, the game got to a point where I felt I could test it with a larger group. I chose the name by tweaking part of a verse in a poem by Rumi, replacing “man” with “animal” –(hu)man (انسان) and animal (حیوان) rhyme in Persian-, which I think would make more sense had I translated it to “I Wish for the Beast” now that my English is better!

I believe in any social activity in order for change to happen there should be physical interaction. So although I wish for an animal is played via text messaging and from anywhere in the city, it has a center point where players can meet.



The platform I created with the help of Mahyar Tarafdar, the developer on the team, consisted of 9 data sections (players, objects, locations, animals, missions, etc.). By connecting to a server, it would automatically reply to players based on their responses. It asked for a well-thought-of, written bundle of scenarios for all the locations and timestamps. One of the funnier challenges was I had to run the Windows-based program on my mac!


Creating the content, which was the scenarios and missions that happened in the city, was a 2-month process of reading, writing, test plays, feedback, and rewriting.

In the end, the game held 47 different missions based on locations and time of the day. So for example, if you went to the “hospital” on “Tuesday morning” the mission would be one thing and if you went to the same location on “Tuesday evening” it would be another thing. Also, the difficulty of accomplishing the missions varied from very easy to tough as the game proceeded. Because it turned out that becoming familiar with the commands and rule set of the game took some time and easy scenarios helped players get used to the logic of gameplay.


Finding the right space was a big challenge since I was in Seattle and the location I wanted was in Iran. After talking to multiple art galleries, I finally found the basement of a luxurious mall (Sam Center) in one of the richest neighborhoods of Tehran. Choosing this place was almost by accident but the more I thought about it the more it made sense. Here I could target the wealthy who had the higher potential to impact the environment, rural communities, and wildlife.


Here’s a picture of my lovely family and friends who helped me through the whole week of preparation and implementation.

Game Vignettes

Making the game vignettes was the other big chunk of the pre-game activities, and I tried to make eco-friendly choices as much as possible. I laser-cut 1047 3-layered cardboard animals -they were used for environmental awareness campaigns after the game-, made 125 wooden figurines, cardboard/plaster cubes for locations, buttons and game booklets.


Environmental issues are an unspoken matter in Iran’s society. Although there are different NGOs and people actively engaged in the field, the majority of the population are uneducated and naive about it. Like almost every other society, people believe that dealing with environmental issues is a job of environmentalists.

After the physical gameplay (watch the video), Amir an I had a 30-minutes conversation with players and answered their questions about the game and also wildlife conservations. Surprisingly the questions were those I wished would be raised by playing this game and it showed that part of the goals of the game was met: starting the conversation in players’ minds and putting them in the place of decision makers.

The test-play revealed many problems of the game that need to be solved in the future before another test-play or launching the game. Players said that the scenarios could be deeper and at the same time wanted the game to be longer because they needed more time to get used to the rule sets and the mentality of the game.

The NGO that I worked with, Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation, were amazed by the response that they received from visitors and players. They proposed to support the game in its future attempts.

Thanks to all of my amazing squad who this project was not possible without:
Tarlan Ghassemian, Soheila Ildar, Amirhossein Amini, Mahyar Tarafdar, Arman Khashei, Fatemeh Kazemi, Masoud Gerami, Mahshid Ghaznavi, Hedyeh Gamini, Milad Ghoreishi, Rouzbeh Torki, Saina Heshmati, Sheyda Ashayeri, Masih Moghadam, Ali Javan, Mehdi Moshirifar, Scott Ichikawa, Catherine Lim, Roxana Kharrazi, Nik Zeinalnia, Milad Taghavi.