APPLE ARCADE

Get Swinging to Save a Species

How Gibbon: Beyond the Trees helps primates prosper.

Apple Arcade

Gibbon: Beyond the Trees

An ecological adventure

VIEW

To the star of Apple Arcade’s Gibbon: Beyond the Trees, swinging through the lush rain forests of Borneo comes as naturally as breathing. But there’s a challenging side to this Apple Arcade adventure: Palm oil farmers are burning down the trees to make way for their crops.

“We initially discussed showing chain saws and big machines cutting down the forest,” says game director and Broken Rules Interactive Media cofounder Felix Bohatsch. “But burning is the biggest deforestation factor nowadays.”

By infusing their fantastical game (your bright pink gibbon swings so high it soars above the treetops) with real-world issues, the developers hoped to casually inform players about the threats facing Earth’s rain forests.

Essential to their ecosystem as seed dispersers, gibbons need dense vegetation to thrive. But their natural habitat is dwindling every day.

Gibbon: Beyond the Trees was conceived as “pure escapism,” Bohatsch says—an easygoing game with intuitive controls that made catapulting yourself over the canopy effortless.

But as the team learned more about gibbons’ real-world environment, the intent shifted.

“It felt wrong giving our players that fluid movement while knowing the gibbon’s habitat is vanishing and rain forests are getting destroyed,” says Bohatsch. “We wanted to make habitat loss and deforestation a core theme of the game.”

In it, you experience firsthand the multitude of dangers humans pose to native species, the environment, and Indigenous peoples like the nomadic Penan, who depend on Borneo’s forests for survival. Over time, you feel the shift as your gibbon moves from vines and branches to power lines and rooftops.

Gibbons are among the most threatened family of primates in the world, with many subspecies on the critically endangered list.

Based in Vienna, the Broken Rules team knew from the outset they’d need help portraying Borneo accurately. So they worked closely with environmental nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), including the Gibbon Rehabilitation Project and Rainforest Rescue, which brought issues like palm oil farms and poaching to the forefront.

“What stuck with me is that gibbon poaching was actually getting better 20 years ago,” says Bohatsch. But that trend reversed. “Tourists like to post photos with cute baby gibbons on their social media feeds.”

To capture baby gibbons, poachers target and kill an entire gibbon family unit (the mother and either another female or male). An infant gibbon may be paraded around tourist attractions for a year or two, Bohatsch learned.

“That’s where the Gibbon Rehabilitation Project comes in. They find and help gibbons that have been exploited for these tourist attractions. Sometimes the gibbons are near blind because of all the flashing of cameras.”

“For gibbons to live the life they need to live, they need space and we need to give it to them—or we need to keep it alive for them,” says Bohatsch.

As you swing to freedom in an as-yet-untouched spot of rain forest, Gibbon’s story ends with a hopeful message: a call to support NGOs working to save the world’s rain forests and wildlife. Bohatsch hopes his game inspires players to take action.

“Every one of us has to decide for ourselves how to act, whether it’s shopping more consciously, donating, talking with friends and family, or going to Southeast Asia and volunteering,” says Bohatsch. “Our hope is that players feel empathy not only for gibbons but wildlife in general—and try to live in a way that enables wilderness and wildlife to thrive.”

The following NGOs consulted on Gibbon: Beyond the Trees.

The Gibbon Rehabilitation Project rehabilitates and helps repopulate the wilderness with gibbons.
• Bruno Manser Fonds fights for the rights of the Penan and other Indigenous peoples of Borneo.
• Gibbon Conservation Society protects the gibbons of Malaysia.
• Rainforest Rescue works to preserve rain forests, protect wildlife, and promote social reform.

    Apple Arcade

    Gibbon: Beyond the Trees

    An ecological adventure

    VIEW

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