Better understand and connect to the land with Kiwi Kai

(Last Updated On: July 17, 2023)

‘Your farmer friends, Freida and Fred, have left and gone on a three-year adventure. Lucky them! The community was asked to look after their farm. We need someone to help them care for this land. Are you game to play Kiwi Kai?’, asks Catriona MacLeod.

Although agriculture still plays a major part in the country’s economy, working on the land is no longer a major occupation. Many who live in urban areas are becoming increasing disconnected from rural landscapes and from understanding the challenges of managing the environment within which their food is produced.

We need to enable young people to engage in current and future debates about agricultural land management. To do this, we need to build their capability to understand the living world, as well as the roles of place, values, change, and economics in influencing environmental outcomes, educational game Kiwi Kai aims to support such capability building.

Empowering critical thinking

How healthy is your food? A kiwi guide invites students to manage a virtual farm simulation for three years and balance three goals:

Manaakihia te taiao/Care for nature: Five nature-based quests lie at the heart of Kiwi Kai’s design, inviting the player to discover what nature is missing or currently lives in each farm habitat – pātiki/paddocks, awa/stream, repo/wetland, and ngahere/forest. Each quest encourages the player to restore the habitat’s mauri/lifeforce, offering them a variety of different decision pathways.

On completing a quest, the player is awarded a bronze, silver or gold badge for being a Pātiki Protector, Awa Ally, Repo Restorer, Ngahere Nurturer or Pest Controller. Additional badges are given for being a Seed Saver, Taiao Tracker or Taiao Carer.

Whakatipua he kai hauora/Grow healthy food: When deciding what to grow in their pātiki, the player can select from a range of crops (wīti/wheat, rīwai/potatoes or pī/peas), orchards (tiere/cherries or āporo/ apples) and livestock (kau/cows or hipi/sheep). Their ability to produce healthy food is influenced by their choices and whether they complete their chores.

Manaaki tāngata/Care for community: The player also has opportunities to interact with their community, learning about their different roles, values and perspectives. They are rewarded for helping others, networking and team building – with gilded badges reflecting the level and nature of their interactions.

Co-designing an online learning tool

The game was designed by a team, led by Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research, who provided expertise in agriculture, ecology, mātauranga Māori, education, game design, and science communication. The farm scenarios were enriched with information gathered from a diverse range of webpages, factsheets, reports and databases administered by more than 50 organisations (encompassing education, environment, finance, government, and others.

Adapting an existing game framework

Kiwi Kai combines a novella-style design (adapted from Geo AR’s ‘Stand Tall’ app) with 2D-reward rooms for each habitat to visualise changes on the farm. The tool’s modular nature means other components can be readily added in the future. It’s also optimised for use on a Chromebook or Chrome browser.

Testing and refining the tool with NZ students

Kiwi Kai was developed with input from 200+ students (Years 4-8) across five schools, although working most closely with Carisbrook School and North-East Valley Normal School in Dunedin. Students helped name, test and refine Kiwi Kai, recommending improvements that we implemented, including:

Helping teachers apply the tool in the classroom

The learning outcomes align with Levels 3-4 of the New Zealand Curriculum. The Science Learning Hub ( nz) provides a suite of wrap-around articles, supporting videos and interactives that make it easy for teachers to use Kiwi Kai as a springboard for curriculum-linked learning in the classroom.

By Catriona MacLeod, Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research, Dunedin, who presented on the development of Kiwi Kai at INTERFACEXpo in Auckland.

For more information go to Play the game at


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