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Could video games spark youths' interest in agriculture?

Could video games spark youths' interest in agriculture?

Farmers and ranchers are officially becoming action heroes in farm simulation video games – could this help agriculture reach a wider audience?

As one who comes from an ag background, it can be a little tough to admit I considered myself a gamer growing up, at least when it comes to anything that involves planning and precise management. Maybe that's why I was so drawn to a farming simulation while I was at the Nebraska Power Farming Show last week, where yours truly tried his hand at sowing canola on Giants Software's Farm Simulator 2015 using a Saitek Heavy Equipment Precision Control System for PC – the kind of control system that put you in the tractor cab, complete with a steering wheel, pedals, and control panel.

Could farm simulation video games help spark an interest in agriculture at an early age? Screenshot of Farm Simulator 2015 courtesy of Saitek.

The point is this kind of technology is all around us. Sure, you can complain that kids these days don't spend enough time outdoors, or you can see this technology as a new avenue to connect with kids in an urban setting who wouldn't otherwise have a chance to combine corn or bale hay. It might even make a good Christmas gift for a farm kid who's looking for a chance to manage their own virtual farm.

Many of the modern advancements in agricultural technology have found their way onto farming simulators like Farm Simulator 2015 – including some of the latest combines, tractors, planters, and haying equipment like mowers, tedders, and balers. There are even some mods to include center pivot irrigation as well as crops and equipment manufacturers that aren't included in the original game.

With this kind of content, it could work similarly to what academics call the transfer of learning theory – which might be best described as the use of prior knowledge or experience to spark students' interests in a particular subject. It makes perfect sense, especially considering today's technology-driven agriculture.

True, these simulators leave out some critical components of agriculture and aren't exactly like managing a working farm – nothing can replace the boots on the ground, hands-on experience of being on the farm, not to mention the very real risk that goes with managing a farm or ranch, but maybe for those who didn't grow up on the farm, or those who did grow up on the farm but want to try a different kind of farming (e.g. someone who grew up growing rainfed corn in the central Corn Belt but wants to see what it's like to grow dryland wheat), it might make for a great immersive experience. Another way to look at this is that farmers and ranchers are officially becoming action heroes, and that in itself is pretty cool.

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