Online games encourage green behavior

IBM uses simulation to teach smart city planning, while the MiniMonos community uses games to help shape children's habits with respect to the environment.

Confession time: I am absolutely spastic when it comes to cyber-gaming. As my tennis instructor from long ago could tell you, I'm too easily distracted to have great eye-hand coordination. When it comes to role-playing and simulation exercises as an education tool, however, I am a big fan. Apparently, so are an increasing number of technology companies that are using simulation and online gaming communities to help encourage environmentally sensitive behavior or sustainable business choices.

Earlier this month, IBM launched CityOne, which is an interactive simulation exercise focused on business and civic leaders . There are more than 100 different development scenarios built into the "game," focused on traffic congestion, saving water, supply chain optimization, green power choices and so on.

The players navigate the simulations and their progress is based on how an action will impact the community's environmental and sociological interests. There is even a facility that allows players to communicate with either other players exploring the same decisions or IBM industry experts. When the game launched, IBM said more than 8,000 preregistered to use CityOne. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency even took part in the development. Here's a statement from Andy Miller, chief of the atmospheric protection branch for EPA Research and Development:

"Creating greater awareness and educating the public about protecting human health and the environment is an EPA priority, and serious games can be useful tools for users to learn about processes and systems reflective of the real world. By cooperating with IBM CityOne developers, EPA is helping users by allowing them to more thoroughly investigate environmental issues and better understand complex energy and water interactions presented in the games. EPA's collaboration in this project will help increase awareness and understanding of how different choices that are made in the various game scenarios affect environmental outcomes."

The other community that I'll bring to your attention today is MiniMonos, an environmentally focused social network and gaming community for children that was started in 2007 by a New Zealand mom-preneur named Melissa Clark-Reynolds. The target age range is 6 through 12, and the community is closely moderated.

MiniMonos members create monkey avatars that roam an island and participate in activities, such as recycling, that have consequences on their score and standing. For example, if you don't play the game long enough, your treehouse will get messing. There are about a half-dozen different games within the MiniMonos virtual world. Yu can take compost generated by your avatar over to a garden, where it will accelerate crop growth. For those who are scatalogically inclined, there's a target accuracy game called Tic Tac Poo. "There are consequences involved with not taking some action here or another," says MiniMonos chief marketing officer, Kaila Colbin.

Colbin says there are currently 44,000 members who spend an average of two hours per week playing MiniMonos games. The United States is the community's second-biggest contributor of members, after New Zealand, but she expects the two countries to swap places over time.

Members earn "banana points" for reaching certain levels. When children reach gold member status, the company dominates clean water to schoolchildren in India. Colbin says the community can do this thanks to corporate sponsors. The first sponsorship, which covers 10,000 gold membership, is from Meredian Energy, a New Zealand renewable energy company with interests in the United States and Australia.

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