Celebrate Earth Day With Eco-Friendly Games

Eco-themed games give kids virtual goals with real-life impacts.

April 21, 2009, 6:19 PM

April 22, 2009— -- In honor of Earth Day April 22, families might want to plant a tree, plan a vegetable garden, or revisit their personal recycling routines.

In addition, parents might want to recommend to their Internet-savvy, constantly-online kids that they check out two new eco-friendly virtual worlds: "Emerald Island" and "Elf Island."

In both, kids learn to do good by gaming. The pro-ecology actions that kids perform within the games produce real-world benefits outside the game. Here's a closer look at what each has to offer.

"Emerald Island" is a massively multiplayer online game (MMO) where kids enter the game as an animal avatar that they design. Tasked with fighting off eco-destroying rodents known as PiRats, kids go on a series of quests to save this world from pollution, deforestation and other ecological disasters.

Upon entering this world, kids are provided with a home and land on which to plant a garden. This world is populated with other kid players as well as nonplayer characters who act as your guides throughout the world. As with most virtual worlds, you can change the look of your avatar, safely chat if parents approve, and decorate your crib.

But the focus of this game is completing eco-themed quests and planting a garden to raise crops for sale and to keep the habitat "green." One such quest involves helping an in-game character whose Aspen trees have been cut down by the PiRats. He needs your help in finding and planting new Aspen seeds.

MMOs can be confusing for kids new to this gaming experience, but "Emerald Island" eases this discomfort by providing cute, in-game movies that explain the game play. By playing the minigames scattered throughout the world, growing vegetables to sell and doing quests, kids earn coins to buy things in this virtual world.

Designed for kids ages 6-12, they can explore this world for free but will have a richer experience if they become a member. For example, members can buy additional seeds for their garden, whereas nonmembers will have to go on quests to earn more seeds. Membership is $5.95 for a month, $29.95 for six months, and $57.95 for a year.

Kids Learn to Do Good With "Elf Island"

In honor of Earth Day, "Emerald Island" is offering many in-game quests about planting trees, and for every tree planted in the virtual world, Fluid Entertainment (the creator of "Emerald Island") will plant a real tree through www.TreesForTheFuture.org. This Earth Day promotion caps off at 50,000 real trees. In addition, for every child who enters "Emerald Island," a tree will be planted, with 10 trees being planted for every paid membership.

In "Elf Island", kids enter a lush virtual world elves.

While they can design their own elf avatar, buy it a house and decorate it, play fun minigames and safely chat with others within this world, what makes this online game stand out from the more than 200 other virtual worlds for kids is its overarching theme that being an elf means doing good in the world.

The game ties the story of unlocking the secret of "Elf Island" to doing a series of "Good Quests" in this virtual world, which are then mirrored in real life. The current "Tree Good Quest" has kids playing games to earn seeds to plant fruit trees in the desert of Niger.

Working with nonprofit Plant-It 2020 and the Eden Foundation, when the in-game goal of planting 20,000 trees is reached, 2,000 actual fruit trees will be planted in Niger.

In the game, kids are introduced to this challenge by watching a video of an actual child in Niger who asks for their help. Kids learn about how planting trees in Niger will help the people there to grow their food and change the ecosystem so that life is more sustainable in the desert. While playing, kids can also learn more about the partnering nonprofits Plant-it 2020 and the Eden Foundation.

While kids can enter this world for free, they can't contribute to the "Gaming for Good" quests without becoming paying members. Aimed at kids ages 8-14, membership starts at $5.95 for a month, $29.95 for 6 months, or $57.95 for a year. "Elf Island" uses part of this membership money to actually contribute to the non-profit partners to do good in the real world.

Jinny Gudmundsen is the kid-tech columnist for USA Today.com and Gannett News Service, and is also the editor of Computing with Kids.

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