forget virtual pets; how about virtual wildlife?

okay, so this is crazy: Mom’s taking care of her children’s virtual pets while the children are away at camp (it’s an “only in NY” kind of story). But it got me thinking: why couldn’t we design virtual megafauna or virtual habitats that kids must take care of?

We have enough knowledge of simulating habitats and of gaming that we can easily create the environments/animals as well as the interactions (btw, see the latest Communications of the ACM on creating a science of gaming). Similar to Sim City but for habitats and appropriate to the learning ability of children. The trick is to make it as attractive as Webkinz. Webkinz is an Internet/MMORPG tie-in to purchased stuffed animals. The MMORPG resembles the Sims; it has all the consumerism and the interactions although it’s touted as kid-safe. You can buy things for your pet’s home through kids cash, which is earned through playing games and taking quizzes (in a game show format). In our newly developed WebHab (or WebWildlife), instead of buying furniture, perhaps our players could buy padding for a nest, increase (buy?) the number of species, obtain water for the habitat, and so on. Kids could take Dora The Explorer type quizzes to earn HabCash to fund their virtual conservation efforts.

Our new simulation thus serves several purposes:

  • get kids concerned about the environment and nature from an early age.
  • exploit consumerism for a conservation cause (if WWF can sell stuffed pandas then this could have all sorts of tie-ins, from buying a stuffed animal to sponsoring an animal in the wild).
  • surreptitiously teach children science.

Now all we need are some conservation minded techies…

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