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Games for Change: An Interview with MiniMonos and a Look Back
Amanda Reed, 11 Aug 10

( screenshot)

Jeff Ramos of recently interviewed Kaila Colbin from, which is a virtual world that encourages children and parents to practice sustainability, generosity and community. The game was developed by a group of New Zealanders who were trained by Al Gore to be Climate Ambassadors after The Inconvenient Truth came out (see "Al Gore's Slideshow Going Viral" and "Field Report: Al Gore's Climate Project" for more from Worldchanging on the Climate Project's Climate Ambassadors training program).

Here is an excerpt from the interview in which Colbin talks about the real world projects the players of MiniMonos develop as a result of the game's lessons:

What have you learned about gaming and social interaction because of MiniMonos?

We’ve learned that kids online will continually surprise and delight you. We’ve learned that kids are far more clued up about the environment than we had realized, and that they place far more explicit importance on it than we had realized. We’ve learned that they really appreciate being listened to, and the importance of a sense of belonging. We’ve also learned that they’ll go to astonishing lengths to get a rare virtual item!

We’ve been stunned and humbled by the many ways in which MiniMonos members have picked up the sustainability gauntlet and carried these messages into the real world. We’re seeing a generation of children who already care for the environment, who are tremendously generous, fun-loving, and supportive of each other.

Take Percy, who, on his own initiative, started Percy’s Pick-up Trash Fridays, from which we’ve learned that other children have visited a recycling centre, cleaned up their school with the class, cleaned up the whole street and are regularly picking up trash!

Percy also, with his own pocket money, ran an eco-themed artwork competition:

He’s not alone; another member, Geek, ran a World Environment Day competition, and another, Viper, has run several competitions, the most recent to create a poem about MiniMonos and the environment. (Geek says: “In this contest, you need to show us that you have done an act that is good for the environment…It needs to relate to the environment, and it has to be positive!”)

Another monkey, Emini picked up over 1,800 cigarette butts from her local beach:

Other members have created their own blogs ( or become “moggers” — monkey bloggers — on the MiniMonos Go Bananas blog.

We do everything we can to reinforce the need to take real-world action. We turned off the servers for Earth Hour, and every new membership provides clean drinking water for children in India...

Click here to read the full interview and learn more about MiniMonos and the game developers.

As a relative newbie to Worldchanging and games for change, this interview inspired me to look into the Worldchanging archives to see what other games and virtual worlds had been written about in the past...the extensive collection of articles I found was stunning. If you're interested in checking some or all of them out, the list appears below with quotes from each piece.

Are there any games out there that we've yet to hear about that you think are 'games for change'? Let us know in the comments!


SuperBetter: The Ignite Talk and a Kickstarter Project - Jane McGonigal, 29 Jul 10: "This week, I celebrated the one-year anniversary of my traumatic brain injury. I might not have made it without the game I invented to help cure it. Here's a 5-minute Ignite talk that I gave explaining the game, SuperBetter. [...] (And for the complete rules for how to play, and the full story of the game's design, read: SuperBetter, or How to Turn Recovery into a Multiplayer Adventure Game.)

A Crash Course In Saving the World Starts Today - Mark Tovey, 3 Mar 10: "Jane McGonigal, of World Without Oil and SuperStruct fame has turned her attention to producing a gaming experience which elicits social innovation and changemaking. It's called "Urgent Evoke: a crash course in saving the world". The game launches today..."

Jane McGonigal on Gaming for Good - Suzie Boss, 1 Feb 10: "Solving the world’s biggest problems will require a superhuman outpouring of energy, passion, creativity, and collaboration. Fortunately, Jane McGonigal has a strategy for unleashing people’s capacity to take on hard challenges: playing games. A celebrated designer, researcher, and future forecaster, McGonigal specializes in alternate reality games that engage massive online audiences in real-world issues ranging from energy shortages to health pandemics."

Gaming the Future and Getting it Right: an Interview with Dr. John Robinson - Alex Aylett, 24 Nov 09: "Dr. Robinson was part of the team that developed the interactive urban sustainability platform Metroquest (profiled earlier on WC ). He is also heading up the construction of UBC's Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability (CIRS) and has been a Lead Author on the past three IPCC reports. I caught up with him after his talk for an interview on how to foster a shift to a sustainable urban society."

Game Politics: A New Web Community Takes New Zealand’s Political Pulse - Billy Matheson, 19 Jul 08: "Pulse of the Nation is a new web based initiative to get New Zealand voters engaged in the build up to this year’s general election, through the development of an active online political community."

Changing The World, One (Sim)City At A Time - Eleanor Lang, 15 Nov 07: "One Laptop Per Child is built on technological innovations, but with a very simple concept: by giving every kid a computer, especially in underdeveloped countries, it's possible to enable learning in places where it would be all but impossible."

Game Explores the High Cost of Living in Rural Poverty - Eleanor Lang, 18 Oct 07: "UNICEF has such a wealth of information on its site that it would be hard for a kid to process it all. This includes a number of games (a bit buried on the site, unfortunately). Some are incredibly simple, illustrating easy concepts for very young children, and some are more complex...Best among them, and possibly the best game for change I've seen to date is Ayiti: The High Cost of Living. The game, named after the local Creole moniker for the Republic of Haiti, challenges players to discover what it's like to live in abject poverty, struggling to stay healthy and get an education."

Game Teaches Kids About Disaster Reduction (Perhaps Some Adults, Too) - Eleanor Lang, 12 Oct 07: "A game can't really protect you from a flood, and Stop Disasters can't prevent natural disasters -- but it teaches kids the basic urban planning that can save lives and reduce the impacts of a natural disaster. Stop Disasters is free and it's Flash (so nothing to download). While it has on-site information for educators from kindergarten through high school, it's probably most appropriate for the 8 to 13-year-old crowd, who usually don't watch CNN, read The New York Times, or have an understanding of topography and building materials in other parts of the world."

Peace is hard! Let's play a game! - Eleanor Lang, 19 Sep 07: "I like to think Mark Twain, who was a journalist, would have appreciated the game Global Conflicts: Palestine, in which the player assumes the role of a journalist new to Jerusalem and chooses to cover the Palestine-Israeli conflict for either a European, Israeli or Palestinian paper. Gameplay consists of exploring a 3-D environment, talking to sources, gaining their trust, and ultimately writing an article that includes quotes from the game's dialog. The game contains six missions, each with a story to cover, and score is represented by how well the story is written for the chosen publication: the more inflammatory and greater the slant for the audience, the higher the score, but the greater difficulty in collecting quotes on future missions, since the player/journalist is then seen as biased and unreliable...Global Conflicts: Palestine was developed by Serious Games Interactive..."

i’m in ur Xbox savin ur planet - Katie Kurtz, 3 Jul 07: "The folks at Something Awful recently issued a Photoshop Phriday challenge: environmentally-friendly video games. The sleek graphics put a new – and funny – spin on public transportation, fuel efficiency, nuclear disarmament, and other sustainability-related topics. Environmental Club spoofs the movie Fight Club with the tagline, “I am Jack’s greener self” and Need for Speed: Carbon Credit turns hybrids into tough and sexy racecars. The challenge coincided somewhat with the fourth annual Games for Change (G4C) conference in New York where Microsoft announced this summer’s global warming-themed Xbox 360 Games for Change Challenge."

Checking in with Village: The Game - Robert Katz, 23 Nov 06: "I first reported on Village: The Game – think SimCity meets social entrepreneurship – back in August. At the time, the game's web site featured little more than a proposal and the passionate musings of its creator, Darian Hickman. I checked back in on Village: The Game today, and much has happened since August: '...we are targeting January 2007 to release an alpha of Village and get some real world feedback. Game demo design is complete. The first round of 2D concept art for buildings is complete, but we can change to make sure it matches well with other level art.' Darian and his team are hiring engineers/artists/designers to help them stylize the characters, buildings, terrain, and the rest of the game play environment."

Build Your Own (Virtual) Village, One Business at a Time - Robert Katz, 2 Sep 06: "What do you get when you mix SimCity with social entrepreneurship? Village, a multiplayer strategy game that puts the BOP hypothesis to work. It's hardly the first game to take on worldchanging topics, something that never ceases to amaze me..."

Futuremaking Serious Games and Cardboard Castles - Alex Steffen, 31 Jul 06: "A while back, I wrote an essay, Future-making, in which I discussed the importance of using new tools to help people visualize better futures, and gave a brief overview of which tools seemed particularly exciting to me. Serious games, of course, were high on the list. Now Eliane Alhadeff has launched a whole blog on serious games, Future-making Serious Games."

Future-making - Alex Steffen, 8 Apr 06: "Play changes the mind. Through play, we feel and experience and respond to new aspects of the world. Like art, play speaks to that part of us "which is a gift, and not an acquisition." Because play is so powerful, games can open new visions of the possible to us in ways other art forms cannot."

Gaming for Change - Micki Krimmel, 27 Mar 06: "In the same vein as Sarah's recent post, Wired News points out two new competitions for game developers with a mission to use their powers for good. The first comes from a partnership between the USC Annenberg School for Communication and The State Department. The Reinventing Public Diplomacy Through Games Competition seeks to improve America's reputation abroad. To compete, game designers must create or modify an existing massively multiplayer online game (MMOG) incorporating the fundamental characteristics of public diplomacy. [...] The second contest mentioned in the article is mtvU's Darfur Digital Activist competition. The contest drew 12 viral video game submissions to spread the word about genocide in Sudan. Voting is now closed but you can still play the 4 finalist games on the website. The winning game (to be announced soon) will receive completion funds and be launched to the public this Spring."

Bordergames - Sarah Rich, 25 Mar 06: "As far as innovative uses of technology go, video games have become one of the most creative and accessible tools available for fostering sociocultural understanding. Though the idea has been around for a while, games are much more complex and their applications broader than ever before...One of the more recent to come to our attention is Bordergames, which simulates the experience of living as a young immigrant in Lavapies, the "barrio bajo" of Madrid. The game was created by a group of activist artists from Lavapies who call themselves "La Fiambrera Obrera."

A Force More Powerful: Now Available - Jamais Cascio, 9 Mar 06: "We've been talking about the video game A Force More Powerful for quite a while. Originally scheduled for release in Fall of 2005, it suffered the fate that befalls many games: nagging delays. But the long wait is over; A Force More Powerful is now available. But what is A Force More Powerful? 'A Force More Powerful is the only PC game about nonviolent struggle available today.'"

Game Designer, Heal Thyself - Alex Steffen, 4 Mar 06: "Games can be tools for learning how to change the world: in virtual worlds we can design cities, overthrow dictatorships and run refugee camps, but many of the most popular games are still about adventure and combat. But what if we had games whose adventures were based not on violence, but healing?"

Serious Games: Go Do Something Cool - Jamais Cascio, 5 Nov 05: "The Serious Games Summit took place this last week, and by all reports, it was a worthwhile event (one I'm sorry that I missed!). We talk with some regularity about the use of games for educational and "non-entertainment" purposes, and the Serious Games Summit covered the issue in some depth. (Previous "serious games" we've looked at include A Force More Powerful, climate games, Food Force and -- of course -- SimCity.)"

Games As Political Lessons - Jamais Cascio, 18 Jun 05: "Political games have a long history in the computer game world, but rarely a good one. Politics are hard to model well, and it's all too easy for a game designer to let biases overtake simulation. When this happens, it's nearly always to the game's detriment as both lesson and enjoyment. But even those failures can show us how a more compelling version might look; when the good ones do show up, they can be amazingly powerful tools for provocation."

Food Force - Jamais Cascio, 16 Apr 05: "Can a video game be educational and still be good? The history of educational games is spotty, at best; arguably SimCity comes closest, and there the academic aspects are debatable. Part of the problem is that most games, like other forms of drama, require some kind of conflict or tension, and it's challenging to make drama organic to math quizzes. Situations where the drama is a natural part of the lesson stand a better chance of succeeding as a game...Because games are active, not passive, forms of entertainment, they have a very real potential for education. You don't just watch people making choices, you make them yourself. That's why we keep returning to the topic of "serious games" like A Force More Powerful, Pax Warrior, and Industrial Waste...When one hears that the United Nations has produced a video game about food aid, skepticism is a reasonable response. But the reviews of Food Force, the new game produced by the UN World Food Program, have been surprisingly good."

SimCity: Not for Educational Use - Jamais Cascio in November of 2004: "Simulation games like SimCity are valuable because they give a peek at the complex relationships between cause and effect in big systems such as cities. They're a chance to play at the edges of complexity, to see "what happens if I do this?" in both an iterated and replicable fashion. They can be wonderfully seductive digital sirens leading to unexpectedly staying up to 3:30 AM. But to be good educational tools, the models have to be transparent and changeable. We should be able to play with the system itself, not just the system's effects."

Update 08/23/2010: GameCulturalist just posted an interview with Filament Games about their game "Energy City" that is also worth checking out!

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Reading this, I can't help humming Peter Gabriel's song 'Games Without Frontiers'

Jane's done some great things in this area, but it's good to see she's not the only one.

It's a knockout!
jeux sans frontiers

Posted by: Tony Fisk on 11 Aug 10

Holy Moly Amanda,

I'd no idea y'all had been covering this FUN field of endeavor for so long and so in depth. This post is a power packed set of resources. Thanks so much!


Posted by: paul h on 12 Aug 10

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