Thursday, May 13, 2010

MiniMonos: Serious Games to Inculcate Sustainability Values


Serious Games embody core values like sustainability and generosity, without turning those values into a boring lecture


Via: MiniMonos Beta

MiniMonos is a virtual world for children: a place of fun, beauty, discovery, generosity, sustainability and friendship.

The Christchurch, New Zealand-based company was created so that children could have a place of their own, a place that allows them to explore and grow without constant pressure to buy stuff. MiniMonos also wanted them to have a place that embodied core values like sustainability and generosity, without turning those values into a boring lecture.

Last week MiniMonos was featured in Forbes. Forbes' Oliver Chiang discussed MiniMonos as an example of one of the Games That Can Change The World, in his article highlighting games which address social, environmental and educational issues.

He says: “Movements over the past decade toward Serious Games or games with a higher purpose beyond entertainment has game developers, companies and now even the White House saying "Yes, they can." Chiang said about MiniMonos: “If a game is done right, even young children will be able to grasp complex social and environmental issues….Instead of moving up the game levels by hunting monsters or fighting enemies, MiniMonos players get rewards for doing things like cleaning up the lagoon or recycling garbage.


MiniMonos is currently in “open alpha” testing, and it is targeting children (primarily boys) in the US. The company’s founder, Melissa Clark-Reynolds, is a seasoned tech entrepreneur and entrepreneur in residence at Wellington’s incubator, Creative HQ. She is also an ambassador for Al Gore’s The Climate Project. The company will seek more capital later this year.
 
In MiniMonos, children play in treehouses that require care and nourishment. Living in a treehouse that is part of a live tree, rather than chopping trees down to build houses, is one example of a message of sustainability.
 
The world also has a recycling game where you use a catapult to throw trash into the correct recycling bin, a flying game where you collect wind clouds and avoid pollution clouds, and a swimming game where you use balloons to clean up trash in a swimming hole. In the swimming game, as you clean up, you see more fish. But if you want to see turtles and other cool sea life, you have to come back and clean every day. And if you haven’t recycled for a while, your treehouse will get messy. Your tree house is also powered by a wind turbine.
 
MiniMonos has also successfully raised further capital to continue to move through the next stages of development. Both milestones – Forbes’ article and the new grant - were an important validation for the involvement of kids’ community in creating MiniMonos and promoting sustainability.
 
MiniMonos Funding
 
As stated by GamesBeat, Virtual Worlds aren’t exactly fashionable these days. They went through a hype cycle when everyone predicted that we’d all be living virtual lives in online worlds like Second Life. Now our expectations of them are more down to earth — but new virtual worlds continue to pop up. MiniMonos is the latest.
 
MiniMonos has now raised NZD$800,000 (about USD$571,000) on top of a similar amount raised in February. The original investment group, which included Venture Accelerator Nelson and New Zealand’s Seed Co-Investment Fund, increased the amount it had previously committed to this tranche and has been joined by Movac, a key investor in TradeMe.
 
Phil McCaw, a founding investor in TradeMe and an initial angel investor in MiniMonos, says he’s impressed with the progress of the green-themed world targeting U.S. Boys. "We see lots of companies with great tech but minimal customer traction, so what I like with MiniMonos is the uptake and effort invested by the kids themselves," McCaw said in statement. "The fact that they create Blogs, art, competitions, and videos tells me that MiniMonos has a solid foundation of grassroots support that will serve it well as it scales."
 
About MiniMonos Higher Aspiration
 
Melissa Clark-Reynolds, the founder of MiniMonos, started the company in 2007 because, like parents everywhere, she wants a better life for my children and grandchildren. She wants a world where they are free to enjoy childhood without the pressure of worrying whether previous generations have messed it up or not.
 
She realized that most virtual worlds exist to solve a problem for advertisers. The advertisers' question is, “How do I sell more stuff to kids?” Why else did Disney buy Club Penguin? Why do Buildabear and Webkinz and Barbie and every other major toy manufacturer have virtual worlds? It's because the worlds give them a way of merchandising. They aren't really thinking about the kids.
 
She’s got a different question: How can we build a virtual world where the real customers are the parent and the kid? How would it differ from the others out there?

With the right question, some of the answers became obvious. First of all, it's got NO advertising. Did you know the average life of a toy in a US home is 60 days? What if we showed them we loved them without buying stuff? What if we created them a place to play which was about the experience, and not the stuff? What if they could actively participate in creating and nurturing a world of their own? What if that world could teach them something about how to BE in this real world? What if the lessons were about sustainability and generosity and the joy to be had in nature? What if “delight” for the child (rather than for the toy company) was core to the experience?