Problem is, they're really fun. That's why Talkie, a game designer based in Los Angeles, is making a new social game, akin to Zynga's "FarmVille" or "CityVille," that they hope will encourage their players to get out of their chairs and have a positive impact on their environments. They're just one of scores of designers hoping to harness the addictive power of video games toward social good.
In "Ecotopia," the player takes control of an avatar put into a decrepit world full of environmentally unfriendly infrastructure and obstinate neighbors unwilling to change. But with the slow, careful application of "green actions," like changing light bulbs or installing solar panels, they can change their surroundings into a futuristic, sustainable paradise.
That's in the game. The developers are hoping that the real power of "Ecotopia" will be a system that rewards players large numbers of points for real-world green actions -- mostly the stuff that the avatar does in the game, but in a real house or community.
In addition, they'll be holding weekly video contests with prizes for instances of things like "extreme recycling" that the community will vote on. Not all players will likely opt to perform real-world actions to get more points, but even those other players will be exposed to a general environmental message.
The game has some serious real environmental cred, as well. "Ecotopia" has partnered with Conservation International, a large environmental group in Arlington, Va., with projects in dozens of countries. One of Conservation International's more well-known board members, actor Harrison Ford, has been an especially close friend of the project.
Bond and designer Chris Swain were talking with Ford at a biodiversity summit in Nagoya, Japan, when they realized that the fields of conservation and games could have a lot more to do with each other than they thought, and Ford has been closely involved with "Ecotopia" ever since. Players will likely see weekly video exhortations from Ford or other celebrities encouraging them to perform a particular green action for points in the game.
"Ecotopia," expected to launch this spring on Facebook, will be free to play and available across a range of social media platforms.