Can a Facebook Game Really Boost Recycling?

oceanopolis facebook game image

Image via Greenopolis

Greenopolis is a company that started up a way for people to earn rewards as they recycle. By taking cans and bottles to a recycling kiosk and scanning them as they deposit them, the recyclers can earn points redeemable for coupons for restaurants, theaters and retail shops. It's a slightly more interesting way than taking the same bags of cans to parking lot containers and getting cash in return. The company has extended the idea of earning rewards for recycling to a new game launched on Facebook. But will people sitting around playing online games translate to tangible real-world benefits?The game is called Oceanopolis. The premise is that you're on a beautiful island near the Pacific Garbage Patch and you have to keep your island beautiful by recycling the junk that washes ashore. Supposedly, players will learn the benefits of recycling while earning real life rewards. The game is a way for Greenopolis to extend its reach into social media, with the hopes of boosting awareness about the real-world interactive recycling kiosks by getting people hooked on building a sustainable island community with their friends. During game play, points are earned that can be added to what players earn through recycling at Greenopolis kiosks.

"We have a goal to triple the amount of items we recycle by 2020," said Carl Rush, Vice President of Organic Growth, Waste Management. "Oceanopolis will help us reach this goal by integrating new technologies with our established network of recycling facilities."

But does sitting around fake-cycling honestly help people recycle more in real life? The possibility is there -- maybe we can consider it computer training for real world behaviors. It also familiarizes players with how to use Greenopolis kiosks (though effective sorting recyclables a home is a much more important habit to learn than spotting kiosks that aren't mainstream yet). Plus, if people are going to play online games, they might as well play one that teaches the benefits of sustainable living, such as battling litter and putting waste in its proper place.

However, if people are sitting around using up electricity, earning points so that they can go consume more stuff at retail stores and restaurants, and not improving their real life behavior by recycling more, then the whole game is ultimately a waste. Kind of like Farmville for people who would rather fake-grow food rather than start a backyard garden, ultimately it is not a path toward a sustainable world.

Admittedly, in general the fun of online gaming escapes me. While some games seem like interesting ideas (or even useful tools for behavioral change), I don't understand the purpose of spending time building up and interacting in a "second life." So perhaps I'm missing something about the potential benefits of Oceanopolis. If you play it an love it, please chime in in the comments.

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