SWACO's Game for the 21st Century

Whoever said educating kids is easy, has never taught a class of ornery sixth graders. That's why the Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio (SWACO) is using entertaining games to help teach kids how to “save the planet.”

The Amazing Recycltron actually includes two games — Road Rally and Junkyard Gold — that are designed to help kids better understand the waste stream and what materials can be recycled, says SWACO Executive Director Mike Long. For example, by maneuvering collection trucks, kids learn that pizza boxes are not recyclable but that soda cans, newspapers and plastic bottles are OK, he says.

In Road Rally, one or two players can drive through town collecting recyclable items. Players, of course, have obstacles to face. For instance, players must avoid all nonrecyclables that block their route, such as light bulbs. In Junkyard Gold, players must match three sets of recyclables then transport them to a recycling plant. Both games allow players to choose to drive a SWACO or Rumpke truck. Players also control their trucks' speeds.

“[The games] are a way of having an impact on kids who do not get [recycling information] at home,” says John Remy, SWACO communications director. Since January 15, kids have played The Amazing Recycltron at a kiosk in Columbus' The King Arts Complex. The venue has been used by SWACO for previous recycling projects. But the authority plans to make the game available online within a few months, which will allow more kids to enjoy a recycling education, Remy adds.

Several agencies worked to develop the games, including the King Arts Complex, Ohio Department of Natural Resources and Abitibi Consolidated, all based in Columbus, as well as Cincinnati-based Rumpke Consolidated Companies. Gearheads.com Programmer Richard Brown was hired to execute the groups' vision and met with several local children before developing the game's design, actions and sound effects.

Long believes that as children play the games, they will pass on what they have learned and their eagerness to recycle to adults. Other cities and organizations in Seattle and New York have realized the power of computers when it comes to reaching children. And if the hi-tech component attracts kids — and doesn't seem educational — it will get the message out, he says.