New game: Save the planet, fall in love with math

IBM's PowerUp virtual world game designed to get kids interested in engineering

IBM is hoping that its new multiplayer online game could inspire kids to work to save the planet while falling in love with math and science.

PowerUp is a 3-D virtual world that challenges players to save the planet Helios from ecological disaster, explained Stanley Litow, vice president of corporate citizenship and corporate affairs at IBM. The game, which can be played alone or in groups, features a planet in near ecological ruin where three missions for solar, wind and water power must be solved before sandstorms, floods or SmogGobs overtake the planet. To do that, players need to become virtual engineers who create energy-saving technologies.

"It's very exciting," said Litow. "Everyone knows there's a crisis in America's competitiveness in business, engineering and science innovation. We've had a very hard time getting kids excited about engineering. You can't compromise on math and science. We need to get young people interested and excited by using the tools that excite them, like games and virtual worlds."

The free game went live last night at this site.  IBM will be showing off the game at Engineer's Week 2008, which opens Feb. 17 in Washington. Engineers Week is led by a group of companies, professional organizations and government workers, and focuses on creating interest in engineering as a profession.

PowerUp is designed to encourage players to learn about and use engineering principles by riding over rugged mountains in buggies to build solar towers or searching through junkyards to find parts needed to repair wind turbines. Players also should learn about energy conservation by the choices they make to complete their missions. The game also features nonplayer characters that serve as guides and engineering role models.

Litow noted that IBM also developed lesson plans that teachers can use in the classroom. Built around the premise of the game, the plans focus on math and science curriculums.

"We want kids to be more successful in school and participate in the kind of innovations that will make America great," said Litow, who added that IBM brought in 200 kids, aged 12 to 16, to test and comment on the game. "We'd love kids to get turned on to math and science."

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