Like one of Tolkien’s bearded monarchs, Google is investing in the fight against trolls. The search and advertising giant has launched “Be Internet Awesome,” a campaign designed to help kids learn to protect themselves against hacking, harassment, and other digital hazards. In addition to a creating curriculum, Google has built a video game called Interland designed to give children tools to fight against negativity and hate. That’s a great idea in theory, but educational games have to work as games to actually prove educational.
Fortunately, Interland does just that.
Interland works like this: Players are represented by a blue avatar called an Internaut, and are meant to go around and help the magical world of Interland free itself from the clutches of bullies, hackers, and even well-intentioned, but ultimately harmful, online idiots. There are four levels to conquer: Kind Kingdom, Reality River, Mindful Mountain, and Tower of Treasure.
Along the way, players also encounter fellow Internauts, who have been brought down by negativity, try to help them through the power of kindness. And, because video games don’t really work without action, they also encounter bullies putting up literal walls to keep them from harming innocent Internauts. Players can report their activity with a megaphone.
The game teaches many other important online lessons in clever ways, too. For instance, there’s a level where you learn the importance of setting a good password by having your character outrun a bully and collect physical letters of the alphabet. You must arrange an ideal password that can’t be hacked or stolen. Smart.
The lessons are pretty obvious and, at times, blunt as a hammer. But that’s fine because they need to be learned. And the game deserves a lot of credit for familiarizing kids with problems they will no doubt encounter. Google could’ve easily gone the PSA route. But the team behind the game knows that modern day kids need a modern way of learning. Is it a complete solution? No. But Interland helps.