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Type of site
Virtual Reality virtual world serious games
Created byNumedeon
LaunchedFebruary 1999; 19 years ago (1999-02)
Written inJava Flash HTML5

Whyville is an educational Internet site geared towards children from ages 8–14+ founded and managed by Numedeon, Inc. Whyville engages its users in learning about a broad range of topics, including science, business, art and geography. Whyville is extremely popular, and has a registered base of more than 7 million users.[1] Whyville's users (Whyvillians) engage in virtual world simulation based games and role play sponsored by a wide range of governmental, non-profit, and corporate entities.

Whyville was launched in 1999, by Numedeon Inc, which was founded by Dr. James M. Bower, his students and collaborators at the California Institute of Technology, who were interested in whether simulation-based serious gaming could change education, and Whyville's purpose remains primarily educational.

Whyville is regarded as an innovation leader in digital learning and online engagement of children.[2] Contributing to its educational influence, many of Whyville's citizens have stayed active users of the site for many years with significant impact on their lives and careers.[3]

Whyville's interactive structure[edit]

Whyville was one of the first virtual worlds built around learning games. Whyville was also one of the first virtual worlds which used an internal virtual currency.[4] Users earn a 'clam' salary based on their educational activities on the site. With these clams they can buy face parts, projectiles, furniture, bricks, and other virtual goods and services that enhance their life in the Whyville virtual world. In 2007, Whyville partnered with the Spanish Bank Bankinter to build a virtual banking system for Whyville's users through which they manage their clam assets [5]

Whyville was also one of the first sites to emphasize user created content.[4] Tied directly to the clam economy, once a user has accumulated a large enough clam savings, they can start their own Whyville virtual business based on their own created content. Most of these businesses are built around the construction of 'face parts' from which users make their own avatars, using simple pixel by pixel drawing tools. Other businesses design and sell decals for users' virtual Scions (virtual automobiles in Whyville sponsored by Scion owned by Toyota). Players must draw their creations by hand. There is no copying and pasting, and all contributed content is reviewed by site staff for appropriateness. Since the site's launch, thousands of players have created millions of face parts.

A weekly newspaper called "The Whyville Times" comes out every Sunday. Whyvillians send in articles that they have written to the Times Editor. If the article is published, other users may comment on it in the Bulletin Board System (BBS).

Online safety[edit]

Whyville is regarded as one of the safest sites for children on the internet.[6] Independent parent groups have lauded its educational value and safety, including Whyville receiving awards in 2006, 2007, and 2008 from iParenting as the best website for kids, and the best on the web for its safety features.[7] In 2008 Whyville received a NAPPA (National Parenting Publication Award) Gold Award as a site that represented the best in its genre for kids[8]

In education[edit]

Whyville has been involved in numerous projects involving schools. For example, Whyville has sponsored several workforce pipeline projects that aim to encourage children to consider technical and scientific careers.

In another example, National Science Foundation awarded funding to ETR Associates to implement a project through middle school classrooms to engage young Hispanic women in computer game design and entrepreneurship.[9]

The Texas Workforce Commission has also funded Whyville to develop workforce related games in advanced manufacturing, biotechnology and energy.[10] In the 2007-2008 school year, Waco Independent School District piloted integration of Whyville into school day activities and creating lesson plans in more than fifty classrooms with over 1,000 students. In April, 2008, as part of its work with the Texas Workforce Commission, Whyville launched a new initiative for teachers called the WhyTexas Challenge.[11] Over three weeks, 300 teachers in Texas signed their students up to compete for their classrooms. The winners, from the Waco Independent school district amassed more than 17,000 clams in the three-week period of time.[12]

In May, 2012, Whyville partnered with Power Across Texas, DaVinci Minds and Alamo Colleges to run the WhyPower Competition, a statewide class vs. class competition in the newly built WhyPower activity in Whyville. 110 classes competed to earn the most clams while building virtual green homes; managing power plant operations; placing wind turbines, solar panels and other power plants around Whyville; managing power physical infrastructure; and managing power policy for Whyville. The winning classroom from the STEM RAM Academy, housed at Nimitz Middle School, San Antonio, amassed 57,984 clams. WhyPower was funded by a Texas Workforce Commission grant funded through the Texas Governor's Office, and also by Next Generation Learning Challenges, operated by EDUCAUSE, with these partners: The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, iNACOL, The Council of Chief State School Officers, and the League for Innovation in the Community College. The competition supported a larger project that developed curriculum and professional development for deployment of WhyPower in Texas middle schools, teaching to standards for middle school math, science and career education, and integrating custom, local career pathways into the WhyPower activity in Whyville.

Educational research[edit]

Whyville has drawn attention from educational researchers interested in the effect of virtual worlds on children.[13] The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation funded research into how preteens explore and share information about reproductive health using Whyville.[14]

Educational Research on Whyville has now been published in the book "Connected Play: Tweens in a Virtual World" Authored by Yasmin B. Kafai, Deborah A. Fields, and Mizuko Ito.[15]


Whyville has an extensive list of both public and private sponsors. Examples include NASA the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention the J. Paul Getty Trust, Disney, EMI, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Scholastic Publishing the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Next Generation Learning Challenges, the U. S. Department of Labor, the Texas Workforce Commission, and Chicago's Field Museum of Natural History. Whyville's corporate sponsors include Scion which launched its first virtual world presence in Whyville, .[16]

Whyville also has an extensive virtual nutrition project sponsored by the University of Texas System and The School Nutrition Association.[17] In this project, Whyville's citizens elect to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner each day, and a nutrition calculator then determines their state of health.

Whyville also has games and activities focusing on environmental issues supported by organizations like the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. The site has yet to launch a major project involving global climate change.[18]

Whyville has also recently worked with the Concord Consortium to implement a series of games based on breeding dragons as a way to learn Genetics.[19]

Recent sponsorships[edit]

Over the last several years, Whyville has been involved with ACT in the development of game and quest based efforts to help children navigate and explore careers. Launched as ACT's Career Quest in Whyville, children can explore both the nature of modern careers as well as the abilities and attributes necessary for particular careers.[20]

Working with faculty at William James College Whyville has also been involved in developing new game and activity based approaches to educating young children about social emotional health and well being.

Technical Foundation for Whyville[edit]

Whyville runs on N.I.C.E, Numedeon's Interactive Community Engine. Nice is an online platform that supports the construction and management of immersive virtual worlds. Core component of this engine are protected by U.S. Patents[21] N.I.C.E., and therefore Whyville runs on a standard web browser, and can be run with as little as 56K baud connectivity.[22]".


  1. ^ Merrilea J. Mayo (2009-01-02). "Video Games: A Route to Large-Scale STEM Education". Science Magazine. Retrieved 2009-01-02.
  2. ^ C. Mouza and N. Lavigne, ed. (7 November 2012). Emerging Technologies for the Classroom. Springer.
  3. ^ Alda Aki (2015-12-04). "Why Virtual Whyville Still Inspires". Voice of America.
  4. ^ a b Richard Lee Colvin (2002-07-08). "Cartoon lips, virtual fashion and physics". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2002-07-08.
  5. ^ Andy Chalk (2007-10-12). "Spanish Bank Opens Virtual Branch in Whyville". Escapist Magazine.
  6. ^ Irene Scherer (2014-11-08). "3 Reasons Why Social Media Age Restrictions Matter". Huffington Post.
  7. ^ Linda Knapp (2007-02-17). "Why is Whyville a Hit? It's safe and fun". The Seattle Times. Retrieved 2007-02-17.
  8. ^ Irene Scherer (2008-11-05). "Virtual Worlds for Kids Win Parenting Award". Library Nation. Retrieved 2008-11-05.
  9. ^ Donna Jones (2007-05-04). "Gaming class aim to spark girls interest in computer careers". The Santa Cruz Sentinel. Retrieved 2007-05-04.
  10. ^ Perry Announces $3 Million to Develop Workforce of the Future, 2006-08-02 press release by Texas Governor Rick Perry
  11. ^ Why-Texas Whyville Texas Challenge
  12. ^ "Why-Texas Whyville Texas Challenge". Why-texas.com. Retrieved 2013-01-19.
  13. ^ Yasmin B. Kafai Research Projects, 2006-08-09
  14. ^ "Thomas & Kafai: Tweens and Reproductive Health in Virtual Worlds, 2008-08-09". Retrieved 1 October 2014.
  15. ^ "Connected Play: Tweens in a Virtual World (The John D and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning)". MIT Press. 2013. ISBN 9781461947974. Retrieved 2013-10-11.
  16. ^ Kevin Newcomb (2006-07-18). "Scion Offers Virtual Car Loans at Whyville". ClickZ. Retrieved 2006-07-18.
  17. ^ "Children learn how to eat nutritiously, the Whyville way". University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio. 14 February 2006.
  18. ^ Anastasia Goodstein (2007-06-27). "Virtual Environmentalism". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 2007-06-27.
  19. ^ "Using Social Networking to Learn Genetics". Retrieved 25 November 2014.
  20. ^ "ACT and Numedeon Launch CAREERQUEST: An interactive career exploration game within the Whyville virtual world". Serious Games News. 24 April 2013.
  21. ^ "Patent: Graphical interactive interface for immersive online communities". 12 April 2011. Retrieved 12 January 2016.
  22. ^ Numedeon Inc. "About Us". Numedeon Inc. Website. Retrieved 2007-08-06.

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