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Type of site
Virtual Reality virtual world serious games
Written in Java
Owner Numedeon
Created by Numedeon
Launched February 1999; 16 years ago (1999-02)

Whyville is an educational Internet site geared towards children from ages 8–14. It aims to engage its users in learning about a broad range of topics, including science, business, art and geography. Whyville is extremely popular, and has over a 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.

Independent parent groups have lauded its educational value and safety. For example, Whyville has received awards in 2006, 2007, and 2008 from iParenting as the best website for kids, and the best on the web for its safety features.[2] In 2008 Whyville received a NAPPA (National Parenting Publication Award) Gold Award as a site that represented the best in its genre for kids[3]

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 runs on a standard web browser, and can be run on a 56K modem.[4]" according the Numedeon Website.

Virtual economy[edit]

Whyville was one of the first virtual worlds where game play was based on an internal virtual currency.[5] 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.

Whyville was also one of the first sites to emphasize user created content.[5] Tied directly into 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.

It is difficult to obtain a large amount of clams but some users have played Whyville since the day it came out, in 1999. Many richer Whyvillians use their clams to make face parts, buy Scions, or give them away through raffles and contests. Others may deposit their clams into a virtual Bank, (sponsored by the Bankinter of Spain) which allows Whyvillians to earn interest by depositing their clams in CD's (certificates of deposit) or into their online password protected savings accounts.


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.

One of Whyville's major corporate sponsors is Scion which launched its first virtual world presence in Whyville, where users can use clams to purchase customizable Scion xB, Scion xD, and Scion tC cars.[6] Users without sufficient clams can arrange loans from a virtual branch of Toyota Financial Services based on their Whyville Credit Score (Why-CO score). A robotic loan counselor helps citizens understand how to raise their credit rating. Scion owners can give rides to other users by invitation and can purchase custom decals made by other users for clams.

Whyville also has an extensive virtual nutrition project sponsored by the University of Texas System and The School Nutrition Association.[7] 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.[8]

Additional revenue[edit]

In addition to sponsorship, Whyville also has a unique form of "from site" revenue, called 'Pearls' which combines a limited form of premium subscription with the ability to purchase virtual goods.[9] The Pearl system is designed to resemble a monthly parental allowance system where users make their own decisions about how and whether to spend their Pearls, or save them for future purchases. Users can purchase virtual goods including virtual pets and avatar parts licensed by real world celebrities.[10]


Whyville has been involved in several workforce pipeline projects that aim to encourage children to consider technical and scientific careers. For example, the National Science Foundation has recently awarded funding to the ETR Associates to implement a project through middle school classrooms to engage young Hispanic women in computer game design and entrepreneurship.[11] The Texas Workforce Commission has also funded Whyville to develop workforce related games in advanced manufacturing, biotechnology and energy.[12] 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.

WhyTexas Challenge[edit]

In April, 2008, as part of its work with the Texas Workforce Commission, Whyville launched a new initiative for teachers called the WhyTexas Challenge.[13] 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.[14]

WhyPower Challenge[edit]

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.


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).

Educational research[edit]

Whyville has drawn attention from educational researchers interested in the effect of virtual worlds on children.[15] The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation funded research into how preteens explore and share information about reproductive health using Whyville.[16]


In addition to its more serious side, Whyville has hosted pop concerts with well-known artists, such as The Cheetah Girls, Stacie Orrico, TobyMac, and the Jonas Brothers.


Participants may engage in several virtual world leadership activities. For example, to become a Y-Mail Helper, users must have a salary of at least 100 clams, be active on the site for at least 90 days, and correctly answer 25 questions regarding rules, guidelines, and locations of certain links and features.

Recent News[edit]

Recently, this virtual website has died down a great deal. Many of today's users are 'veterans' of Whyville. Whyville is finding ways to advertise itself, such as having citizens write blog posts about the website in order to earn special face parts. The site died largely due to mismanagement. From instituting a bank interest rate that caused dramatic amounts of inflation, to banning their most popular members, Whyville has seen a steady decline.[17]


  1. ^ Merrilea J. Mayo (2009-01-02). "Video Games: A Route to Large-Scale STEM Education.". Science Magazine. Retrieved 2009-01-02. 
  2. ^ Linda Knapp (2007-02-17). "Why is Whyville a Hit? It's safe and fun.". The Seattle Times. Retrieved 2007-02-17. 
  3. ^ Irene Scherer (2008-11-05). "Virtual Worlds for Kids Win Parenting Award.". Library Nation. Retrieved 2008-11-05. 
  4. ^ Numedeon Inc. (Publish date unknown). "About Us". Numedeon Inc. Website. Retrieved 2007-08-06.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  5. ^ a b Richard Lee Colvin (2002-07-08). "Cartoon lips, virtual fashion and physics". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2002-07-08. 
  6. ^ Kevin Newcomb (2006-07-18). "Scion Offers Virtual Car Loans at Whyville". ClickZ. Retrieved 2006-07-18. 
  7. ^ "Learning Nutrition at Whyville’s Virtual Cafeteria". Retrieved 1 October 2014. 
  8. ^ Anastasia Goodstein (2007-06-27). "Virtual Environmentalism". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 2007-06-27. 
  9. ^ Stefanie Olson (2008-12-15). "People spend real money for virtual goods.". The Mercury News. Retrieved 2008-12-15. 
  10. ^ Joey Seiler (2008-12-24). "Whyville and vSide next for virtual greats.". Virtual World News. Retrieved 2008-12-24. 
  11. ^ Donna Jones (2007-05-04). [://www.scsextra.com/story.php?sid=48453 "Gaming class aim to spark girls interest in computer careers"]. The Santa Cruz Sentinel. Retrieved 2007-05-04. 
  12. ^ Perry Announces $3 Million to Develop Workforce of the Future, 2006-08-02 press release by Texas Governor Rick Perry
  13. ^ Why-Texas Whyville Texas Challenge
  14. ^ "Why-Texas Whyville Texas Challenge". Why-texas.com. Retrieved 2013-01-19. 
  15. ^ Yasmin B. Kafai Research Projects, 2006-08-09
  16. ^ "Thomas & Kafai: Tweens and Reproductive Health in Virtual Worlds, 2008-08-09". Retrieved 1 October 2014. 
  17. ^ Sucles, Mandi. "Whyville Recently". whyville.net. Whyville user shadiix3. Retrieved 2 June 2014. 

External links[edit]