Here at the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers, we’re always on the look-out for exciting ways to encourage creative thinking. We recently stumbled upon Whyville, an online island off the coast of Southern California that offers visitors and residents access to virtual tropical reefs and ski slopes, games, theaters, museums, community centers, art projects and shopping. Users can go SCUBA diving, start their own fashion labels, organize events, and even learn math and science through playing games. Even better, earn clams along the way.

That’s right – we said “clams.” But we aren’t talking about a special breed of magical mollusks that make all of your wishes come true. We’re referring to clams, the foundation of Whyville’s economy.

The motto of Whyville is “learning by doing.” So if you’ve ever wanted to start your own business, great – but you’ll have to start the way most people do, by saving and learning to manage a budget. Everyone’s welcome to become a citizen of Whyville, but most Whyvillians are between 8 and 15 years old. As a Whyvillian, you create a unique avatar and have the opportunity to care for animals, collect art, change your hair color, or learn about the environment. Friendly City Workers are around to guide you through the experience. Like our video game category, Whyville offers the opportunity to boldly reimagine the world in virtual space.

While the site is easy to navigate and doesn’t cost anything to use, nothing comes for free. Whyville is all about experience, so if you want to get ahead, you’re going to have earn those clams and get your Chat License. Fortunately, users can gain clams by playing games, participating in virtual events and interacting with other players. You even get a handy bank account to help you track what you spend and earn. And because Whyville has been around for over a decade, there are plenty of experienced users who can offer support and advice. But don’t forget to watch out for the WhyFlu!

If you’re thinking about applying to our video game category, safe virtual worlds are a good way to start thinking about interactivity. Because you define the experience, Whyville is a world that’s as interesting and rich as you want it to be.

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