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Let the (Video) Games Begin

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BURLINGTON -- Vermont's elementary school curriculum may soon include playing a locally made video game. This summer, students in the Electronic Game and Interactive Development program at Champlain College created "Mission Mercury," an educational video game geared toward middle-schoolers.

The college students and their professors -- with a little help from Environmental Commissioner Jeffrey Wennberg -- unveiled the game at a reception at Burlington's Firehouse Gallery last Friday. The premise of "Mission Mercury" is this: "Sierra," a yellow-suited woman from the future, recruits three kids -- "Zimmy," "Jane" and "Gibb" -- to help her ameliorate mercury contamination, which can cause brain damage. Players choose one of the three kid characters, then lead them through six tasks.

The tasks vary. In one, players replace the mercury-filled light bulbs at the skate park with energy-efficient models. They then recycle the bad bulb, while avoiding the skateboarders zooming past on the half-pipe. Another level challenges players to place air filters atop the smokestacks on coal-burning power plants.

Vermont's Department of Environmental Conservation funded the project, with help from the Environmental Protection Agency. This fall, the DEC will market "Mission Mercury" to schools across the state. This partnership is said to be the first of its kind.

Developers in search of future public-service games might consider these three suggestions:

"Operation Prescription"

You're a senior citizen on a fixed income -- choose "Gert," "Bert" or "Flossy." Your challenge: Navigate the red tape of Medicare and Canadian import programs to fill your prescriptions and pay your monthly bills. You win when you can fill your prescriptions and buy holiday gifts for your grandchildren.

"Rescue: New Orleans"

Players coordinate rescue operations in the aftermath of a catastrophic Category 4 Hurricane. Evacuating inner-city hospitals and nursing homes is actually worth more points than assisting white suburbanites. Blame Game Bonus Round: Hunt down inept federal, state and local officials hiding out in their spin bunkers. Fire at will. You win when everyone gets out.

"Mission Methadone"

You lost the war on drugs and got hooked on heroin. Now you're an addict in recovery. You have $50 in your pocket as you speed down the rural roads of Bennington County, on your way to the nearest methadone clinic for your daily shot. Choose from clinics in Derby, Burlington or Massachusetts.

Swerve to avoid moose, steer clear of speed traps and vans full of vengeful dealers, and watch for the best deals on gas. Try to have a few coins and enough time left before work to call state health officials and lobby for a clinic closer to home. You win when a methadone clinic opens nearby.

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