MADISON, Wis. (2/12/09)--Credit Union Island, an interactive financial education game for teens, officially opened to users within the teen grid of Second Life after a virtual ribbon-cutting ceremony Wednesday. Credit Union Island is a collaboration between the Filene Research Institute and its i3 group, the Ohio University Virtual Lab and Members United Corporate FCU. About 30 participants attended the conference by logging into Second Life. Each participant was assigned an avatar--a customizable character used by players in Second Life--to explore the island. Speakers at the ceremony included: Scott Moriarty, innovation consultant for Members United Corporate FCU, Warrenville, Ill.; Denise Gabel, Filene Research Institute chief innovation officer; Dr. Chiang Liu, director of Virtual Lab at Ohio University; and Roger Shelor, finance professor at Ohio University. The ceremony began at the island’s auditorium, where participants watched several videos that introduced them to the game. It continued at the auto dealership--where teen users will be able to purchase cars when playing the game--and concluded at the beach. During the conference, participants asked the presenters questions about the game through a chat function in Second Life. They also had the ability to change their avatar’s looks--such as clothing, hair, eyes and body types--and interact with others attending the conference. Credit Union Island is aimed at teaching teens how to manage their money in a safe environment without real-world consequences. Using Second Life currency, or Linden Dollars, players can make financial decisions such as purchasing a car or renting an apartment. Throughout the game, players’ income and credit scores are tracked, according to Moriarty. The virtual island includes a housing development, auto dealership and a credit union. Players can buy a car, drive to the homeownership development to purchase a house or rent an apartment, and use the credit union to make financial transactions, Moriarty said. Credit Union Island’s developers--a group of Filene i3 team members--are working with credit unions that have adopted the game and provide feedback to help shape its effectiveness. Last week, Athens High School in Ohio tested the game for usability with 75 to 100 students. A second generation of the game will be developed for launch later this spring, and will charge users for access. Credit unions should familiarize themselves with Second Life not just because of the Credit Union Island, but because they can use the virtual world for meetings and other credit union functions--such as setting up a virtual branch or testing out new services, Moriarty added. “You can launch a product in Second Life and see if people are interested,” Moriarty said. “[Credit unions should] get their feet wet, learn in a safe environment and see the variety of ways they can leverage Second Life to reach members. “Credit Union Island is a powerful education tool,” he added. “Using 3-D worlds is critical to reaching the next generation.” One aspect of Second Life is that its users may be wowed by the virtual world experience, but then lose interest if they can’t find something to do. Credit Union Island is different, Moriarty said. “The game is designed to be more than just a place for people to come to,” he said. “We give them something to do.” Credit Union Island is located in the teen grid to protect users. To gain access, users must have an avatar and a background check. Credit unions wanting to get involved with the island can introduce the concept to their local educational institutions. They also can add a link from Second Life to Credit Union Island on their websites. For more information, contact Scott Moriarty at firstname.lastname@example.org.