Think saving the environment can't be exciting? A number of video game companies have created virtual worlds that combine action and adventure with important ecological lessons. In the classic computer game "Awesome Possum," players travel through four worlds: Rain Forest, Arctic Circle, Sea Caverns and Dr. Machino's Domain to rescue the world from an evil mega-polluter. Other games allow players to figure out the best alternative energy sources to build a green city, like in "SimCity Societies." NoteNiks has several games that teach kids how to recycle, compost and respect their environment. And in Nintendo's "Chibi-Robo: Park Patrol," young players control a robot as it waters flowers, cleans up trash and transforms a toxic wasteland back into a lovely park.
Some games not only act green -- they are green. "Venture Arctic," which challenges players to find a balance between human and natural interests in the Arctic, comes in "Go Green Packaging" made of 100 percent recycled material (that means no plastic). One game even lets players feed the hungry. Every time you answer a vocabulary question correctly on FreeRice.com, the site will donate 20 grains of rice through the United Nations World Food Programme.
Even if you'd rather play "Grand Theft Auto" than a video game in which you save the environment, you can still contribute to the health of our planet through gaming. The National Resources Defense Council estimates that about half of all game players leave their consoles plugged in when they're not in use. These vampire electronics suck electricity from the wall even when they're turned off. Eventually, video game manufacturers may equip their consoles with automatic power-down features (like the sleep mode on your personal computer) that turn off the games when they're not active. Until then, unplug your Xbox or Wii or turn off the power strip when you're done playing. Also unplug your Nintendo DS and PlayStation Portable chargers when they're not in use. Computers already come equipped with a sleep mode, so be sure to use it.
Video game controllers also need a constant supply of power. Instead of tossing batteries every few weeks, use rechargeable batteries with a rating of 2000 mAh or higher for your Xbox 360 and Wii controllers.
If you can afford it, upgrade your computer system. Switch to an "80 Plus" power supply to reduce energy drain. Swap your old, lead-filled CRT for an LCD monitor, which uses about a third of the energy and is lead-free. New hard drives, motherboards and fans are also manufactured without the lead.
When you're done playing the latest Mario escapade, don't throw it in the trash where it'll wind up in some landfill. Most video game retailers will give you a credit for your old video games, which you can use to buy the latest releases. You can even recycle video game dinosaurs like the old Atari and Sega game cartridges through organizations such as Earth911.com. Better yet, don't buy new games -- download them off the Internet. GameFly.com, Xbox 360's Live Marketplace and Sony's PlayStation Network offer hundreds of game downloads, many of which are cheaper than buying the packaged versions. You can also rent games through GameFly.com or Blockbuster. Once you're done playing with a game, just turn it in and get a new one. And when you're finished with your computer or video game console, you can recycle those, too.