15 Sep 2023 OPINION

You mean microplastics are real?

Exploring kids’ reactions to the Imptox videogame.


As a dedicated science communicator immersed in the intricate world of microplastics, where my daily pursuits revolve around deciphering the behaviors of these minuscule entities and their impact on the human body, I found myself utterly unprepared for a seemingly elementary question: "So you mean, microplastics are real? They really exist?" This query, posed by a group of curious children during the preliminary unveiling of the Imptox video game, caught me off guard, challenging my assumptions in ways I had not anticipated.

Their youthful skepticism only deepened when I confirmed the existence of microplastics, prompting an astonishing follow-up comment: "Oh, I thought you invented them for the videogame."

Children, it turns out, possess a remarkable ability for pushing us to reconsider the familiar with fresh eyes. When we contemplate plastics, our minds instinctively conjure images of water bottles, supermarket packaging, or the unsightly debris littering our environment. Plastics, to most of us, are tangible entities—objects we can hold, manipulate, and discard. The notion of plastic existing as an ethereal cloud of minuscule particles suspended in the air, or as inconspicuous specks contaminating our food and water resides far from our usual purview. The concept that these imperceptible intruders may also coexist within our own bodies is even further from our imagination. In retrospect, we should have foreseen that children might perceive this revelation as an extraordinary work of science fiction, a narrative too fantastical to be true.

While knowledge on the existence of micro- and nanoplastics is now more accessible to the public, children often find themselves excluded from this conversation. However, if we aim to cultivate responsible adults with a strong environmental consciousness, we must start educating the younger generations early.

This is where the Imptox video game, "Microplastic Madness, Catching PlastikPunk," comes into play. Our hope is to make this abstract topic relatable, tangible, and engaging for kids. As they progress through the game, children absorb essential information about microplastics in an enjoyable and interactive manner. When we assessed how much of this information stuck with them after completing the game, we were pleasantly surprised to see that they had retained a remarkable amount. Hopefully, they've not only learned about microplastics but have also realized that these tiny intruders are no figment of the imagination.