Play this free online game to plant real trees where they're needed most

Test your trivia chops while helping to reforest the planet through an innovative new gaming website called JohnnyAppl.

Michael Franco
Freelancer Michael Franco writes about the serious and silly sides of science and technology for CNET and other pixel and paper pubs. He's kept his fingers on the keyboard while owning a B&B in Amish country, managing an eco-resort in the Caribbean, sweating in Singapore, and rehydrating (with beer, of course) in Prague. E-mail Michael.
Michael Franco
3 min read

Here's how you plant an tree with your iPad. JohnnyAppl

There are plenty of so-called rewards for playing digital games -- "achievements," "badges," "trophies." But when you play the online trivia game known as JohnnyAppl, your reward is a lot more tangible. You get to say that you helped plant a tree somewhere where it was most needed. The game just launched in its full version a few days ago, along with an Indiegogo campaign to help it really get off the ground.

JohnnyAppl was started by designer Anton Doos, programmer Zeeshan Khalid and former neuroscientist turned "data dude" Michael Hogan. Hogan had come across the website Freerice.com and mentioned it to Doos while the two were in China. Freerice donates 10 grains of rice through the World Food Programme for every trivia question you answer correctly. Doos thought, "If it works with rice, why not with trees?" and JohnnyAppl was born.

Advertisers pay to put up banner ads. Ad revenue is then donated to JohnnyAppl's partner, The Eden Projects, which hires locals to plant trees in Ethiopia, Madagascar and Haiti -- areas particularly hit hard by deforestation. The planet benefits from more trees, and the local residents benefit through gainful employment.

After playing a round of trivia on the Johnny Appl site, you receive an "IQ rating" and get to see how you compare to others who've taken the same quiz. You can also click on your profile page at any point to see how many trees you've planted and how much carbon dioxide that has helped offset. Unlike Freerice, which has a direct grains-t0-answers ratio, with JohnnyAppl, you have to get 150 questions right before you earn enough to plant a tree. Remember though, grains of rice are quite different from a full-on tree. Plus, the game has a social component where you can invite your friends to help out.

So why would a site that is supported through advertising need to raise funds through an Indiegogo campaign?

"We still have some more work to do before we can get critical mass," Doos told CNET's Crave blog. "In particular we have to upgrade our servers and continue sending a salary to our developer to fix bugs. Once we can support many users, and our bugs are cleared -- the game should be completely sustainable."

So far the Indiegogo campaign has more than doubled its initial modest goal of $500 with nearly a month left to go. While there's no swag for pledging, you do get to see just how many trees your contribution will help plant. Even through its in beta phases, Johnny Appl has already planted over 4,800 trees, so with more funding that number should go up significantly. JohnnyAppl also gained United Nations sponsorship early in its development, so you can donate knowing the group is legitimate.

"JohnnyAppl is a bridge between technology and nature," Doos told Crave. "It's a glimpse into the future, where the Internet has the force to really transform our environment. I believe people fundamentally want to save the planet, but only if it doesn't cost them anything. So we've built a free, fun way for anyone to plant trees. We could raise whole forests quite quickly this way."