Facebook game lets players do good deeds

Based on 'Half the Sky,' a 2009 bestselling book and later a PBS series that tells stories of women overcoming oppression, the game lets players unlock $250,000 in real donations.

By Minyanville.com Mar 13, 2013 6:27PM

Half The Sky, the game (© Half The Sky)By Minyanville

Often, when we talk about foreign aid, we only talk numbers -- how much money was given to a particular NGO or how many mosquito nets we put up in a struggling community.Minyanville on MSN Money

To really improve lives through financial aid, we have to engage with issues in the developing world, try to understand them and develop a more transparent way of giving. 

That’s what Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn believe. Their cause is the global empowerment of women, and their newest tool is a game on Facebook (FB). 


The married couple founded the Half the Sky movement in 2009 with publication of their book "Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide." The book argues that the oppression of women is the greatest moral challenge of our time. The authors seek to raise awareness of issues such as female genital mutilation, domestic abuse, sex trafficking and maternal mortality.


A 2012 PBS documentary series, also called "Half the Sky," followed Kristof, WuDunn and celebrity advocates like Meg Ryan, Diane Lane and Eva Mendes to 10 countries, introducing women and girls living in difficult, dangerous circumstances. 

Fun, games and meaningfulness 

Last week, the movement jumped to its next medium with the launch on Facebook of "Half the Sky Movement: The Game." Said Kristof and WuDunn, "We hope that a Facebook game that is fun and viral can be a way . . .  of reaching people who aren't now interested in women’s empowerment.” 

The game follows the journey of Radhika, a mother of two who starts in India and travels to Kenya, Vietnam and Afghanistan before ending up in the United States. A game player engages with Radhika’s story, choosing how she responds within conversations and guiding her through difficult situations. For example, in a confrontation with her husband, the player can choose whether Radhika speaks up or remains silent. Interspersed throughout the game are simple mini-games that involve the player in helping Radhika reach goals.


The game was produced by Games for Change, a nonprofit that specializes in creating games that are both fun and educational. It was designed by Frima Studio of Quebec City, Canada.


Asi Burak, co-president of Games for Change, tells Minyanville, “You need to create a good game, which is in itself a huge challenge: it’s a new form, it’s interactive, your control is limited. As the designer, you can never predict exactly how players are going to experience it.”

Just as comic books that addressed serious subjects came to be called graphic novels, Burak is confident that serious games can take on meaningfulness of their own. "Watch 'Schindler's List,' watch 'Lincoln,' watch 'Zero Dark Thirty,' watch 'Argo': they're entertaining and arts pieces, and they're meaningful."


Burak's work on the "Half the Sky Movement: The Game" aims at “that place where we get mainstream audiences to come because the product is good enough for its own sake but has the additional meaningfulness," he said. "It’s about the conversation, about awareness."

How the game works 

Players move through a series of quests based on real challenges faced by women in developing countries. Every problem has a solution, provided by one of seven non-profits.


Corporations like Zynga (ZNGA), Ford Motor (F) and Intel (INTC) financed the development of the game, and Zynga lent development support. Sponsors Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) and the Pearson Foundation provided funds that gamers  unlocked through game play and are then donated to specific non-profits. For example, players can collectively trigger up to $250,000 in donations from Johnson & Johnson to pay for surgical procedures via the Fistula Foundation.


The game's model improves upon financial aid in several ways. First of all, as Burak told us:


At the end of the day, that money doesn’t go to the game; it goes above our heads, to the NGOs, to the non-profits, but the fact is that instead of just moving the money from A to B, there’s a whole engagement model. The players are part of that experience and it is becoming transparent. And people start to understand more what’s going on.

 While games are typically targeted at younger players, the Half the Sky Movement game has been designed to encourage engagement people of all ages. Many playing the game are over 50, Burak said, and the average player is a woman in her 30s. 


As Burak says, “If you have an average player who is a woman in her 30s, and you compare it to the population of who is likely to make a donation in a household, who is likely to care for a cause like this, then, you know, you have a match.”

And so, the socially conscious game takes its place alongside micro-financing and other methods of financial aid. With it, the video game medium continues to make strides forward as a legitimately recognized, important art form. Depending on the success of games like "Half the Sky," this kind of socially conscious, highly collaborative project could become more common, making foreign aid all the more engaging and efficient.


You can play here.

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