Instead of spending to grow virtual crops faster, Facebook gamers can turn those purchases into donations for cattle donations and fistula operations in the developing world.
A new Facebook game coming to the platform in a few weeks is all about womens’ rights. Based on The New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s book about women, it’s called Half The Sky and is the fruit of a collaboration between a non-profit Games For Change and Canada’s Frima Studios, which is one of the bigger independent developers in the country.
While there have been a few early projects in gaming for social causes like Darfur is Dying and social entrepreneurship game Urgent Evoke, it’s still a pretty new genre.
Games For Change’s co-president Asi Rudak says that non-profits often turn to dinners and galas to raise money and awareness of humanitarian issues. And yet, games can have a much farther reach with millions of players.
Games For Change put out a $ 1 million request for proposal and invited different game developers to suggest concepts. They raised the funds from institutions like the Rockefeller Foundation, Intel, United Nations Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.
Frima’s bid won. “Our vision has always been to think about games not only as entertainment, but as a way to modify behavior or teach things,” said Frima’s CEO Steve Couture.
In their game, a young woman named Radhika has to go through the everyday struggles that women in the developing world confront.
She realizes her daughter is very sick, but her husband doesn’t have money to take her to a doctor. Radhika has to find a way to make the money for medical treatment.
“There’s a range of stories. Every time, she becomes more successful and more independent,” Rudak says.
She buys a virtual goat, start to sell the milk and through that, starts her own small business. Eventually, that brings her on a journey around the world through India, Kenya, Vietnam, Afghanistan and the U.S.
“The real worlds and virtual worlds are intertwined,” Rudak says.
For example, when Radhika buys a goat, a player can make a donation to Heifer International. Or when she gets her daughter treated, the player can make a vaccine donation to the UN. Bigger partners like Pearson and Johnson & Johnson have offered to do book or surgical operation donations if enough players trigger them.
Zynga has also offered to chip in. They did a game review with Frima’s team and have pledged to help distribute it with their nearly 298 million monthly active users.