Can A Facebook Game Have Real Social Impact?
The concept of gaming for good evolved to a new level last week with the launch of Half the Sky: The Facebook Game. Based on the New York Times bestseller Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity For Women Worldwide by Pulitzer Prize winning journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl Wudunn, and the subsequent documentary that aired this past October on PBS, the game is the latest installment of the Half the Sky Movement‘s multi-pronged effort to galvanize a new generation to take action in combating the myriad issues affecting women and girls.
What’s truly remarkable about the game is that it bridges the gap between the virtual and real worlds. As players complete various quests and levels, they unlock donations to real life non profits, including the Fistula Foundation, GEMS (Girls Educational & Mentoring Services), Heifer International, Room to Read and World Vision. The funding is real too. At the Social Good Summit this past September, the Pearson Foundation committed to donate $250,000 to the literacy and gender equality program Room to Read, and Johnson & Johnson, another $250,000 to the Fistula Foundation, which will enable women in Asia and Africa to get desperately needed surgeries. Players also learn about the ONE campaign and the United Nations Foundation, and can make their own donations to any or all of the organizations involved.
Take a look at the Half the Sky The Game trailer here:
Kristof and Wudunn partnered with Games for Change, a non profit that creates and distributes digital games with social impact, to devise the game. All the creators say the main focus of the Half the Sky game is to raise awareness about the inequities women face every day of their lives around the globe.
“We really wanted to get a broader audience,” Kristof told Chris Jansing on MSNBC. “One of the problems with a book or a documentary is that by and large, those who are reading it or watching it are probably already sympathetic to the cause,” he explained.
Games for Change co-president Asi Burak told the New York Times that “the hope is to draw two million to five million players, persuading five percent of more to donate. Players can play at no charge, but they will make faster progress through donations.” But he emphasized that fundraising is not the larger goal.
“We’ll not measure success by donations,” Burak said about the launch of the game on the Half the Sky Movement’s website. “I think we’ll measure success by getting to people who would never think about women and gender-based issues, getting to them with a new platform.”
The central character in the game is an impoverished Indian woman named Radhika who must decide whether or not to ask her husband for money to buy medicine for their sick daughter. As players negotiate Radhika’s various dilemmas, they follow her around the world. There are no wrong answers, but each choice leads down a different path.
As Radhika becomes more empowered, she eventually travels to Kenya, Vietnam and Afghanistan, confronting the very real gender issues that affect women and girls each and every day, from illiteracy to child labor to female genital mutilation. The final level takes players to the United States where they learn about sex trafficking.
“Imagine the complexity of living on less than $2 a day when you can’t even leave home without a man’s permission. We do hope that playing this game will give you a glimpse into some of the real challenges that women face around the world,” the game prompts at the outset. With an estimated 300 million people playing social impact games each month globally, one can only hope that message rings loud and clear, not only educating a broader audience but in spurring real action.