Can A Socially Conscious Facebook Game Ignite A Real-Life Social Movement For Women?
12:30 pm, March 5th | by Colette McIntyre
If you’re like me, you see just one notification from a friend’s Mafia Wars or FarmVille game as a valid justification for blocking said friend on Facebook. I don’t need your requests for a new farm carousel fooling me into thinking that someone actually cares about me, thank you very much. (Besides, what type of farm has a CAROUSEL? Who is going to ride on it — your corn crops? And why is your farm themed “Enchanted Glen”? Get out my face with that Neopets nonsense.) But not all Facebook games are created equal; a new type of social network game launched yesterday, one that hopes to raise awareness for the impediments and dangers women face worldwide.
Half the Sky Movement: The Game allows Facebook users to unlock funds from game sponsors by completing game tasks and buying virtual goods; these funds are then funneled to real-world nonprofit recipients that advocate for women’s education, maternal health, HIV treatment, and women’s business development around the world. For example, by buying a goat to start your avatar’s livestock business in the game, an alert is sent to Heifer International which then sends a real goal to a real struggling family. The innovative initiative is the first game to directly link virtual content with actual donations.
The Facebook game is the third component of journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s Half the Sky movement, an organization dedicated to “turning oppression into opportunity for women worldwide.” Kristof and WuDunn’s fight to end gender-based oppression is a multimedia initiative, previously producing a best-selling book and a PBS documentary. In 2009, the couple approached Games for Change, a non-profit that supports the creation of social impact games, with the idea of turning their advocacy and awareness campaign into a digital game. Executive produced by Games for Change, Half the Sky Movement: The Game takes players on a global journey, beginning in India, moving through Kenya, Vietnam, and Afghanistan, and ending in the United States. In each country, players will face various tasks and issues that all have tangible, real-world equivalents in donations or social action opportunities. According to Games for Change, more than half a million dollars has been secured from two major sponsors. In addition to sponsored donations, players can choose to make personal donations to any one of the game’s various NGO partners, including Room to Read, the United Nations Foundation, and the Fistula Foundation.
Actresses America Ferrera, Olivia Wilde, Diana Lane, and Eva Mendes are all ambassadors for the movement, spreading Half the Sky’s message of empowering underserved women in global communities. Kristof and WuDunn hope that these celebrity supporters and the movement’s successful book and documentary will give the game enough momentum to attract at least one million users. “At the end of the day this is an ambitious place that games can take users in a unique way,” says Asi Burak, co-president of Games For Change. “We’re used to dealing with serious issues in movies and books, but there can be very little impact beyond awareness. For better or for worse, what we’ll experience with this new frontier will be very, very different.”