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Can ‘Advocacy Gaming’ Inspire Social Change?

Half the Sky the gameIt’s all about “gamification” these days, right? Video games don’t just entertain us and distract us during down time on the train–they also help brands publicize new campaigns, encourage user engagement and even develop new products and promotional materials.

But can games truly educate the public in the interest of facilitating widespread social change? Games for Change certainly thinks so. We’ll refer to what they do as “advocacy gaming”–and it makes a lot of sense.

The brand’s latest, most visible project is a collaboration with New York Times journalist Nicholas Kristof, best known for his reporting on international human rights and gender equality abuses. It’s called “Half the Sky”, and it’s truly a multimedia effort: the Facebook game debuted this week, but it all started with Kristof’s book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide (co-written with his wife and fellow Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Sheryl WuDunn).

The book inspired a spinoff series on PBS–and then Games for Change got involved with the help of social gaming leader Zynga and other big-name sponsors.

The purpose of the game, which resembles popular titles like FarmVille, is to “galvanize people into action” by familiarizing them with the very real problems that women face throughout the world, from illiteracy to extreme poverty and unequal treatment under the law.

Players can help the protagonist, an Indian woman named Radhika, by “unlocking” benefits like books for young girls. Though the game is free to play, users can also set up donations to related charities like Heifer International, Room to Read, the United Nations Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. Some of these organizations have pledged money to support “rewards” within the game that don’t rely on users to make donations from their personal accounts.

Here’s the video trailer:

What do we think? Will this game attract the attention of players with no prior interest in international women’s issues? Could it help inspire real change?

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