Thursday, 7 March 2013

My Birthday Wish: Social Gaming for Social Change

March 8th is my birthday. It is also International Women’s Day: a day for celebration, a call to action, a day set aside to pause and appreciate, or an opportunity for self-awareness. I have always known that I share my birthday with the Women of the World, but I never really knew what that meant. This year, I want to—in the immortal words of Cher Horowitz (the ultimate feminist)— “use [my] popularity for a good cause” and get the word out about something amazing: Half the Sky Movement: The Game.

Yes, a game. A Facebook platform game. No- I’m not kidding. Hear me out.

The Game is a new Facebook adventure game that aims to raise awareness and funds to empower women and girls across the world. (I know, but you promised to hear me out!) The game is centered around the journey of Radhika, a woman from India. Players experience the day-to-day issues and obstacles (maternal mortality, gender-based violence, sex-trafficking and forced prostitution, inequality of education and wages, etc.) that women in developing AND developed countries face by unlocking and completing quests. To complete quests, we are asked to make decisions which lead to new experiences and opportunities for Radhika.

With every obstacle Radhika faces, she is presented with the ability to create new opportunities for herself, her family and her community— which means game rewards earned for the player. For example, when faced with the dilemma of paying for medical care for her sick daughter, Radhika’s husband tells her that they do not have the money to take the little one to the doctor. Radhika turns this obstacle into an opportunity by picking mangoes from her family garden to sell at market. Cut to a mini-game that looks like Bejeweled or Candy Crush Saga whereby the player combines lines of mangoes to be collected. Daughter’s school doesn’t have enough books for all the children? Mini-game to collect books to donate to the school.

The Half the Sky Movement (see exists for the purpose of  “raising awareness and inspiring action to turn oppression to opportunity for women worldwide”. They are “cutting across platforms to ignite the change needed to put an end to the oppression of women and girls worldwife, the defining issue of our time”. It began with a New York Times #1 bestselling book by Pulitzer-Winning married authors, Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. Eventually, the momentum of the book inspired several other organizations that work toward the same goals to combine efforts toward their shared end of ending oppression of women and girls around the world. Next, came a critically acclaimed Primetime PBS TV series featuring the likes of Diane Lane, Meg Ryan, America Ferrara, George Clooney and others (available from the website for private and public screenings). According to their website, “the Facebook game is the latest installment of the overall movement and hopes to create an accessible medium for people of all kinds of background to get involved in creating opportunities for women and girls worldwide”. With the new game, they are obviously attempting to reach the new generation that has become increasingly social media dependent (present party excluded, obviously). Not to mention the fact that the social gaming world has 300+ million users on a monthly basis.

Am I sounding less crazy yet?

So, as I said, Radhika’s journey begins in India and eventually takes her to Kenya, Vietnam, Afghanistan and the United States. (Note: I am still in Kenya. I tried to get as far as I could in this game before posting this, but, alas, time is not a luxury that I have.) According to the Game Guide ( , Radhika eventually becomes a “global leader and role-model for women worldwide”.

At the end of each quest, players are given the opportunity to get involved with or learn more about the nonprofit partner related to that particular issue: visit the website, sign a petition, donate. (There are seven nonprofit partners involved: The Fistula Foundation, GEMS, Heifer International, ONE, Room to Read, The United Nations Foundation, and World Vision.) AND completing many actions in the game actually trigger free donations from corporate sponsors (ex: Johnson and Johnson donates to The Fistula Foundation for every player that achieves a certain level in the game). Remember the book collection game? When you complete this task, you are informed that you have actually triggered a real-life donation of books to children in need! Gaming and social good?! Two of my favourite things.

That said, you don’t have to pay to play. You are never forced to contribute any money to continue playing. However, there are many ways of making donations within the game, including in-game purchases of power-ups and energy boosts. The donation system is built on Facebook payments, so international payments (including Canadian dollars) can be accepted. Additionally, donations are tax deductible. (N.B.: the FAQ page ( notes that 80% of donations goes to one of the seven nonprofit partners, based on player selection, and 20% goes toward managing, hosting and sustaining the game.)

For all those cynics out there: I am not claiming that I believe this game will be the end of oppression towards females around the world forever and ever. I have a degree in International Development Studies. I understand that the game simplifies very complex issues, as any awareness campaign MUST do to reach a wider and broader audience. Even Half the Sky acknowledges that “Radhika’s story is ultimately a work of fiction. Reality is much harsher and issues are never so easy to fix”. However, they (and I) believe and hope that playing the game will give a glimpse into some of the real challenges faced by women around the world every day. It is not a solution, it is a conduit of information.

In sum: put a pause on your Candy Crushing saga or your Farming in the Ville for even a few moments and dedicate some of your gaming time to a game that seeks to make a difference. That’s my birthday wish this year!

See you on the other side!


Some Fast Facts:

  • ·      1 woman dies every 2 minutes from pregnancy-related causes
  • ·      99% of maternal deaths occur in the developing world

  • ·      1 in 5 women will be a victim of rape or attempted rape in her lifetime
  • ·      102 countries have no specific legal provisions against domestic violence

  • Trafficking yields $9 billion in the U.S. and generates $27.8 billion in profits worldwide each year
  • The typical age of entry into the sex trade is 13 or 14 years old

  •  2/3 of 781 million illiterate adults in the developing world are women
  • Nearly 1 of every 5 girls who enrolls in primary school does not complete primary education in the developing world
  • A child born to a literate woman is 50% more likely to survive past the age of 5

  •  Women earn less than 10% of the world’s wages but work more than 2/3 of the world’s working hours
  • If women’s paid employment rates increased to the level of men’s, the U.S. GDP would rise 9%

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