Tackling Global Women’s Issues With Facebook Gaming

HelloGiggles readers, today we can celebrate the start of International Women’s Week by playing a video game released today on Facebook which will help women on a global scale. Yes, I’m absolutely serious.

I ask that you please put down your regularly scheduled gaming activities for a moment today, and try out a game that empowers females in need — Half the Sky Movement: The Game.  Just hear me out.  Like feeding farm animals or harvesting crops in games like Farmville, you can take similar actions in Half the Sky that will actually trigger a real life response – feed the goat, and find out how a real world community can use that goat’s milk as a reliable source of both food and income.  Play a mini-game similar toBejeweled and collect books that will be donated to young girls who, stunningly, aren’t given the same education as boys in other countries.

Released today (3/4/13), Half the Sky is brought to us by Games for Change, in cooperation with Zynga.org and game developers Frima Studio with Show of Force.

The game is based on the #1 New York Times best-selling book, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, written by a husband-wife duo, Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn (both of whom are Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists).  The book presents the oppression of women worldwide as being “the paramount moral challenge” of our present era:

Kristof and WuDunn also made a PBS TV series as one of their many transmedia components. Filmed in 10 countries, and featuring A-list celebs like America Ferrera, Diane Lane, Eva Mendes, Meg Ryan, Gabrielle Union and Olivia Wilde, the series sheds light onto the very harsh realities of women worldwide while proving “sustainable options for empowerment”.  What does that mean?  It means they’re working to bring people together – not by handouts – but by educating people on how to build thriving communities.

So… how does a book / TV series which centers on sex trafficking, gender violence, maternal mortality and girl’s education translate into … a video game?! Easier than you’d think.  Half The Sky absolutely works in a Facebook gaming format.  And one you’re most likely familiar with.  With gameplay that feels more like an interactive book, it’s an escape into a different reality – one that isn’t yours, but is very real for another woman across the world.

Yes, sometimes you will have the option of “in-app purchasing” – just like you would in Angry Birds and every other freemium game on the planet.  But you don’t have to spend real life money if you don’t want to.  Many of your actions will automatically trigger free donations from Half The Sky’s sponsors.  Actually, one of the first quests you finish will donate a book that will be delivered by Room To Read.  If you want to learn more about the non-profit, there are links that will give you everything you need to know about the legitimacy of the program involved with your game.

A few of these non-profits you’ve probably heard about, and a few you need to hear about.  Among the super famous is ONE, co-founded by U2 frontman Bono and dedicated to fighting extreme poverty.  And then there’s The Fistula Foundation, who help women who have suffered a “fistula”, and instead of me explaining to you exactly what that is,  I strongly encourage you to read about it while playing Half The Sky.  In fact, you can do it while you’re regaining “Energy”.

At the top of your screen, you’ll find three common in-game forms of currency: “Hope Bonds”, “Coins” and “Energy”.  Hope Bonds are rare and are gained naturally every time your character levels up.  Coins are gained by selling goods (ie playing mini-games similar to Bejeweled to collect Mangos, etc). And lastly, Energy, which is a what playing a mini-game will cost you (ie collecting Mangos will cost you 10 Energy).  1 Energy point is gained back every 1 minute, and most actions in the game will require 10 energy.  I strongly recommend that you spare your “Hope Bonds” during the mini games (as seen on the left side of the screenshot) and don’t spend them right away… even though it’s very tempting as you’re used to similar games that don’t actually have a real world impact.  Save your Hope Bonds for later, is my advice:

Your main screen will show your currencies at the top left and your “Rank” at the top right, of which there are 12.  Every time you level up, you gain a “Rank” (ie “Leader”), you earn a Hope Fund and your Energy meter fills to full.  Under your “Rank” are your Security, Education, Currency and Health meters.  All have related quests and require leveling up in each category in order to progress to different areas of the game (ie gain Health by volunteering at the local hospital by talking to patients).  The green icons at the top are where you can find information on Half The Sky’s partners and non-profits, as well as the real life opportunity to donate if you so wish. The bottom of the screen is where you can find your inventory and Facebook friends list – whom you can recruit and share Energy, etc with.

The left side of the screen is your “Help Meter” – whenever you complete any action in the game, you climb up this ladder.  Sponsors are placed at certain rungs in which you will trigger an free opportunity for women.  For example, Johnson & Johnson will donate $4.50 to The Fistula Foundation when 4500 points has been reached.  And if you ever have any questions, you can always reference Half The Sky’s FAQ or consult the Game Guide.

After testing and playing, my bottom line review is that Half The Sky is the perfect platform to bring women’s issues into gaming.  By using a familiar Facebook format with the right tone, animation and score, all parties involved worked together to put in place a game that made me change my mind about the way we can play video games.  I’ve always believed in gaming for good, but this has surpassed my even my wildest imagination.  My only note, is that I do hope to see more in-game incentives in place for spreading awareness of issues and empowerment in order to separate Half The Sky from the pack.  Afterall, this is not just a game – it’s a movement.

Thank you, Michelle Byrd and Asi Burak from Games For Change for inviting me to your pre-launch event.  It was a pleasure meeting you in person, as well as Maria Shriver, and of course Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn.

Find more information on Half The Sky on their website, as well as all their social media connections.

If you play the Half The Sky: Game today, you can tweet @halfthegame @G4C and @michelemorrow #HalfTheGame

Nicholas Kristof, Michele Morrow & Sheryl WuDunn

Michele Morrow & Maria Shriver

Michelle Byrd & Michele Morrow
Featured and Additional Images:  Half The Sky & Games For Change