Can social change be the basis for a blockbuster online game?
Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn hope so. They're the authors of "Half the Sky," the bestselling 2009 book and later a PBS series that tells compelling stories of women around the world who overcame oppression and kicked off a movement for the rights of women.
Now "Half the Sky Movement: The Game" debuts Monday on Facebook with the potential to bring the message about women's issues to millions more. It's no accident that it launches in time for International Women's Day on Friday.
"The game looks like Zynga-inspired games," says Asi Burak, co-president of Games for Change who developed the Web-based game with support from Zynga. "It's very much a game based on real-life issues."
So how do sex trafficking and domestic violence play as Farmville-style fun? Burak says the game keeps things light but meaningful with the potential to engage 2 million to 5 million women, from teenagers to 40-year-olds. Rather than populate a farm with animals, players rack up good deeds -- and have a real-world effect on the lives of girls and women.
The game begins with an introduction to a cartoon-style character named Radhika, described as "a simple woman from India who wants to make things better." Scenarios emerge in the form of stories -- her child needs medical care, her community's school lacks books -- and players help Radhika make decisions that will change her family and her community.
Radhika eventually travels to Kenya, Vietnam, Afghanistan and the United States as she becomes more aware of needs in those countries and her role as a leader.
During the game, players can unlock a part of $250,000 in real donations from Johnson & Johnson that pay for surgeries via the Fistula Foundation, or a $250,000 donation to support books for schoolchildren via Room to Read.
There's another way to give, too. Players may choose to move through the game faster by making donations to a choice of seven charities that enrich the lives of women and children.
For example, if you come upon a child in need of vaccination in the game, you can make a donation that will fund vaccinations for real-life girls."We'll not measure success by donations," Burak says. "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 .... I think that would be a big win."