Movies and books have long been used to advocate for causes, such as climate change or breast cancer. As video games become more mainstream, advocates are beginning to see how this art form can be a new way to reach out and get people engaged in a cause.
Take Half the Sky, a book about the struggles of women and girls in the developing world. Teacher and mom
Suzy Kosh read it in her book group. When she heard there was a Facebook game based on it, she checked it out, and her 6-year-old son noticed.
“He got on my lap, and I started explaining it to him, and then he was so intrigued that we kept playing,” she says. “You were going and helping people and saving people, and he was really interested in doing that.”
The game puts the player in the shoes of Radhika, a poor woman in India who lives on a farm. As Kosh plays with Dylan on her lap, Radhika’s goat gives birth.
“Remember what happens when they have a baby?” Kosh asks Dylan. “How does that help everybody in the community?”
“We can, um… so then we can get goat milk!” he says.
“Oh, that’s right! It’s a good source of food, isn’t it, and then they can sell the milk or sell the baby goat, and then more people can get milk,” she explains.
Kosh thinks playing the game is teaching Dylan a lot more about what it’s like for women in the developing world than a book would.
“He’s not just reading about somebody doing something — he’s helping the characters do their actions, he’s helping make these things happen,” Kosh says. “This generation, it’s all about the interaction. This makes it alive for them.”
The idea of turning Half the Sky into a game came from the authors of the book, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists Sheryl WuDunn and her husband Nicholas Kristof, who — like a lot of parents — learned about games from their kids, reports NPR>
“Usually my main connection with games is telling my kids not to spend so much time playing them,” Kristof says.
But Kristof also saw an opportunity. He realized that people who buy his book probably already care about the topic. He made a PBS documentary but again he realized that was a limited audience.
“We thought that, really, the gateway drug might be an online game that is not didactic, not threatening and that people might just connect with almost by accident,” he says. “Once they’re exposed to these issues, it might reel them in.”
Kristof is not a gamer, so he had to enlist outside help. He turned to an organization calledGames for Change, which brings together people who want to use games to promote humanitarian causes. Asi Burak, the president of Games for Change, says it’s a challenge to take serious causes and turn them into a game.
More at NPR: http://www.npr.org/blogs/alltechconsidered/2013/11/29/247515389/for-advocacy-groups-video-games-are-the-next-frontier?ft=1&f=1001