Game Strives for Real-World Change

Bill Weir, Nick Poppy & Brad Marxer
This Could Be Big

Nicholas Kristof – of the multiple Pulitzer Prizes and best-selling books and New York Times column – is bringing his storytelling to a new medium: games.

In 2009, Kristof and his wife, Sheryl WuDunn, wrote the best-selling book “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide.” The book, a journalistic call-to-action to give women power through economic development, inspired a well-received PBS documentary last year. But the couple knew they needed to reach beyond the book-buying, documentary-watching crowd to a wider audience.

“There are already so many thick reports about the incredible benefits of women’s empowerment. But a lot of those reports don’t necessarily get read,” Kristof said.

Kristof and WuDunn turned to one of the fastest-growing mediums of the 21st century -- games -- to help tell their story. They partnered with the New York City-based nonprofit game developer Games for Change, and the game company Zynga, to create “Half the Sky Movement: The Game.” The game launched March 4.

Available as a Facebook app, the “Half the Sky” game is, in Kristof’s words, “Farmville with a purpose.” Players guide an Indian woman character named Radhika through a series of quests that correspond to real-life issues facing women and communities around the world.

Sharing on Facebook will bring attention to the game and the issues, Kristof hopes. But what’s especially intriguing about the “Half the Sky” game is that playing it can result in real-world benefits: Players can unlock sponsor donations to charities. For instance, in the course of play, one can give a goat to a real community through Heifer International; or make a financial donation to the Fistula Foundation; or donate books through Room to Read, a literacy organization.

Asi Burak, co-president of Games for Change and the game’s executive producer, said, “You are taking part, you are participating and you are leaning forward to making a difference.”

Optimistic about the game’s success, Kristof is still mindful of the challenges the “Half the Sky” game faces. “This is an experiment, and we don’t know how this is going to work,” he said. He acknowledged that in bringing serious global issues to a gaming environment, “We wanted to make something that is interesting and engaging and exciting, but in order to do that you have to erase some of the subtlety. I’m sure some people are going to think we went too far in one direction or another, but we’re very clear that our main aim here is to try and spread the word, to spread awareness.”

Although he hopes the “Half the Sky” game will entertain, Kristof won’t let the means obscure the ends. “Ultimately, what matters isn’t how many people play on Facebook … [but] the difference it makes in villages and slums all around the world.”

To learn more – or play the game - visit: