Monday, February 18, 2013

Half the Sky Movement: The Game

Editorial by: Matt Heston

Before I get into anything else, Half the Sky Movement: The Game is a good idea. Using social media and the mobile games market to raise awareness for women’s rights while also bringing real, tangible good to women in some of the poorest parts of the world is without any argument a worthy challenge. That said, I am not an expert in the humanitarian goals or the exact issues that are brought up in the game or the book it’s based on. My interest is in the game itself. 

Many high-minded games with absolutely worthy messages have been undone by poor design choices or inaccessibility that turn potential players, the mass audience the designers are trying to reach with their message, away.Politics and good intentions aside, can this facebook/mobile game be engaging enough to succeed? Zynga leadership knows that this is a particularly flighty market- after spending millions on Words With Friends, everyone got bored and stopped playing. This is the demographic Games for Change is trying to reach out to, aiming for a player base between 2 and 5 million (decently modest for the mobile market, but hardly insignificant) .I applaud them for it, though maybe a bit worried.

The game hasn’t been released yet, but I’ve found similar games, Food Force and WeTopia. Food Force has been made by Konami while WeTopia was built by Sojo studios, and both seem to about raising awareness and encouraging direct action and real world change. Hopefully these two games will give me some insight on what we might be able to expect from Half the Sky Movement: The Game.



Based on what I’ve picked up from screenshots of the game and from WeTopia and Food Force, the players can probably expect being led through a tutorial by a cartoon woman, explaining the mechanics of the game and hopefully the underlying issue that those mechanics are meant to represent. This isn’t condescending to either the designer or the player. Any game requires a simple to understand tutorial, and using a cartoonish avatar to represent a larger social issue is hardly new. I’m looking at you, McGruff the crime dog and Smokey the fire safety bear. It’s a necessary component when you’re looking at a demographic that could be anywhere between fourteen and forty. However, while “Don’t do drugs” and “Only you can prevent forest fires” and easy to grasp and inoffensive, I’m curious exactly how Half the Sky will bring up some of the darker and more gut-wrenching and altogether far too real aspects of what the book brings up and what is actually happening to women across the globe. Do they gloss over it or does it get included into the game and risk losing players from sheer discomfort? Integrity and mass appeal don’t always go hand-in-hand, but it can be done.



Though I’ll be downloading the game the moment it’s released on March 4th, I’ll also probably be the first to point out the bugs. A message as important as this one deserves to also be as effective as possible.

Visit the Half the Sky Movement: The Game Website

For more on Half the Sky Movement: The Game Read the New York Times Article

Read the Book: Half the Sky

Watch the Documentary: Half the Sky