Using games for purposes other than entertainment is nothing new. There are war games, educational games, throne games. But a new class of games has sprung up in recent years, designed to create awareness and raise support for a variety of global issues. Such serious games seek to harness the power of competition and/or novelty to attract players and get the word out for a good cause. Here are 15 games you can play and be a better person for it.
Catalysts for Change: On April 3, 2012, Catalysts for Change went live online for 48 hours. The goal of the game is to inspire people from all over the globe to come together and share ideas about easing the poverty that over 1 billion people live in. The game involves playing cards with words like "momentum" or "adaptation" on them to spark possible poverty solution ideas. When players build on your card (idea), you earn points.
Spent: Designed by Urban Ministries of Durham, a faith-based provider of food and shelter for North Carolinians in need, Spent asks players to consider what life would be like as a homeless person. The game puts you in the shoes of someone who has lost their life savings, and has you choose one of three low-paying jobs to see for yourself how quickly your money runs out.
World Without Oil: If you’ve ever wondered what life would look like without crude oil, this game was for you. With the tagline "play it before you live it," WWO simulated the first eight months of a world oil crisis. The game ended on June 1, 2007, after 1,500 players had sent in fictional "personal accounts" of their life during the crisis, which were viewed by 110,000 people. Players also worked together to develop solutions that still provide insight into potential real-life answers for the future.
3rd World Farmer: This game was originally created by students at the IT-University in Copenhagen in 2005. The player is put in control of an African farm and must struggle to keep family, crops, and livestock alive while conflict and a lack of resources work against them. The designers’ hope is that people will play and realize how precarious survival is for many in Africa, and then do what they can to improve the lives of poor people there.
Free Rice: The United Nations World Food Program operates this game, which seeks to educate the public while addressing the problem of world hunger by offering rice to hungry people free of charge. Players simply go to the website, pick a subject like world capitals or English grammar, and then start answering questions. For each correct answer, the program donates 10 grains of rice to someone in need.
September 12th: A Toy World: The rules are simple: you can choose to shoot rockets at terrorists, or not. But be warned, missing civilians is virtually impossible. The purpose of this newsgame is to visually prove that the U.S. War on Terror is destined to failure, as every civilian killed results in dozens of terrorists created. It has been shown all over the world as a teaching tool against violence.
Citizen Science: Back to the Future meets the EPA in this game, where players travel back in time to investigate what led to the local lake’s pollution and what they can do to prevent it in the future. Developed by the National Science Foundation in partnership with the University of Wisconsin, the game is meant to illustrate the social factors that contribute to environmental harm.
Garbage Dreams: Cairo’s Zaballeen people may have the answer to the world’s trash problem. They recycle 80% of their trash (Zaballeen means "garbage people" in Arabic). Now you can test your mettle and see if you too can be as enterprising as they are. You have one goat, one factory, and 8 months to build a recycling system for the city. Can you make it happen?
WeTopia: Such big names as Mattel, Clorox, and DeGeneres have lent their support to this game that’s like Farmville for a cause. Players build communities and accumulate "Joy" as a form of currency, which they can then donate in-game to real-life causes. When those causes reach 100% joy, the game’s developer donates real cash to the organization that was earned through player purchases and advertising revenue.
Sweatshop: Sweatshop takes things one step further by incorporating humor, albeit black, into its message. The game begins by showing you a factory floor filled with crying or injured children who make high-end sneakers. Then it guides you through a series of choices you must make as the factory manager. As you decide whether to give your workers a safe working environment or focus on your bottom line, hopefully you will begin to wonder what kind of conditions the clothes you’re wearing came from.
A Closed World: Game designers in Singapore created this game because of the shortage of content concerning LGBT issues. Here you lead a gay character through a forest filled with "demons" who try to stop you and force their beliefs on you. You must use your words and logic to navigate your way to find your beloved.
On the Ground Reporter: Darfur: The first in the "On the Ground Reporter" series, this game brings players face to face with the shocking footage of hostilities in Darfur. The in-game objective is to find the truth and the story, but the overall goal is to expose people to the harsh realities of conflicts like that that just ended in Darfur.
Fate of the World: The whole world is in your hands. This award-winning game forces you to deal with crises like natural disasters and a growing global population. By playing through the different scenarios, players get a sense of the real challenges the world could face in the next few generations. It is based on the research of an Oxford professor and was made with the help of a veteran game producer.
Elude: The team behind "A Closed World" also produced this game that wants to change some of the public’s views about depression. The highs and lows of the illness are illustrated as your "mood" rises to the sky and falls to the depths of the earth. The game is only won when the player uses passion to reach happiness at the tree tops.
Karma Tycoon: JPMorgan Chase Foundation was the unlikely backer of this game, where players try to move their "karmameter" to 100%. They do this by helping people through homeless shelters, youth centers, and other community help centers. A grant from Chase Bank starts the game off, but players must budget their money and earn more grants to help more people and solve more problems as the game progresses. So kids learn social and fiscal responsibility while playing.