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When you think of games people play on Facebook, the first one that might come to mind is FarmVille. But today marks the official launch of a new game that hopes to build on the success of such social games to raise awareness of the difficult issues that face women in the developing world.

Half the Sky: The Game

Half the Sky Movement: The Game is inspired by the book “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide” by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn and a companion PBS television series. Kristof and WuDunn have made it their mission to offer a window into the lives of women who face the threat of malnutrition, oppression and disease each day.

The book and TV series attracted attention from people who already care about women’s issues, Kristoff told Fast Company, which hosted a roundtable discussion to coincide with today’s launch. But the Facebook game is intended to reach all the people who may not know about the problems women face worldwide. "It potentially offers a way of luring people — a gateway drug, if you will, to women’s empowerment," he says.

This game seems poised to do just that, and it also has the potential to generate support for seven NGO partners — including Heifer International — that are featured prominently in the game. There is a natural link between the scenarios presented in the game and organizations like Heifer that work to improve the lives of women and girls worldwide. At many points throughout the game, users can learn more about Heifer, share info about the organization through their own Facebook profile and even make a donation.

When I played the game, I was introduced to Radhika, "a simple woman from India who wants to make things better … for both herself and women worldwide.” The game is a series of quests, and my first quest was to help Radhika get her young daughter to a clinic to receive treatment for a serious illness. I faced a number of decisions, and I had to reason with a reluctant husband, pick and sell mangoes, haggle with a taxi company, and decide how to pay for an immunization.

When all was said and done, Radhika’s daughter was saved, and I was hooked. This game let me walk in Radhika’s shoes in a way that’s simply not possible through reading statistics. It’s safe to say that games like this represent a powerful new medium for telling some of the world’s most important stories.

To begin playing, visit the Half the Sky Movement: The Game Facebook page. Even if you’re not able to make a monetary donation to Heifer’s work, you can still help by playing. The game’s sponsors have pledged a total of $500,000 for players to unlock through a number of in-game projects.

This game was produced by Games for Change — an organization whose mission is catalyzing social impact through digital games. I had the chance to sit down with Asi Burak and Emily Treat of Games for Change last year when they came to our offices to conduct a digital games workshop, and you can read that interview here.

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Casey Neese

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