FarmVille for Change: New York Times Columnist to Launch Social Game

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof has been one of mainstream journalism’s most eager adopters of Internet tools. The Pulitzer Prize winner has a sterling reputation as a human rights reporter, and is a major proponent of Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. In 2003, he became the Times‘ first blogger.

Now Kristof is expanding into social gaming to continue raising awareness of — and aid for — global crises.

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The game will be similar to FarmVille, and will enable players to make micro-donations to humanitarian efforts worldwide as well as contribute to causes in other ways. It’s part of a larger effort by Kristof and his wife, fellow Pulitzer winner Sheryl WuDunn, to rally support to fight injustice against women around the world. It’s being developed in partnership with Games for Change, a New York-based company that creates games designed for social impact.

“Nick and Sheryl’s ideas are perfectly aligned with what we want to see moving forward — breaking the perception that games are only entertainment,” Games for Change co-president Asi Burak told Mashable. “Most of the people who pick up his book or turn on PBS or even read The New York Times are already the converted. What he’s hoping to do with social media and gaming is go to the people who aren’t converted and engage them in a very sensible way.”

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Burak said that the as-yet-unnamed game will be played primarily through Facebook, but that the company is also exploring additional platforms. Players will be able to buy virtual goods in the game with real currency that will then go to NGOs and aid organizations around the world. Burak said that players will also be able to contribute to causes without paying money, for example by completing virtual missions that add them to advocacy campaigns or other efforts.

The game is tentatively planned for release in late 2012, to coincide with the PBS broadcast of Kristof and WuDunn’s two-part documentary called Half the Sky. The pair wrote a bestselling book with the same title in 2009. The premise of the book, movie and upcoming game is that addressing oppression and mistreatment of women and girls worldwide will help make life better for all humans.

Burak said that the game and larger campaign are funded by a host of major non-profits including the Ford Foundation, United Nations Foundation and USAID. But he emphasized that they are still seeking additional backing to guaranteed the game’s success.

Expertise from Kristof and WuDunn will likely go a long way toward that goal. Burak said that the couple is “very involved” in the game’s conceptual development and provides input on details “from small to large.” In one example, Burak said, Kristof and WuDunn encouraged designers to emphasize the positive aspects of people’s lives in developing countries in addition to the challenges that they face.

“Coming from them,” Burak said, “that gives us a lot of confidence to strike a tone that isn’t just a serious tone, but also an entertainment tone.”

How big of an impact can social games make on social justice? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

Photo by Geoffrey Kristof, via Half the Sky

This story originally published on Mashable here.

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