[Nick Taylor is the operations manager of Playmob, an organisation dedicated to helping connect games developers with charities and other causes. www.playmob.com]
Over the past year we’ve seen some fantastic charity campaigns in games through DLC, in-app purchases and via Twitch live streams. Gamers have helped raise millions of dollars and supported causes from planting trees to providing life-saving hospital equipment. Gaming is now an effective place to raises funds for your favourite causes.
Something that you’re less likely to see inside of game these days is an awareness raising campaign, something that sets out to inform and educate players with helpful information about a cause or charity. For example, a charity like the Royal National Lifeboat Institution not only fundraises to provide life-saving assistance for anyone at sea in the UK but also try to educate everyone about the dangers of going out to sea unprepared.
At Playmob, we’re known for our fundraising campaigns but we’ve also helped create awareness-raising ones as well. One of our most memorable involved educating players about rhino conservation and poaching using RuneScape. Players could answer a daily question about rhino conservation and after two questions answered correctly they would receive a white rhino in-game, and after seven a rare black rhino. Jagex also worked with United for Wildlife and their conservationists programme to put two young conservationists into the game.
The results were outstanding: over 57 per cent of RuneScape’s daily players participated in the campaign and over 1.3m questions were answered. Players loved the campaign and some even signed up to support rhino charities.
A campaign like this has the chance to change and inform opinions on a huge scale. In campaigns involving cyberbullying quests, educating players actually saved lives. I’m not disregarding the work the games industry has done for charities, but I am encouraging developers to think about charities differently.
Games like Journey or Never Alone tell such personal stories of struggle that seem to resonate with the industry and thousands of charities out there hold the same stories. Be it Amnesty International, currently with the lack of light for over 80 per cent of Syria, or Oxfam, which shows children and families struggling for survival after disasters have hit. There are incredible stories and facts that developers could integrate into a game.
Titles such as Half the Sky Movement: The Game, which sought to not only empower women throughout the world but also tell their stories in-game, are a shining example of how merging these stories with games can work.
Last year, in an effort to raise awareness of the situation of children in South Sudan, UNICEF embarked on a similar kind of campaign. They sent an actor, a film crew and two South Sudanese youths to a major video game convention in Washington, D.C., and were given a keynote address slot to pitch an exciting new video game. What the attendees didn’t know was that the game idea revolved around a real story involving the two Sudanese refugees. It caused a storm, highlighting the harsh facts of their escape.
Now imagine playing a game to its conclusion only to find out that everything you’d played had happened and your character was a real person. It provides a window into their life in a way that’s not possible through any other medium.
I believe in the good that the games industry has done for charity over the years, but fundraising isn’t the only option. Perhaps awareness and education could change more lives than a donation?