While some parents shy away from letting their kids play games or learn about tough social issues, such as injustices against women, there’s a new breed of mothers using social games to teach their children about the world and the real issues people face in it — specifically the issues that women face worldwide.
It’s a natural progression that mothers would be the ones to introduce their children to social games, such as those on social networking site Facebook. After all, mothers make up a huge group of social gamers, with 54% of social gamers being female and 64% having children.
It turns out that social games can be a learning tool for children of all ages. We spoke with three mothers about how they’re using social games to teach their children — toddlers to teens, boys and girls — about women’s rights issues. Their stories were both heart-warming and inspiring. Here’s what they had to say.
The Basics and Learning about World Cultures
Above: Alexandra Chauran and daughter, Eris, play Half the Sky Movement: The Game together.
Alexandra Chauran — a married mother of two in Issaquah, Washington — believes it’s never too early to open the dialogue about how others lives and what other cultures are like. Alexandra, a casual social gamer, says her two-year-old daughter, Eris, sits on her lap no matter where she is, even when she’s at the computer playing a game.
These days, Alexandra and Eris are bonding over Half the Sky Movement: The Game, a Facebook adventure game that raises awareness and funds to empower women and girls across the globe.
While playing along, Eris asks her mother about what’s going on in the game — whether she’s curious about what animals are on screen or what the women are wearing. Alexandra says the game gives her the chance to teach her daughter basic reading skills in a new way, but also gives her the chance to introduce Eris to other cultures and international travel, as the game’s main character, Radhika, is from India and travels around the world, solving various women’s issues in many countries.
The game, especially its main character, also helps Eris understand her own environment better, says Alexandra, as there is a strong Indian culture in the family’s neighborhood. Alexandra even takes Indian dance classes and the family lives next door to a Hindu temple.
Alexandra says that the Half the Sky game is a positive experience for Eris, both an opportunity for her to learn reading in a fun and interactive way and a segue into deeper conversations around women’s issues when Eris gets older.
Mother of three Kelly Arthur, says her tweens — at 10, 14, and 15 years of age — are also fans of the Half the Sky game, but have also started learning about other cultures through a game called Free Rice, which donates 10 grains of rice through the World Food Programme each time a user gets a quiz question right. Subjects tested include math, science, geography, and even SAT prep. Kelly has been most impressed with the foreign language questions, though — her kids are picking up other languages while helping end hunger. Social gaming, she says, has had a significant impact on her family.
Bringing Boys Into the Conversation
Henry Alcock, above, and his mother are avid Half the Sky game players and have turned their passion for helping into real-world change.
Lisa Alcock, a single mother from Valparaiso, Indiana, says that teaching her son how to be a good person and how to treat other people, including women, are her responsibilities as a parent. She also believes it’s important for him to know that there is a whole, big world outside of Indiana and that a lot of people in the world live under much different conditions than him and others in his community.
Alcock first learned about the Half the Sky game through a Facebook post by Nicholas Kristof, award-winning journalist and co-author of Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, the book that inspired both the Facebook game and a PBS television series.
Her son, Henry, saw her playing one of the mini-games and was instantly draw to ask about what she was doing. She explained the game and saw he was interested, so she let him sign up to play alongside her.
The impact the game has had on Henry is absolutely inspiring. He used to pour out his bottled water or splash it around, as young boys do, for example, but after learning that people elsewhere have to walk miles for water, he told his mother, “Some people don’t have water, so it’s mean for me to waste it.” And he hasn’t dumped his water out since.
The game brings up a lot of questions for Henry about women’s rights, his mother says, like why women aren’t allowed to drive in some countries. “How does a mom take her daughter to the park?” Henry asked one day. When his mother told him that they just don’t as a result, he responded, “That just doesn’t make any sense!”
Lisa says she hopes to raise a child who is sweet and nice, who doesn’t feel obliged to live up to societal stereotypes of what it means to be a man: Strong, fierce, powerful.
"I have a responsibility to not put this egotistical, self-centered, sexist man into the world, because ultimately I’m shaping him, my parents are shaping him, his friends at school are shaping him," Lisa says. "It’s my responsibility to put a nice, caring man into the world."
Above: Braeden Arthur of Saratoga Springs, New York, plays Half the Sky Movement: The Game after school.
Kelly Arthur says that her 10-year-old son, Braeden, is also learning about women’s issues through playing Half the Sky Movement: The Game.
Braeden first got involved with the game through his mother’s and sisters’ interest in women’s issues. His mother is the co-founder of thinkpeace, which offers day and weekend workshops, summer camps and outreach programs for girls who want to be part of the global girl community. His sisters, Reese and Rimi, are both highly involved with the camps, and Braeden has really been raised with gender equality and women’s rights as topics of discussion, whether in the car, at the dinner table, or at a camp session.
Braeden’s first big introduction to women’s issues, though, was through the Half the Sky film, which Kelly sat down and watched with her son after a separate thinkpeace screening where he had expressed interest in watching it. Kelly wondered if he was ready for difficult social topics, such as child marriage and rape, but decided that she should go ahead and let him get involved.
After all, Braeden, she says, had been hounding her for a while to open up a thinkpeace camp for boys, telling her, “Boys are a part of the solution. You can’t do it without us! We’re in there, too!” And he certainly had a point.
Since watching the film and playing the Facebook game once it came out, Braeden has been on a passionate mission, alongside his sisters, to make a difference.
Braeden and his sister, Reese, 14, compete against each other to get further and further along in the game. As they move through the game, they unlock real donations, such as books, made to real people in need. The two also relay ideas for thinkpeace lessons to their sister, Remi, 15, who is a teen adviser at the camp and spends her time organizing fundraisers and awareness workshops for good causes. Braeden is also currently on a real-life mission to clear his book shelves and send more real books to people in need, a direct result of the game.
Getting Active for Real-world Change
Above: Braeden’s 10th birthday is filled with socially-minded activities, like carrying water jugs and food baskets.
All of the mothers I spoke with regarding social games and women’s issues pointed out the same underlying change in their children: They are now more aware of and interested in helping out in their own communities and those across the world, since getting involved with social games that help good causes.
For his 10th birthday, Braeden, fore example, asked the thinkpeace club girls to help him throw a fundraiser party to benefit various GirlUp programs in Malawi, Ethiopia, Liberia and Guatemala. “He had 35 kids, boys and girls, all doing activities that kids have to do there, like carrying heavy amounts of food and jerrycans filled with water for long distances,” says Kelly. “It was very eye opening for his friends, for sure.” It should be noted that Braeden is the biggest kid in his class and plays on the football team — not your typical gender-issues-interested 10-year-old.
Henry, the seven-year-old sweetheart in Indiana, is helping his mother celebrate her 36th birthday this week by doing 36 random acts of kindness, such as handing out bottled water at the running track, taking old blankets to the animal shelter, and leaving painted rocks in random places to cheer people up.
Even Eris, the two-year-old reading machine in Washington, is making real-world change. For her third birthday, her mother plans to get invitees, both kids and adults, together for a shoe-cutting party, in which they will cut fabric to send to those in need of shoes in Uganda, all possible through an organization called SoleHope.
A Call for Accessible Teaching Materials
Alexandra says she has always been interested in international and philanthropic topics, but she hadn’t really considered how to get her daughter involved until they began playing the Half the Sky game together. Since it is a colorful cartoon and presents the material in a safe way, though, it’s more accessible for a young child, she says.
Henry’s mother, Lisa, agrees that Half the Sky is a game that continues to spark new conversations of international interest with her son. In the past, Henry has occasionally chimed in when Lisa was listening to NPR, which features much international programming, but the medium isn’t exactly kid-friendly. She says she wishes there were more programs for kids to learn about world topics. In schools, there’s Channel One, she says, and when she was a kid, there was Nick News with Linda Ellerbee. But there’s nothing like that now, she says.
Kelly says that issues such as female genital mutilation can be tough to tackle, as parents are often uncomfortable with the topics at hand. It’s all about dealing with the issue in the right way, though, she says, and right now, the world lacks age-appropriate materials to do that. There are some games for very young children, and a lot of scary material out there, geared towards adults. But the in-between for tweens and teens is lacking.
"These are real-world problems," Kelly says. "These things happen to girls their age and younger, so they need to know about it. How can they be empathetic if they don’t know what’s going on?"
Happy Mother’s Day!
This Mother’s Day, we say thank you to all of the mothers out there who are brave enough to tackle these tough conversations with their children. It all starts with awareness. Our children are the future. Let’s help them be a part of the solution.
Above: Mom+Social panelists Stacy Martinet, Maz Kessler, Gene Gurkoff and Michelle Byrd
Thousands of changemakers gathered at the 92YTribeca on Wednesday for Mom+Social, a one-day gathering focused on motherhood and the role of social media, technology, and philanthropy to improve the health of moms and children everywhere.
Among the speakers — which included photographer Nigel Barker, singer Brandy Norwood and music artist Jennifer Lopez — was Games For Change Co-President Michelle Byrd, speaking on a panel about how new platforms like Half the Sky Movement: The Game are building change communities.
The panel, moderated by Mashable’s Stacy Martinet, also featured Charity Miles founder Gene Gurkoff and Catapult founder Maz Kessler, who also weighed in on how their respective non-profits are providing platforms for social change.
The key thread running through the Mom+Social event, which was planned in conjunction with Mother’s Day week, is the idea that moms can do amazing things when they have the right infrastructure to do so.
Martinet got some head nods in the audience when she asked, “Moms are the original publicists, right?” Gurkoff, agreeing, added that mothers and social-change-driven people, in general, are going to continue doing what they’re doing anyway – it is the job of non-profits and entrepreneurs to give these changemakers the infrastructure to enable them to be leaders. And that’s exactly what the three platforms these panelists represent are doing.
Here’s a look at how Half the Sky Movement: The Game, Charity Miles, and Catapult are building change communities using new technologies and ideas.
Half the Sky Movement: The Game
Half the Sky Movement: The Game is a Facebook adventure game that raises awareness and funds to empower women and girls across the globe. The game, inspired by the worldwide movement created by Pulitzer-Prize winning journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, sets players on a journey to complete quests and unlock real-life donations that reflect the important issues portrayed in the game, all made possible through the game’s partnerships with NGOs, Johnson & Johnson, and The Pearson Foundation.
The game has garnered more than 800,000 players since its launch on May 1st, 80% of which are women and 80% of which are of child-bearing age, says Byrd, pointing out that the game’s success has been highly driven by mothers and women. She also pointed out that 300 million women play games of Facebook, and it was Games For Change’s goal to go where that audience is to engage them. It just happens to be that Facebook is that platform.
The challenge, of course, is translating issues such as sex trafficking and fistula into approachable topics relevant in a game setting. The team, with the help of design and product geniuses at Frima Studio and Zynga, were able to pull it off in a way that it’s approachable for all age groups, say Byrd.
"An adventure, story-based game is a way to engage [young children in discussing intense social issues] without going too deep," says Byrd. "When you’re trying to teach your kid about the world, there aren’t that many tools that are interactive where they can grasp and start to understand what these issues are."
There are so many tools that enable us to track how much we’re moving about during the day. Mobile apps and wearable devices promise us the ability to track and improve our daily activity. Charity Miles, though, is an app that’s taking those daily steps, jogs, and strolls and putting them to good use.
Charity Miles enables people to earn money for charity whenever they run, walk, or bike. It’s as simple as that. You don’t have to be an athlete either — you can even earn money for your favorite causes on your walk to the subway or strolling your baby around town.
Founder Gurkoff says he was pleasantly surprised to discover the world of mommy bloggers, mommy tweeters, and mommy strollers upon founding Charity Miles. It turns out that 65% of Charity Miles users are women, and the average user age is 33, once again showcasing that women and mothers are a driving force behind yet another social good platform.
Gurkoff says that the mommy blogging community has been a key part in amplifying the non-profit’s message, potentially because mothers are a part of a social dynamic of hyper-sharing and community-building than others aren’t as much a part of.
The idea of enabling people to do good, simply by building upon their current habits is one of amazing potential. User Denise Claycomb, the first Charity Miler to reach 2,000 miles, for example, was already running 13 miles per day and raising money for autism research before she discovered Charity Miles and realized she could do both simultaneously. Now she raises money for Autism Speaks through her daily run. That’s powerful.
Launched in October 2012, Catapult is a crowdfunding platform for women and children that empowers people to build a gender equal world, one project at a time.
The platform is unique in that it enables users to start and join teams to work towards funding a specific organization or project, and it is also built on the tenet of transparency. Once a project is funded, funders receive three reports within the next year on how their money was used, alongside budget reports and details on whether particular goals were successful or not, and why.
Kessler, founder and creative director, says that the platform is built with the “solutions generation” in mind. “They are less interested in being spun and more interested in knowing what really happened,” she says. “For all of us talking to people, getting them involved in social change, it’s very heartening that people really care about solutions. They want to know why it worked and why it didn’t work, and that doesn’t drive them away,” she explains.
Catapult is also unique in the space of women’s issues in that its users are split 50/50 in male/female participation. After all, it isn’t just women who can make a difference for women and girls around the world. Without the support of men, these causes will never be sustainably solved.
Unlocking Maternal Instincts Through Non-Profit Work
"I’m not a mom, but I think working with a non-profit, in general, really plugs in to your maternal instincts," Byrd said when asked what inspires her in her work. "In working at a non-profit, you’ve got this strange maternal instinct about just wanting to solve a problem. It’s as basic as that. And going into the non-profit, social good space, it’s like [being a] do-gooder on steroids. You’ve got this massive desire to really make a difference. So, you’re pushing people on your staff that this really, really matters. You have to take it seriously. We’re all in it, not because we’re making loads of money, because we aren’t. We’re in it because we all think this is important, and if 800,000 people are playing this game around the world, and it’s delivering books and helping with fistula surgeries, and doing real on-the-ground, real-world things, that’s really important,” she says. “For me, it’s very personal, about if I’m doing work that’s rewarding in some way on a personal level, but also is it improving the planet on some other level?”
There’s no doubt that the individuals on this panel are doing their parts to change the world for the better. Half the Sky Movement: The Game, Charity Miles, and Catapult are all participating in real-world change and engaging people to create that change in new ways using innovative platforms.
And while you’re at it, let us know in the comments below: What platforms are you using to create change in your community or communities in other parts of the world?
We’re looking for volunteers with talents in marketing and social media to assist our marketing team in spreading the word about the game! Check our listing for more information: http://j.mp/10rZx9e and email email@example.com if you’re interested!
We are beyond amazed by how quickly some of you have already finished the game. You are all working hard to make the world a better place and we know you have put in tons of your own time and effort to play Half the Sky Movement: The Game! As a thank you, we want to share some goodies you and provide eight easy ways you can keep making a difference after you have completed all the existing quests!
1) Get added to our Hall of Fame!
Send us a picture through our Facebook page of yourself playing the game plus a screenshot of the final game achievement posted on your wall so we know you finished! We’ll take each photo and add it to our exciting Hall of Fame photo album!
2) Change your Facebook cover photo!
By updating your cover photo, you can let the world know you finished the game. Displaying your accomplishment on your page is a great way to show off to your friends and convince them to try out the game themselves!
• Download the cover photo here! http://j.mp/14EJJEp
- Add the following caption: “I completed Half the Sky Movement: The Game and sent books and surgeries to women in need. Try out this game and do your part. Unlock free donations in the first 30 minutes of play! bit.ly/halfthegame”
3) Share a game-related image!
One of the biggest ways to help the cause is to share news about the game with your friends. You will be increasing awareness of the issues represented in our game while encouraging people to play along! Never underestimate the power your voice can have among your friends!
• See below for Facebook statuses you can share:
- "Amazing! I just finished a video game that let me make free donations to women in need! Check out Half The Sky Movement: The Game and see how you can get involved just by playing! bit.ly/halfthegame”
- "I finished Half The Sky Movement: The Game! I encourage you to check it out. You can unlock free donations just by playing! bit.ly/halfthegame”
- "I just completed my whirlwind adventure in Half The Sky Movement: The Game! Check the game out and see how you can unlock free donations to women and girls in need just by playing! bit.ly/halfthegame”
- "I’ve become a Global Leader through a game that supports women and girls worldwide! Check out Half The Sky Movement: The Game and see how you can support and unlock free donations for those in need! bit.ly/halfthegame”
• See below for quick tweets to share!
- "Just beat @halfthegame! Go check it out and see how you can unlock free donations just by playing! bit.ly/halfthegame #halfthegame”
- "Just finished a game that unlocks free donations 4 women & girls! Check out @halfthegame 4 how u can play & help! bit.ly/halfthegame”
- "Became a Global Leader in @halfthegame! Go play and unlock donations for those in need! #halfthegame bit.ly/halfthegame”
- "I just beat a game that makes free donations to those in need! Go play @halfthegame! bit.ly/halfthegame #halfthegame”
5) Write a blog post about your experience with the game!
• See below for a blurb you can share on your blog!
"I just completed an amazing Facebook game that helps those in need! Half The Sky Movement: The Game, inspired by the book written by Pulitzer prize-winning authors Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, takes you on a global adventure in a quest to improve the lives of women worldwide. You won’t just be helping those in the game, your gameplay can translate into real-world actions that can help those in need. You can even unlock free donations just by playing!
I hope you’ll try out this game too. Play the game at bit.ly/halfthegame and like it on Facebook for promos!”
6) Challenge your friends to beat your score!
Friendly competition never hurts! Challenge your friends to make a difference and see if they can top your best score!
Download the Score Challenge images here! http://j.mp/Z8AWD0
Add the following caption: “I just finished Half The Sky Movement: The Game with _____ points! I bet you can’t beat my score! You’ll be helping women and girls worldwide in the process so everyone wins! Go play the game and make a difference! bit.ly/halfthegame”
7) Hold your own Half-a-thon!
Get your friends together to play the game and make a difference! Gather five or more people and play together for up to 24 hours. Send us the following to our Facebook page and we will feature you and your friends!
- How many people you got together
- What your scores were before and after you started
- Some pictures of you all playing together
8) Volunteer or take action!
Take further real-world action by volunteering for one of our in-game partners!
- Room to Read: http://www.roomtoread.org/GetInvolved
- ONE: http://www.one.org/c/international/actnow/3835/
- GEMS: http://www.gems-girls.org/get-involved/jobs-volunteering
- The Fistula Foundation: http://www.fistulafoundation.org/whatyoucando/
- World Vision: http://www.worldvision.org/content.nsf/getinvolved/getinvolved?open
- Heifer International: http://www.heifer.org/getinvolved/get-involved?msource=sovda13fb02
- United Nations Foundation: http://www.unfoundation.org/how-to-help/take-action/