Zynga felt the game had “a fighting chance,” Weber said, because the content was compelling, there was already an established book and television program, financing was in hand — producers have raised US$1 million — and Games for Change had hired “a commercial-grade developer,” the Canadian company Frima Studio of Quebec.
Other supporters include the Ford, Rockefeller and UN foundations, Intel and the US National Endowment for the Arts, which last spring shifted grant money away from public television to an array of untested games.
The Half the Sky game starts out simply, as Radhika ponders how to afford to visit a doctor with her sick daughter (the answer is to harvest mangoes, which players do for her). Each step requires players to answer a question — for example, should Radhika confront her husband or stay silent?
Neither answer is wrong, but each takes players on a different route.
As Radhika moves across the globe to Kenya, Vietnam and Afghanistan, her empowerment grows, but many of the game choices get progressively darker. One leads to a mother living and her baby dying, and sometimes Radhika fails.
Still, some of the game’s nonprofit partners have pushed for even more verisimilitude, Byrd and Burak said, questioning, for one, why Radhika can read when many women in her situation would be illiterate.
Finding that balance — how much to simplify complicated issues, how much fun to include and how much to focus on positive solutions versus grave challenges — has consumed much of the development process, the producers said.
“It’ll be a very interesting test as to what people’s thresholds are,” Weber said.
Players who reach the final level learn about sex trafficking in the US and can donate to an organization in New York called Girls Educational and Mentoring Services, which helps young women leave the commercial sex industry.
Rachel Lloyd, the organization’s founder, said that games are “a brave new world for us, too. We’re watching and seeing how this works, if people really do engage in the way that we’d like them to.”
She said she hopes users will be moved to push for more economic opportunities for women, or become a mentor.
“I do think we have to push people to step outside their comfort zone and move outside online into the real world,” she said.