Gamifying microloans to help women in Kenya

Videogames for charity is not a new thing. What is novel is making a game with the primary function of financial assistance. Seeds is an upcoming mobile app that does just this.

[The game director’s] interest in microlending first came from a 2009 New York Times article entitled “Saving the World’s Women” by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, which argues that the best way to fight global poverty is by empowering the half of the population that is so often isolated and undereducated.

This is one step closer to Jane McGonigals dream of playing games for a better world.  

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The game component will work much like FarmVille and its social simulation ilk, but with a bit more backstory.  The Zeople (or ‘Seedlings’; the details are still being ironed out) are a civilization that has been pushed to the brink of destruction by natural disasters, and players are tasked with helping them rebuild. As per the free-to-play model that Zynga popularized, playing the game is free, but players can accelerate the build times in their budding cities by paying small amounts of money.

So far so standard, as social games go. But Seeds is a “serious game,” part of a recent trend combining game design, entrepreneurship, and social consciousness whose goal is to reach an increasingly connected and gaming-savvy populace, either economically or educationally. Seeds operates mainly on the former; money players spend goes to women entrepreneurs in Kenya, not into a company’s earnings. Players can choose which types of businesses their money goes to, and earn achievement points for donating to a variety of sectors.

This is a noble effort and a bit more involving than donating your $0.10 reusable-bag discount, but this doesn’t seem quite like the altruistic gamification paradise that McGonigal talks about. This looks more like Newman’s Own than anything, which isn’t a bad thing, but Seed’s model is essentially donating its proceeds to charity. The next iteration of this gamestyle may reduce the gap between gameplay and altruistic actions, maybe even making them one in the same.