Perhaps you’d feel differently about your Candy Crush addiction if you knew something useful could come out of it. Welcome to the burgeoning world of Gaming for Good. The concept has been around for a while: Vocabulary builder Freerice.com, for instance, launched in 2007 with the promise that 10 grains of rice would be donated for every correct answer (the site was later donated to the U.N.’s World Food Programme, which now runs it). Now, a range of models is proliferating that use gaming as an engine for good or, alternatively, motivate good works by way of gamification.
In addition to rewarding successful players with donations on their behalf (as Freerice does), some games simply donate proceeds to related causes. Sidekick Cycle, the first release from the Global Gaming Initiative, follows a young girl on a quest for clean water; half the proceeds from sales of the 99 cent game and in-app purchases go to World Bicycle Relief. “We are using mobile entertainment to help effect global change. And so are you,” promises GGI’s site. Similarly, half of in-app purchases made in Get Water! For India, which is free, go to charity: water. Zynga founder Mark Pincus, who established a nonprofit arm in 2009, recently told Co.Exist, “The dream for me and a lot of my peers is to … directly deliver good in the world. And even more powerful than that is to be a platform for other people to make positive change.” Zynga.org boasts that it has helped raise $13 million for charities through its Gaming for Good efforts (although considering that Grand Theft Auto V recorded more than $800 million in sales in one day, there’s still a long way to go).
On the other side of the equation—using gamification to drive social action—the Global Citizen Festival, an initiative of Australia’s Global Poverty Project, recently staged its second annual concert in New York’s Central Park, with headliners including Stevie Wonder and Alicia Keys. Attendees scored tickets by earning points for “socially engaged” actions, such as watching videos, sharing articles and signing petitions. Gamification still has plenty of unexplored potential, while consumers (especially Millennials) increasingly expect marketers to integrate social good into their propositions. Watch for many more innovative initiatives that marry these two trends.