New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof has always been one of the first journalists to experiment with new media (he famously became the newspaper's first blogger in 2003), and in keeping up with social trends, will soon be one of the first to use an online game to educate about real-life issues.
The 52-year-old recently spoke with Fast Company about his foray into the social gaming scene, saying that he intends to launch a humanitarian game similar to the hugely popular "FarmVille."
"It's being built by an organization called Games for Change," he says. "It will be vaguely analogous to FarmVille. You'll have a village, and in order to nurture this village, you'll have to look after the women and girls in the village. Actions in the game will also have real-world effects. In other words, there will be schools and refugee camps that will benefit if you do well in the game. It will go live when the documentary debuts at the end of this year."
That documentary is a TV special based on the best-selling book "Half the Sky," which Kristof wrote with his wife Sheryl WuDunn. According to a summation, it argues that the oppression of women worldwide is "the paramount moral challenge" of the present era, much as the fight against slavery was in the past.
"I think gaming might be the next big platform for news organizations and causes," he tells FC. "There's some snobbery about games. Some people think games are just 'what teenagers do' or that they are too fun to be worthy of our attention. But there are a lot of people who spend a lot of time playing games online, so we in the news business would do well to think about how we can use games to attract eyeballs."
Kristof certainly isn't the first to try and merge social issues with a social networking game like FarmVille. Back in March last year, Harrison Ford teamed up with Conservation International to create the green-themed Ecotopia.
The game played players in the middle of a city overwhelmed with pollution and urban decay. Their goal was to introduce sustainable initiatives that would reverse the environmental damage and benefit the citizens. Along the way, participants also had the opportunity to earn extra points for performing real-world green actions.
Unfortunately, while the game managed to involve more than 25,000 people, bugs and other issues appeared to have caused it to be taken down. Try and launch Ecotopia today and you're met with nothing but error messages.
Let's hope Kristof has more luck. Look for his humanitarian game to launch towards the end of 2012.