Once in a blue moon, a social networking game will emerge that offers more than a vehicle in which to irk your friends and family with nonstop Facebook updates on your virtual crop sowing and cow milking activities.

Joining TerraCycle's "social upcycling"-oriented Trash Tycoon, a notable new addition to this abbreviated but growing list of do-gooding digital diversions has arrived with Repair the Rockaways. More of a Farmville-inspired online fundraising platform than a straight-out social networking game, Repair the Rockaways was conceived by creative agency Mother New York and built by Brooklyn-based Casserole Labs in an effort to repair and rebuild Superstorm Sandy-damaged homes in a hard-hit-and-still-in-need section of Queens brick by virtual brick.

During the immediate aftermath of Sandy, the Rockaway Peninsula, which includes the leveled-by-fire neighborhood of Breezy Point, was transformed into a bustling, highly visible hotbed of disaster relief and recovery efforts. But as time marched on, volunteer groups thinned out and media attention drifted elsewhere. Seven months after the storm, many Rockaway residents struggle with home repairs, monstrous mold infestations, and bureaucratic red tape. Some are still homeless. This is where Repair the Rockaways' unique brand of community-based online gaming-meets-philanthropy comes in.

Farmville fans should feel right at home while exploring the virtual terrain created for Repair the Rockaways given that as far as "social interactive experiences" go, the two simulations aren’t entirely dissimilar. (From what I understand, while Farmville developer Zynga didn't have an official role in creating Repair the Rockaways, it did give the game its blessing.) The money users spend purchasing virtual commodities — specifically, the aforementioned bricks — while “playing” Repair the Rockaways goes directly to Respond and Rebuild, a grassroots volunteer organization that’s “well-established in the Rockaway community for their immediate action, vast knowledge, and concern for the needs of the citizens.” You can learn more about the group's excellent work in the Rockaways in the video below.

Navigating Repair the Rockaways is rather straightforward: Just pick an empty plot of land throughout the Rockaway Peninsula that needs rebuilding — there are currently hundreds of them — and start in on the purchasing of virtual bricks. A non-deductible donation of $10 will get you 20 bricks while donations of $100 and over gets you 400 bricks — and a completely rebuilt home.

Or, instead of building a home from scratch you can opt to chip in and purchase bricks for a home that another user has already started to build. Better yet, recruit a few friends or co-workers and help to populate an entire block with new homes. The initial goal of Repair the Rockaways is to raise $200,000 for local recovery efforts.

Mother New York explains the nuts and bolts:

Repair the Rockaways is a social interactive experience. It translates online activity into a real world charitable effort by donating through a digital interface. People who visit the site can donate money in exchange for “bricks” to help construct houses in an environment modeled after the Rockaways. When 400 bricks have been donated, a newly-built house appears in the virtual world. The monetary contributions are directly donated to Respond and Rebuild, a volunteer group established in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, who will aid the actual Rockaways with supplies, education and labor. The website will be continually updated with photos, videos and stories from volunteers and contributing media partners, whom will document the progress resultant of user donations.

Head on over to the Repair the Rockaways to purchase a few virtual bricks and help residents of the real life Rockaways continue to rebuild their community. And as noted by Mother New York's Tom Webster, while this unique mode of disaster recovery fundraising may be Rockaway-centric for now, there’s the possibility that game could be retooled and used to help other communities in need such as Moore, Okla.

Webster tells GOOD: "The problem isn't going to go away. There will be another hurricane. There will be tornados in the Midwest. We need to have a better way of organizing. We need to rethink how we handle disaster response."

Via [GOOD], [Mashable]

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Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

Help rebuild homes in a Sandy-ravaged community, Farmville-style
Repair the Rockaways is a Farmville-inspired digital fundraising platform where 'players' help to repair Sandy-damaged homes.