[print] The Chronicle of Philanthropy reports on Ayiti and Camp GK in Second Life

The recent issue of The Chronicle of Philanthropy, one of the most important publications for those in the world of foundations, just published an excellent article on the emergence of Games for Change. To our delight, Global Kids work was referenced throughout. Below are some highlights:

Our Playing 4 Keeps program:

International Issues

One of the first nonprofit groups to enter the world of electronic gaming was Global Kids.

The organization, which has worked for more than 20 years to improve academic performance in troubled New York public schools, started developing digital games three years ago. The charity's games have been used to educate teenagers in the city and elsewhere about international issues and to encourage them to get involved in civic projects.

After seeing a prototype of a Global Kids game, Microsoft gave the organization $500,000 for an after-school program in which teenagers work with professional designers to develop games about social issues.

Their first game, released in November, is called Ayiti: The Cost of Life. Made in cooperation with Gamelab, a New York company that develops video games, it is available on Unicef's Web site.

Ayiti is a role-playing game that requires the player to make life-and-death decisions for each member of an impoverished Haitian family of five in a farm town. The goal of the game is to keep the family out of debt, ensure its health, and get family members educated. In sessions that represent four years and 16 growing seasons, the player must make choices about schooling, medical care, work, and the family budget.

Each player will get different results. For example, players could decide to let the father take a high-paying job in a rum distillery, but for some players it will work out and for others the father could get injured and be unable to work again. If the player decides to save some money on home repair during hurricane season, the family might be spared or wiped out by the next storm.

In the two weeks following Ayiti's release, 150,000 teenagers played it, according to online surveys they filled out before entering the game.

"I just finished playing The Cost of Life, and I must say that it isn't easy to make your family survive," wrote one young woman in an online message. "Very good game, I'm impressed!!"

"We want to have them realize that issues like poverty are very complex," says Barry Joseph, director of the online leadership program at Global Kids. "We want them to learn that issues are not dealt with in isolation."

And our work in Second Life:

A cheaper approach for charities, he says, is to encourage existing digital games to add social messages or use virtual communities... Global Kids established a spot in Second Life called Global Kids Island, where the charity hosted a virtual camp last summer to educate teenagers about the problem of child sex trafficking.

Read the full article below:

Game Plan
Video games and virtual communities offer new ways for nonprofit groups to educate people about social needs

By Sue Hoye

As video-game sales reach $7-billion a year - providing growing competition for Hollywood's $9-billion box-office take last year - nonprofit organizations are increasingly looking for ways to capitalize on the popularity of gaming.

Some charities are now using online games as educational tools to reach new audiences and raise money. And private foundations are putting dollars into research on the effects of gaming and paying for charities to develop video games that educate people about the causes they support.

At least 50 games with social agendas, most created over the last two years, are available, and nearly 100 more are in development, according to Suzanne Seggerman, the co-founder and president of Games for Change, a New York group that helps foundations and other charities develop digital games about issues like poverty, racial discrimination, and the environment.

"Games have hit a tipping point," Ms. Seggerman wrote in an e-mail message. "More than half of all Americans play games now, and that's across the board, from middle-age soccer moms to teenagers on their cellphones. With the pervasiveness of the Internet and the ease of distribution, games have become an excellent new vehicle for serious content."

David Rejeski, head of the Serious Games Initiative, which works on forging links between the multibillion-dollar electronic-game industry and projects to promote the public good, says the time is right for charities to get involved in gaming.

It is cheaper than ever before to develop simple digital games, says Mr. Rejeski, and "an awful lot of people attracted to the game world like to do things that they see as socially valuable."

Not only are online games an effective way to educate an audience, experts say, but they can also encourage players to take action: telling others about an issue, persuading them to change their behavior, registering to vote, or signing a petition.

But digital games are not for every nonprofit organization, particularly small, cash-strapped groups and those that do not serve young people and others who enjoy online games.

"The first hurdle is for a nonprofit to decide that they would like to get their message across using this new media," says Colleen Macklin, an electronic-gaming expert at Parsons the New School for Design, in New York.

"That in and of itself is challenging," she says, "because most the people who run organizations are not playing these games."

International Issues

One of the first nonprofit groups to enter the world of electronic gaming was Global Kids.

The organization, which has worked for more than 20 years to improve academic performance in troubled New York public schools, started developing digital games three years ago. The charity's games have been used to educate teenagers in the city and elsewhere about international issues and to encourage them to get involved in civic projects.

After seeing a prototype of a Global Kids game, Microsoft gave the organization $500,000 for an after-school program in which teenagers work with professional designers to develop games about social issues.

Their first game, released in November, is called Ayiti: The Cost of Life. Made in cooperation with Gamelab, a New York company that develops video games, it is available on Unicef's Web site.

Ayiti is a role-playing game that requires the player to make life-and-death decisions for each member of an impoverished Haitian family of five in a farm town. The goal of the game is to keep the family out of debt, ensure its health, and get family members educated. In sessions that represent four years and 16 growing seasons, the player must make choices about schooling, medical care, work, and the family budget.

Each player will get different results. For example, players could decide to let the father take a high-paying job in a rum distillery, but for some players it will work out and for others the father could get injured and be unable to work again. If the player decides to save some money on home repair during hurricane season, the family might be spared or wiped out by the next storm.

In the two weeks following Ayiti's release, 150,000 teenagers played it, according to online surveys they filled out before entering the game.

"I just finished playing The Cost of Life, and I must say that it isn't easy to make your family survive," wrote one young woman in an online message. "Very good game, I'm impressed!!"

"We want to have them realize that issues like poverty are very complex," says Barry Joseph, director of the online leadership program at Global Kids. "We want them to learn that issues are not dealt with in isolation."

Focus on Activism

Education and activism seem to be the main focus of most nonprofit organizations' digital games, as well as some games about societal issues developed by companies.

For example, Darfur Is Dying was released in April by MTVu, an MTV channel that focuses on college students and college life. To date, the game has been played more than two million times and continues to be played despite the fact the network has stopped promoting it.

Darfur Is Dying is the result of a game-design competition that the winning designer learned about at a conference held by Games for Change. In the game, the player navigates through online depictions of the many challenges of living in a refugee camp in war-ravaged Darfur.

At the end of the game, players are asked to take some action: learn more, share the game's Web address with others, or get in touch with officials of the American government and urge them to help stop the genocide in Darfur.

"We did not have to actively market [the game] because our audience did it themselves," says Stephen Friedman, the channel's general manager. "It has gone far beyond our market. That's when you realize you really tap the viral nature of the Internet."

The Darfur game was so popular with MTVu's audience that another game called Squeezed, which focuses on the issue of immigration, is scheduled to go live in February.

And the company this month also announced a new contest for young people to create a digital game focusing on HIV and AIDS. It is part of a campaign that MTVu is starting with help from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, in Menlo Park, Calif., to remind young people how to protect themselves from the disease.

Hefty Price Tag

While some groups have successfully developed digital games, doing so is too expensive for many other charities.

An Internet game with simple graphics for a single player costs approximately $250,000 to develop, according to Mr. Joseph of Global Kids. While that is significantly less than the millions of dollars spent developing commercial video games, it is still too much for many charities.

Even when nonprofit groups can come up with the money, "an awful lot of the funding gets burned by building the game, and there isn't a lot of money left for marketing," says Mr. Rejeski of the Serious Games Initiative. "I'm surprised when I talk to people and they've never heard of these games."

A cheaper approach for charities, he says, is to encourage existing digital games to add social messages or use virtual communities. Among the popular sites are Whyville, which is aimed at young children, There, and Second Life.

Several charities have already teamed up with Second Life, using its software to develop digital games or virtual shops and offices. Second Life says it has more than two million registered users or "residents" who function online as "avatars," the digital characters they choose to represent themselves.

Global Kids established a spot in Second Life called Global Kids Island, where the charity hosted a virtual camp last summer to educate teenagers about the problem of child sex trafficking.

Fund-Raising Potential

Because sites like Second Life have developed methods of buying and selling items - whereby people from any country can use a charge card to purchase a special currency used on the site - joining with a virtual community opens the possibility of raising money.

In July, the American Cancer Society held its second annual Relay for Life online, the virtual equivalent of the walking and running races the charity holds across the country.

Online more than 1,000 avatars, each part of a relay team, spent 24 hours traversing a 192-square-acre course designed by volunteers. After passing the start line, the avatars traveled through virtual landscapes representing Amsterdam and New York, as well as towns in Brazil, Canada, Mexico, and elsewhere.

As avatars, the participants raised more than $41,000 from friends and family members who pledged a certain amount of money for each acre of the course they completed online. That was up from just over $5,000 in the virtual event's first year.

The cost to the cancer society for the online race was $1,200 to rent the virtual space, says Randal Moss, who helps develop new fund-raising approaches and other innovative efforts for the charity.

The cancer society is now opening a virtual office in Second Life to provide residents with the organization's educational materials, and to give volunteers a space to collaborate on ideas like the relay, Mr. Moss says.

In Britain, Save the Children UK has also attracted some donations from members of the Second Life virtual community by opening a shop there in December.

At the Yak Shack, people can purchase a virtual yak or donate to Save the Children. A yak costs 1,000 Linden dollars, the currency of Second Life, which works out to about $3.50.

Within two weeks, the organization had sold 130 yaks and received additional donations totaling more than $500, says Rosie Jordan, a spokeswoman for the charity.

While the amount raised is modest, she notes, officials hope it will continue to grow. Meanwhile, the effort has been successful in publicizing the charity's work to new audiences.

Yak owners have been able to milk, ride, and even dress up their yaks in a yak beauty contest held last month to enable owners to show off their virtual livestock. Entrants included winged yaks, pink yaks, and even one in a tutu, but the winner was a two-headed yak.

Save the Children officials are pleased with the response to the virtual shop and intend to keep it open. "You can do pretty much anything that you would in real life, but you can stretch the boundaries of your imagination," says Ms. Jordan of the shop and related events online. "This presents us with an exciting opportunity to fund raise and campaign with people in an interactive way."

A few foundations have also been attracted to the interactive aspects of holding online events and games. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, one of the first grant makers to study the emerging field of online gaming for education and advocacy work, held a news conference in a virtual community in October to announce that it will spend $50-million to finance research on the impact of digital technologies such as gaming on young people's learning, play, socialization, and civic participation.

An avatar audience viewed the president of the foundation, Jonathan Fanton, as he announced the new five-year grants program.

"This is the way people in this field like to communicate," says Connie Yowell, the foundation's director of education. "We like to feel that we are talking the talk."

Meanwhile, other charities - including Habitat for Humanity; the Buckminster Fuller Institute, in New York; and the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, in Washington - have gaming events and related online projects in the works.

Says Ms. Seggerman of Games for Change: "Just wait. Games about real-world issues will be in your living room any minute now, if they aren't already."