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Gaming for Social Change: The Making of an App for Charity:Water Gaming for Social Change: The Making of an App for Charity:Water

Gaming for Social Change: The Making of an App for Charity:Water

by Nicole Darabian
December 18, 2013

Despite the increasingly digital, mobile, and socially-aware world we live in, seldom do we see games tackling global challenges, let alone game companies that work with nonprofits on a game that can translate into real world impact. Having studied the broad subject of international development, I had no idea what I was really getting myself into when I started working at Decode Global. I was in my last year of undergrad, looking for an internship, hoping to apply what I had learned about to an actual job. Through a contact, I met the founder of Decode Global, who over coffee shared her vision of her newly established company: “develop mobile games for social change”. I didn’t know much about the “tech/game” industry at the time, but the innovation of the start-up’s mission as well as the uniqueness of the challenges it faced were so refreshing that I just knew I’d want to be part of this adventure.

I joined Decode Global in June of 2012 and participated in the development of Get Water!, a mobile game that raises awareness about water scarcity and its impact on girls’ education in a fun and optimistic way. Maya, the main character of our game, loves going to school, but her family needs her to fetch water daily. As much as it is an adventure to take on the responsibility, the water pump needs fixing, and Maya is not able to focus on her studies. The gamer's job is to collect yellow Jerry Cans that help Maya in her quest to get water. The game was launched on World Water Day (March 22 2013) as part of an effort to educate people about the water crisis through an interactive medium. After receiving great feedback from our players and reviewers, we decided it was our calling to step it up and have the game connect into real world impact.

We wanted to find a partner in the nonprofit sector that we could share proceeds with from app purchases of Get Water! so that we could help projects facilitating access to clean water. While doing research on organizations with a water mandate, I was quickly absorbed by the work of charity:water, the nonprofit that “reinvented charitable giving” through their innovative financing model, as well as their unparallelled focus and commitment to projects on the ground. 

Decode Global and charity:water met in June 2013. As they shared stories with us from their latest trip to India for their 2013 September Campaign, we were quickly drawn to their enthusiasm and the idea of bringing one of the stories from the field to life. They had gathered accounts and pictures from girls who just like Maya, didn’t have time for school because collecting water took up most of their days. While our missions align in raising awareness and making a difference in access to clean water, it all clicked when we turned to the importance of inspiring people through positive storytelling. For, as bad as things can get sometimes, it is ultimately hope and optimism that drives people to action. And we all agreed that games are emerging as the most powerful narrative medium in our era. So, we've now added more missions to the game, stories about Maya's life, and an opportunity for gamers to earn "charity:water karma skills."

The new version of Get Water! is now available worldwide in the App Store. If, like us, you would like to step it up a notch, you can now help charity:water fund clean water projects in Orissa, India through making in-app purchases in the game, from which 50 percent of the proceeds will be donated to charity:water.

Discover Maya’s story today and help her get water fast so she can get back to her books. Nothing will stop her learning and having fun, and she wants you to come along.

This project is part of GOOD's series Push for Good—our guide to crowdsourcing creative progress.

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