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Free Rice

Free Rice

The United Nations World Food Program has a new online game called Free Rice that combines two very different advertising messages: 1) charitable giving can be painless and 2) “wasted” time can be made productive.  Visitors to the website practice improving their vocabulary with multiple choice quizzes.  (I made it to a relatively challenging level 48.)  At the same time they are “earning” rice for the hungry with each correct answer in ten grain increments, so they can “donate” this staple to the needy.  As players click to see each new page, they are also exposed to advertising from the sponsors who fund the actual program, which appears at the bottom of each screen.

Other cause marketers, such as The Breast Cancer Site, are using the promise of delivering “eyeballs” to online advertisers as a way to get traffic and raise money for charitable programs.  Some might question the way this strategy replaces active participation with passive reception and might argue that using brand names and logos from commercial sponsors makes corporate capitalism too prominent and undermines the UN’s central message about social justice.

Of course, one of the big trends in computer games right now is self-improvement.  Whether to better your memory or sharpen your vision, many other games are appealing to players who are older than the conventional hardcore “gamer” demographic, who might otherwise dismiss gaming as nonproductive leisure.  As the game theorist Ian Bogost has pointed out, however, these self-improvement or “exergames” actually have a long history.

United Nations World Food Program