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Seeds: A ‘serious game’ connecting U.S. smartphone users to Kenyan businesswomen
The average U.S. social gamer is a 43 year old woman. And in Kenya 2 million monetary transactions, usually small amounts, are made daily via mobile phone. These two statistics may seem unrelated, but combined they're what gave entrepreneur Rachel Cook the idea for Seeds, a mobile game she describes as "FarmVille meets Kiva." In the game, players grow a community of Zeople whose civilization has been destroyed in a cataclysm. Rebuilding takes real-world time, but like most social games players can spend real money to rush the process. The difference is, after paying, players choose a microlending 'bucket' in which to place the funds, which people in Kenya can draw from to make mobile transactions, and eventually repay their lenders. Cook's intention in developing the game is to help Kenyan entrepreneurs, particularly women, who often benefit most from microlending in cultures where access to education and other jobs is restricted. In fact, a 2009 New York Times article on women and microlending, entitled "Saving the World's Women," was what drew Cook to the cause in the first place. This isn't the first attempt to mix mobile gaming and social good. The 2010 game Raise the Village has users building a virtual village with purchases that go toward building and supporting a real village in Uganda. The game was lauded by many outlets, including the Games for Change organization, but reviewers had difficulty writing about Raise the Village. Suddenly, the word 'play' when used with a 'game' like this became awkward at best, and imperialistic at worse. "We didn’t want to do a Raise the Village thing," Cook told me during the interview. The full version of Seeds isn't out yet, though there's a prototype on the iPhone app store that lets you make microloans without any of the FarmVille game trappings; search 'Microlending' in iPhone apps and you'll find it. As to whether Seeds will be a serious game to make Jane McGonigal proud, or another example of gamification to make Ian Bogost weep....we'll have to wait to play the game before we decide which theorists to throw at it. We'll update you as soon as the full playable version is released. You can also check out the Microlending Film Project, Cook's previous project that aired in NYC last week, at the link. Top statistics are from Mashable and TheNextWeb, respectively.