Free Rice is a game that was created for the United Nations World Food Program (WFP). The core mechanic is to answer questions by choosing from a list of four words which one most accurately defines a given term. This in itself is an indicator a social impact game as it prioritizes knowledge instead of the “antagonistic, and antisocial themes” that are embodied by many modern games. (Flanagan & Nissenbaum) However there are a few other additional social and political messages that are part of it. One which the game is fairly straightforward about is that for every question answered correctly 20 grains of rice are donated to the WFP. This acts as the game score tracker, as a bowl of rice and counter are present at the bottom of the screen to remind players of how much rice they have caused to be donated. This visual indicator effectively gives players a reminder of the positive impact their playing is having, as well as reminds them there are people out there who are struggling to have enough to eat. This reminder could potentially open up the door for players to find other ways to help those who are hungry, such as donating to or volunteering at a local food bank.
Similar to the potential consequences of players being conscious of food scarcity, Free Rice has another social message that is not overtly obvious. While there is always only one correct answer, some of the incorrect choices have the potential to seem correct depending on the player’s background. For example, one of the questions has “horror” as the word that needs defining. The options players have to choose from for this question are attorney, small horse, motor, and dread. While it seems obvious that dread is the correct answer, it is possible the others could be viewed as horrors as well. To someone living in a society that relies heavily on animal labor, a small horse could be a horror. An individual who has lived their life in an isolated tribe could view a motor as a horror due to it being a threat to their pre-industrial way of life and culture. In the case of myself, I’m biased towards feeling that attorneys are horrors due to coming from a family of lawyers and being in a relationship with one (both of whom are fans of the “lawyers = bad” trope often found in American comedy).
This more nuanced aspect helps make players more aware of how “surrounding societies and cultures” promote certain values and how that impacts views of what words means. (ibid.) This combined with the other positive impactful features of the game’s mechanics makes Free Rice an enjoyable and thoughtful game.
Free Rice is available for PC and Mobile on its website.
Flanagan, Mary & Helen Nissenbaum. “A Game Design Methodology to
Incorporate Social Activist Themes” CHI 2007 Proceedings • Politics & Activism. San Jose, 2007. PDF.