Games are usually thought of as diversions, entertainment, distractions to get through times of boredom or simply to experience pure enjoyment. They can also, however, be a persuasive medium through which to convey important ideas; more and more, various organizations and other entities are recognizing the power inherent in games and utilizing them to spread their messages to a larger population.
Alternate Reality Games, or ARGs, are an especially effective genre to this end. By creating an interactive narrative rife with puzzles, intriguing characters and dramatic storylines, ARGs draw players in to an extent not possible for most other types of games. Microsoft, Steven Spielberg and countless video games and movies have all produced alternate reality games; now, from the British Red Cross, comes Traces of Hope, one of the first-ever charity ARGs!*
Traces of Hope centers around 16-year-old Joseph; survivor of a vicious civil war in Uganda, he was wrenched from his family and forced to flee his home. Now, five years later, Joseph is on a dangerous quest to locate his mother. With the help of a British journalist, the young refugee has access to a satellite phone with which he can contact players; this is where you come in. Can you guide Joseph through the perils of a war-torn civilization to maybe, just maybe, locate the Red Cross messenger who can provide the information he so desperately desires?
Created by Enable Interactive, the game promises to combine "storytelling, detective work, technology and treasure-hunt style gameplay in a compelling 21st century narrative, as players seek to reunite Joseph with his mother." I can't provide many details, as the nature of an ARG is to be constantly unfolding; however, I think that Traces of Hope has the potential to be both fun and profoundly moving, an unusual combination indeed. Compelling story + entertaining gameplay + important real-world info = one heckuva good thing.
Registration opened about a week ago, so jump in now to avoid missing the boat! You can also see a teaser video for the campaign, and, if you like, post your thoughts and findings here in the comments for others in the JIG community.
Also, if you enjoy games with a cause, make sure to check out the new and improved Free Rice! A year after its debut, the United Nations World Food Program-developed vocabulary game has expanded to include subjects such as geography, art, grammar and chemistry; as before, every correct answer for any subject donates 20 grains of rice to the UN (the rice is paid for by the game's sponsors). Over 45 billion grains have been donated so far; let's add to that number. :)
Joseph needs your help:
*Note: We had originally written that Traces of Hope was the "first-ever" charity ARG, but we want to set the record straight: Operation: Sleeper Cell (in aid of Cancer Research UK) launched slightly earlier than this one did.