How to Win with Social Causes – 7/24/12

Published on Tuesday, July 24th, 2012

Scott Henderson discusses the social impact of social cause games.

When non-profiteers and do-gooders ask me for the one piece of advice I could give to help market their cause, here’s what I tell them:

” Not everyone cares about your cause. But someone does, and they can connect you to others who do too.

Let’s accept reality. The world is full of problems – some we can solve and others we need to figure out how to live with. In this hyper-connected age, you can be easily overwhelmed with stories of great causes from around the world and in our own backyard that need your help.

What’s true for causes is true for games. We’re competing in a very crowded marketplace and need to find a way to stand out and attract the people who care about our cause or game.

Most causes and games don’t have big Hollywood blockbuster-sized budgets to blanket TV, radio, and the Internet with advertisements. However, thanks to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and the rest of the social media ecosystem, everyone has a soapbox and megaphone to gather a crowd.

For those who want to bring social causes and gaming together, you have a range of approaches you can take to attract your crowd – some obvious and others not so much. Here are five that come to mind:


Virtual Goods/Donations

Zynga has helped a number of charities sell virtual goods and then donate the proceeds. This method started with a sweet potato seed packet, which benefitted relief charities in the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake.


Game Mechanics

Trying to educate players on the complexity of energy conservation? Want to teach health care providers ways to improve their patient diagnoses? Want to illustrate the challenge of those living on the edge of poverty?  Create your game around the factors that drive those issues and challenge players to figure out how to win.



You can develop story arcs that help players have fun while gaining a deeper appreciation of the issue. It doesn’t have to be a morality tale or preaching.  Maybe you create a quest for players to overcome.  Or maybe you set your game in a developing country.



Want to challenge people’s stereotypes? Develop characters who are dealing with disability, homelessness, natural disaster, or some other issue. Make these characters relatable and portray them in a unique light. Even subtle character traits can make a huge difference.


Compassion Drives Action

The word “compassion” comes from the words that mean “suffer” and “together”. Your mind has mirror neurons . These neurons make it possible for you to look at others and feel what they’re feeling – as if you’re gazing in the mirror. When we sense pain in others, we will take immediate, specific action to remove that pain.


However you choose to bring social causes and gaming together, make sure to give your players ways to support you in taking action. – Scott Henderson, Cause Shift

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