On October 5th, the Chicago International Social Change Film Festival will be kicking off at the Showplace Icon Theater on Roosevelt Road. Showcasing films that "heighten public conciousness" of social issues, one of the festival's featured screenings will be The Microlending Film Project, a documentary that explores the impact that "global microfinance" has on communities, especially for women who live in poverty.
The film is a "passion project" of Rachel Cook, a former futures trader who was inspired to produce it after reading an op-ed in the New York Times.
As part of the film's debut, a new social gaming app called Seeds will be made available. Developed by a team involving the likes of Amanda Wixted (formerly of Zynga) and award-winning game developer Brad Wiggins, Seeds seeks to "gamify" the micro-lending process by making it an option in the app. As it was explained to me "Players can explore an immersive, playable world, communally rebuilding a virtual civilization, while simultaneously microlending money to boost real entrepreneurs. Seeds gamifies microlending, using fun incentives to motivate players to greater generosity."
Sounds pretty neat, eh?
In advance of her film's screening in Chicago, Rachel Cook took some time to answer questions about Seeds, where the idea came from, what players can expect from the game, and what to expect in the future:
Geek To Me: Can you tell us where the premise of Seeds came about? How long has the game been in development?
Rachel Cook: Seeds has been in development for the better part of a year, as we built the prototype and then traveled to Nairobi, Kenya to implement it on the ground. The idea came together when I was filming my documentary, The Microlending Film Project, on the ground in Nairobi, and we saw amazing things. Everyone has a cell phone, and people who live in sheet metal houses can buy produce, say at a roadside stand simply by sending a text message.
After learning that, I found out that the average social gamer is a 43-year-old woman, and the demographic that purchases the largest amount of virtual gold in World of Warcraft is women over 35. This demographic also tends to do more microlending, and because women are also the biggest beneficiaries of microloans, there was a natural opportunity to do well by doing good because of this demographic overlap.
Geek To Me: Have any of you been involved in other micro-lending ventures in the past?
Rachel Cook: I directed and produced The Microlending Film Project after reading an op-ed about the positive effects of microlending on women in the New York Times when I was actually sitting on a trading desk in Chicago at 3 in the morning, trading the European shift. My time spent as a trader brought me more money that I expected in my mid-twenties, but the environment was weirdly sexist and I wasn't creating anything innovative or helping anyone who really needed it.
We shot the film on four continents, including in Detroit, MI. Our team includes a Director of Photography with more thn 50 studio Hollywood films on his resume, including Fargo and Terms of Endearment, an Editor who has cut several films for Oscar-nominated Director Jon Alpert, and a Composer who has produced for the Grammy-nominated Shiny Toy Guns.
We're excited to be the Feature Film Presentation at the Chicago Social Change Film Festival on October 5th, during which we'll also debut Seeds, using it to source loans for Chicago-area small business owners.
Geek To Me: How does Seeds differ from other micro-lending campaigns?
Rachel Cook: To our knowledge, nobody has merged social gaming and microlending in this way to date. We're also partnering with other games to embed our API. The big ambition is to imagine a future in which the 3 billion hours per week spent gaming are harnessed and reinvested in for-profit social good. I want kids in the future to think of the definition of gaming as something like "fun things we play that help people." And then they'll go play the games with their bionic arms in flying cars or whatever.
Geek To Me: For those who may have never tried social gaming before, what can they look forward to with Seeds?
Rachel Cook: Seeds allows you to rebuild a destroyed civilization populated by plant-like characters called the Zeople, who can mate and pass down certain genes, something I was always personally obsessed with in games like the Sims 2 and 3. Players can buy decorators and social goods for their personal playable worlds, and they can choose to make microloans to specific types of microbusinesses. Doing so will earn them XP and allow them to rebuild the civilization more quickly.
Geek To Me:What is the cost involved in playing the game?
Rachel Cook: It's free. Players are only charged if they buy decorators and virtual goods, if they want to pay to hurry up a process within the game, or if they make microloans, and the microloans are repaid.