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Fighting world hunger with a trivia game? It’s not as crazy as it sounds

Will Hawkins/Digital Trends

This article is part of The Food Fight, a series that explores how the United Nations’ World Food Programme is using technology to battle food scarcity and put an end to hunger by 2030.

One in nine people — that’s 821 million — aren’t getting enough food, according to the United Nations’ World Food Programme. It’s a number that sounds overwhelming, but the WFP is trying to get kids — and adults — to see that they can help fight this problem in just a few minutes a day. The organization recently revamped Freerice, its quiz game that donates the equivalent of 10 grains of rice for each right answer players give. 

Computer programmer John Breen created the game back in 2007 as a way to help is son with SAT words. Two years later, he donated it to the WFP. Since 2010, players have raised $1.39 million — the equivalent of around 200 billion grains of rice — playing the game. 

Two years ago, we picked it up again and we started working on it a bit more,” Alia Zaki, a Freerice community manager,  told Digital Trends. “And so we completely redesigned it.” The relaunch includes a new site, as well as iOS and Android apps. 

Gameplay is fairly straightforward; the questions are multiple-choice, and there are varying levels of difficulty. Players can choose from categories like languages (Spanish, Latin, French, Italian, Czech, and German), literature, multiplication, anatomy, and geography. There are both vocabulary and grammar questions to help people learn English. Some of the changes to the game include new categories, with questions on climate change and nutrition. It’s certainly no Trivia Crack, but it’s making an impact nonetheless.

Freerice/World Food Programme

“We’ve realized that a lot of teachers are using Freerice in the classroom,” Zaki said. It’s a way to quiz kids while also getting them involved in a worthwhile cause. The site makes money from display ads, which is then used in a variety of programs, including ones that provide school meals in South Sudan and Burundi. 

WFP has already made some changes to Freerice and has plans to implement more in the future. While teachers can create groups where students can work toward a cumulative goal and vie for leaderboard status, Zaki says the WFP is looking for other ways to make the game more competitive. “We want to start introducing new direct challenges between users,” she said.

A player solves math problems in the World Food Programme's Freerice game

That’s what’s really exciting about this project. Even with the new updates, Freerice has barely scratched the surface of what’s possible with gamification. Just imagine what version 3.0 might be like. What if players could keep track of the total grains of rice they’ve accumulated and earn badges based on how often they play, or the number of correct answers they get in a row? What if you could challenge friends, or even set up tournaments?

The game has been chugging along for more than a decade, generating around $5,600 a month with its 620,000 players. With numbers like that, we can’t wait to see what a little more friendly competition does to fill those virtual rice bowls. 

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