Free to play. Free to donate. Freerice.

Every non-profit organization looks for ways to increase donations from the community and many of these donations are in cash form. is “a nonprofit website that is owned by and supports the United Nations World Food Progamme” according to their website. This organization has two goals:

  1. Provide education to everyone for free.
  2. Held end world hunger by providing rice to hungry people for free.

It almost seems too good to be true right? Fortunately, Freerice is 100% dependable, so every grain of rice you earn is being donated to a person in poverty and hunger.

Can Charity be a Game?

According to Dr. Kapp, “Gamification is using game-based mechanics, aesthetics, and game thinking to engage people, motivate action, promote learning, and solve problems.” Freerice has adopted this new and upcoming concept to their organization’s mission to do all that AND donate food to those in need.

Sow how does Freerice work? Users pick a subject of their choice that range from vocabulary in English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Latin, as well as humanities, math, chemistry, geography, sciences, and SAT preparation.

For every question you get right, 10 grains of rice are donated. For every 5 questions you get right then 50 grains of rice are donated. Depending on the subject you chose, there are a different number of levels to go through. The more questions you get right the harder the quesitons get and the higher in levels you reach. The more questions you answer incorrectly, you go down in levels. You don’t lose the rice that you have already made, but you then do not donate anymore.


The biggest incentive that keeps me going is that on the right side of the questions, there is a bowl of rice that continually fills up as you answer more questions. It also shows you the piles of rice you have donated and the total number of grains of rice. So for everything you answer, you directly see an impact from your actions. You also receive little message of achievements or basically motivators that say things like “Congratulations! You’ve just answered 20 questions in a row.”

Where did it all begin and where is it going?

This organization didn’t start off as a non-profit helping fight world hunger. In 2007, John Breen a computer programmer, created the website to help his son study for the SATs. On the first day, 830 grains of rice were donated and since then…the amount of rice donated is huge! According to they have donated approximately 95,716,396,828 grains of rice over a course of almost 10 years that have been donated to over 87.8 million people in 78 countries around the world.

Like these children in the video above I was exposed to Freerice back in middle school, where my teachers would have us play that in the computer labs to practice vocabulary, but also to encourage the idea of donating and helping others. At the time, I thought I was a super star because I knew all these fancy words and was moving up in all the levels and then helping others all at the same time. 

But is the game truly donating this rice to people in impoverished areas?

And the answer is yes! In 2007 when the site launched in partnership with the United Nations World Food Progamme, they released this article to introduce the game and their mission behind it. The WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran said herself that the success of the game just shows “how the Internet can mobilize millions of people worldwide to end want.”

In the video as well, posted by the World Food Programme, you see first hand that a game is bringing actual bags of rice to poor countries. The immediate outcome that users see also makes the game to be such a success.


This picture comes from Wikipedia, but it accurately shows the impact Freerice has had on the donations of rice. Which is a hearty and healthy meal for those who do not have access to a lot of food.

Gamification at its Finest

According to “Can’t Play, Won’t Play”, the idea of gamification is simply just pointification and the rewards are devalued in the long run since they are not compelling. I believe that Freerice breaks free from this mold of just earning points.

Many companies use gamification for the benefit of themselves, but Freerice is simply benefitting others. The user doesn’t have to pay to use their service, because the website’s costs are all covered by the WFP and their donations they receive. This means that playing this game is all for the good of others.

The reward of playing Freerice will never die out or lose its significance because people always leave the game feeling better about themselves. It is not a tedious activity, or something you have to sign up for, it simply allows people to practice and learn in different subjects while helping others.

Raph Koster’s “A Theory of Fun for Game Design” says, “That’s what games are in the end. Teachers.”

As we have talked about in class, playing games teaches us many things! We learn how to accept defeat, help others, play as a team, motor skills, etc. Freerice fits right into the category of teaching because it pretty much is like an online classroom that you take at your own pace. Freerice might be based off of a point system and levels, but they transfer into grains of rice for donation and that definitely does not make this game bullshit.


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