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This fantastically retro video game is taking on malnutrition

Child malnutrition is one of the leading causes of death worldwide. A new initiative is using video games to combat it.

This fantastically retro video game is taking on malnutrition
[Screenshot: lifepack.org]
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Malnutrition causes nearly half of all deaths of children under age 5. And as with countless other things, the global pandemic disrupted efforts to bring lifesaving services to children in need.

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In response, the Eleanor Crook Foundation has created a new initiative called LifePack, with social impact agency Hive, which aims to use video games to help end severe malnutrition. The organization created its own, free 8-bit game hosted on its website to raise awareness and donations, but is also hoping to work with the gaming industry to create in-game purchases to benefit the cause.

Every 25 cents raised through LifePack buys one ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF) packet for a child in need. Made with peanut butter and condensed milk, each packet is 500 calories and requires no preparation or refrigeration. According to the ECF, three packets a day for six to eight weeks can bring a child back from the brink of death.

The first developer to sign up is Tilting Point, which will give proceeds from in-game gem packs in SpongeBob: Krusty Cook-Off directly to LifePack.

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[Screenshot: lifepack.org]
LifePack’s own browser game is a Super Mario Bros-style retro game. As players advance through the game, RUTFs act as power-ups. Every time you play, an RUTF is donated to a child in need. The foundation had secured funding for its initial goal of 10,000 plays for 10,000 packets, but it hit that mark within 26 hours. The organization will be announcing more fundraising partnerships in the coming weeks.

Hive cofounder and partner Erin Thornton says that while malnutrition has been a major issue for a long time, people know surprisingly little about it. “Malnutrition is the number one killer of children around the world, and with COVID, it’s become worse,” says Thornton, in an email. “The need was to create a piece of compelling communication that would educate the audience on malnutrition; highlight the lifesaving treatment available; and ultimately begin to unite the gaming industry to provide more of it.”

[Screenshot: lifepack.org]
All of the money raised through LifePack’s video-game partners goes directly to purchase RUTF packets. Action Against Hunger, a global nonprofit aimed at fighting malnutrition, will be distributing RUTFs in eastern African communities.

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There’s something about a retro, Atari-style arcade game that attracts brands like marketing moths to a flame. Back in 2019, Wendy’s made Pong and Space Invaders-style games for Giphy Arcade games, and Microsoft jumped on the Stranger Things bandwagon with a 1985 throwback to Windows 1.0 gaming.

Thornton says the gaming companies they wanted to appeal to are big fans of the vintage aesthetic. “They’re also extremely design-conscious consumers,” says Thornton. “Embracing the 8-bit look provided a design hook that we could integrate into the other design elements of the LifePack brand. And it also suited our needs to create a game in a very short timeline that was simple, challenging, and works seamlessly across desktop, laptop, and mobile.”

Smart brands have long embraced the notion that marketing content needs to be something an audience can actually use or enjoy, not just an interruption. Emotional PSAs can tug the heartstrings, but risk causing people’s eyes to glaze over. Here, LifePack is taking a more active and entertaining path, giving us a chance to not only play a fun game, but do it for a good cause.

About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity.

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