Surely the manufacturers of Tamagotchi, the ultra-popular Japanese handheld digital pet from the 1990s, never anticipated that their idea would be appropriated by Greenpeace for an anti-genetically modified food campaign. Yet that’s exactly what has happened in China, where Greenpeace and Mobile Now have teamed up to create NoGeMo—an iPhone app featuring an insatiable (and cute) monster named NoGeMo that needs to be fed non-GMO foods, lest he get upset.
The educational app has two components: the NoGeMo game and a vast repository of information on which brands in the Chinese market use GMO ingredients. There are over 400 brands—from alcohol to baby food—and 20 supermarkets listed, all compiled based on testing from Greenpeace.
"GMO food in China is quite a big issue and has been for a number of years," says Liam Winston, managing partner of Mobile Now. "Greenpeace has been successful in persuading supermarkets to not carry GMO products." GMO foods are often opposed based on health, ethical, and ecological concerns.
The NoGeMo monster portion of the app tests users’ awareness of GMO foods in their everyday life. Each day, the monster needs to be fed from a dinner table containing six brands. If a player chooses a brand containing GMO ingredients, the monster gets visibly unhappy. If he is fed GMO-free foods, he becomes pleased and grows in size. It’s a simple game, but one that subtly teaches players how to intelligently navigate the supermarket.
NoGeMo has had 1,000 to 2,000 people playing each day since it launched in mid-December, but don’t expect the Tamagotchi-inspired Chinese-language app to be translated into English anytime soon. "Purely from a game mechanic perspective, it’s a little Chinese. Within China, a lot of things Japanese go down quite well," says Winston.
But utilitarian apps with game components increasingly go down well everywhere. NoGeMo may be relegated to China, but country-specific spinoffs may not be far behind.