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Farmville-Like Game Builds Virtual Rockaways But Provides Real Sandy Relief

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A new Farmville-like website provides a creative new way to help victims of Hurricane Sandy still reeling more than six months since the disaster. NY1's Technology reporter Adam Balkin filed the following report.

What seems like a video game is more of a cool new way to donate money to help Hurricane Sandy victims. RepairTheRockaways.org was created by the Hell's Kitchen-based ad agency Mother, after employees felt the need to do more to help the Rockaways, a section of Queens still reeling from the disaster.

"We took care of the employees affected and then realized we wanted to get more involved and that started with raising money, started with donating time and then we realized that our greatest resource was actually our creativity," says Heather Huestis, a producer for Mother NY.

That creativity quickly led to developing a Sims-like, Farmville-type experience where users donate real money to rebuild a virtual Rockaways, while helping to rebuild the actual Rockaways.

"The minimum donation is $10 and 400 bricks build a house. And once you buy bricks, you get to choose a plot of land you get to drag your bricks in and watch them animate, after which you get a badge based on the amount you donated and that is shareable on Facebook," says Ernie Klein, a digital producer for Mother NY.

The money donated goes straight to Respond And Rebuild, a nonprofit helping with the rebuilding effort.

There are also virtual people scattered throughout the virtual Rockaways that users can click on in order to get a closer connection to the cause. Each virtual person represents a real person with a real story, told through the website.

"You can text and donate $10, contribute at the end of the checkout line at the grocery store, which is great but a little impersonal," Huestis says. "We felt like if we could give you a story that would stick with you and show you a world that was changing, maybe you'd come back and have, I don't know, a longer attention span to the cause."

Developers say if the entire virtual map at RepairTheRockaways.org gets built, that will equal around $200,000 in donations.

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