10/23/2012 07:29 pm ET Updated Dec 23, 2012

The Hunger Games: How Online Gaming Can Help Animals in Need

Everyone who has ever been told to spend less time playing games online is about to be vindicated -- it turns out, you can make the world a better place with just a few clicks of the mouse.

Recently, a crop of free online games has emerged that links players with charitable causes, and transforms virtual wins into real-world rewards for those in need. The money donated comes from advertisers; site owners simply direct a portion or all of their ad revenue to charitable causes rather than their bank accounts.

It's a win-win for charities during the recession, when donors are cutting back on both the size and frequency of gifts, and a win-win for those who want to help their favorite causes but can't part with the cash. And the sites aren't limited to helping human causes -- pet-lovers can get in on the fun, too, helping to feed and care for animals in the process.

The newest of these do-gooder games for pet people is called Joy Kingdom, a virtual realm where players work with magical animals to revive a struggling ecosystem and earn rewards for real-life projects at organizations like The HSUS, Best Friends Animal Society, Farm Sanctuary and the World Wildlife Federation. Backed by outstanding animal advocate Ellen DeGeneres and boasting the tagline, "You Play. Animals Win," Joy Kingdom lets gamers help companion animals and wildlife alike, just by caring for their kingdom and "sharing joy." As an added bonus, when you play the game for 5 days in a row, Joy Kingdom will donate a bowl of food to an animal shelter in your home state!

Another game that helps care for animals in need is the Purina ONE Bowl by Bowl game, which quizzes players on various topics related to shelter pets. After completing the short quiz, Purina ONE donates a bowl of food to that month's beneficiary. Each month, the game supports a different humane organization. To date, the game has generated 296,893 donated bowls of food for hungry shelter pets! In addition to helping to feed pets in need, the game seeks to change the negative perceptions of rescued pets and the shelters that care for them.

In 2008, 11-year-old Mimi Ausland wanted to help feed homeless dogs and cats at her local shelter. Her idea grew into a website,, and eventually a national effort that now, just four years later, has helped provide more than seven million meals to homeless pets across the country. and offer daily pet trivia contests that let site visitors donate 10 pieces of kibble to animal shelters daily, just for playing. So, win or lose, shelter pets win. There's even an iPhone app!

Finally, for those to whom online shopping is a sport, The Animal Rescue Site lets you get into the game in two different ways. Each click on the purple "Click Here to Give -- it's FREE" button on the homepage provides food and care for a rescued animal living in a shelter or sanctuary. Their online store -- which features everything from fashion to home décor to car accessories -- dedicates proceeds to the same causes. According to the site, visitor clicks funded the value of 68 million bowls of food for animals in sanctuaries last year, and purchases at The Animal Rescue Site store funded the value of an additional 11.9 million bowls of food.

Our pets remind us every day to take a little time for fun, and now thanks to this new breed of online games, our play can be powerful. Try your hand at sharing joy or "katching" kibble, and you can feel good knowing you're helping to feed our furry friends all over the globe -- and in your own backyard. It's easy, it's fun, and it can make a world of difference for an animal in need!