A crash course in changing the world.
I’ve been thinking about EVOKE, where it’s heading, how things have gone so far etc. I’ve also been thinking about some of the things Jane McGonigal has said and written, about applying game thinking and skills to real world problems. I then started thinking about the reverse, about what EVOKE would look like in terms of more classical computer games. If EVOKE was a fantasy role playing game (RPG), for example, where would we be right now?
Well, in a classic fantasy RPG, your character starts out with very few skills and abilities. You start following the storyline and doing missions and quests where you gain experience points. You choose to develop certain characteristics along the way, often depending on the character archetype (fighter, wizard, rogue etc) you picked before you started. You then do more missions which get progressively harder, but the rewards are greater. You meet others and form a group or alliance to better combat the problems you find. You gain better equipment and experience along the way, and so do the others in your group. The storyline progresses further, with sub plots and side quests, until eventually you have to face the big bad at the end, like a dragon that’s been preying on the local villagers. Is this sounding somewhat familiar so far?
If EVOKE were an RPG, we would currently be lacking some key skills and knowledge, and most importantly, we would be missing a key group member who could really make a difference. We would be heading out into the wilderness to fight the Dragon, but we wouldn’t have a local guide or someone who knows the ways of the wilderness. We might still succeed, but it would likely be through brute force.
In a closed game system, we might just hope for the best and just see what happens, keep on playing and trying over and over until we succeed. We would trust that the game would, one way or another, provide us with the necessary tools and abilities to beat that dragon.
With EVOKE, it’s not a closed game system. If we are to succeed, we need to address the lack of local insight and knowledge. The game may or may not provide us with this – I don’t think we can count on it. The majority of players are from the ‘developed’ world, with loads of enthusiasm, skills and resources. Like highly trained wizards or warriors, we can have a good go at beating that dragon, but what if we don’t know about something really key that the locals know – like how the dragon can only be defeated using a combination of things that we might have, but never think to try together at the same time? And then there’s the really thorny issue – what if another dragon comes back next year? What if it’s something even worse? Are we going to charge in each time to help? It would surely be better to work with the villagers to solve the problem together and leave them well equipped to deal with other issues in the future.
OK, enough of the RPG analogy. If we are going to have a real impact we need to keep on trying to address the ongoing lack of local involvement. There are several general approaches already underway that I’m aware of:
• Try to attract players from Africa and other parts of the world where the problems are actually real and present. Encourage and empower them to help themselves through mentoring and collaboration with others on the EVOKE network. This has had some success, but as far as I can see, it has a fair way to go yet. The recent Treasure Hunt to find hidden gems in blog posts is an attempt to drive this approach forward and will hopefully improve things further. My guess is that there are some fundamental issues here which are preventing greater uptake – e.g. ability to connect, lack of bandwidth, time or money etc etc. Other posts have tried to address this, notably Jen Shaffer’s ‘What happened to the African Players?’
• Try to fill this gap ourselves by learning more, by talking to experts, by getting directly involved where possible. All good, but we’ll still be guessing to a certain extent. This approach is also a bit of a surrogate to cover the shortfall in active players with local insight.
So where next? Well, what other things could we try in addition to those above? Maybe we should focus our considerable talents and resources on this one issue for a few days and see what we come up with? If you’re up for this, then read the ‘brief’ below and get stuck in – post any ideas and include DRAGON in the title, plus a link back to this page in your post somewhere :)
ISSUE: How could we get significantly more engagement and real insight from the people who actually have to deal with the problems EVOKE is targetting?
BACKGROUND: (see the rest of this post above)
SCOPE & CONSTRAINTS: Keep it simple. It must be something which can interface with EVOKE in some way. It could be low tech. It must be quick to implement (days or weeks at the most – EVOKE does not have months). It must be easy to implement. It should be cheap to implement.
OUTPUT: Ideas for how we can address the issue above. Try to make these more than just one-liners. An idea needs to be something someone can actually DO, otherwise it’s just a thought (“I’m hungry” is a thought but “lets order in some pizza from that new place down the road right now” is an idea)
Good luck! :)