Urgent Evoke

A crash course in changing the world.

A new "alternate reality game" will allow players to make a difference in the real world and in their personal life.

Urgent Evoke is a alternate-reality game created by game designer Jane McGonigal that launches March 3. It is a game designed to cause real social action in exchange for in-game benefits, with the top players being granted mentorships, internships, start-up money and scholarships. The game is designed specifically to empower people living in Africa (though anyone is allowed to play), where innovation and entrepreneurial action is trailing when compared to Western countries.

The game, which is funded by World Bank, will last for 10 weeks. Every Wednesday, a new challenge is presented within the in-game universe such as a water shortage or famine, and a message is sent out to players who do things in real life to help solve these issues. Proof of the completion of these tasks is posted by players in the form of pictures, videos, or blog entries that are then reviewed and graded by the community and awarded points based on their performance. The narrative uses a graphic novel style and follows an in-game character tracking these problems and sending out messages in order to help them be resolved. In real life, this translates to social action by players for the benefit of their community.

So why a game? McGonigal posits gamers are the most equipped to deal with the issues confronting the world, because gamers are trained to believe that they can win. She hopes people will take the enthusiasm people show for games and translate them to doing good in the real world.

Opponents of the idea, however, say games aren't the answer. Kimberly Young, the founder of the Center for Internet Addiction Recovery and a psychology PhD said online games are an addictive force in our society and skills developed in online games hedge out the development of real-world skills. Others note Africa has the lowest level of internet access, which prevents the target audience from taking part. Indeed, only 400 of the 3,500 who have signed up for the game live in Africa, but McGonigal says this is mitigated by the fact that a cell phone is all that is required to access the game's content.

Despite of criticism, McGonigal feels this game can succeed. Her first gaming venture, World Without Oil challenged players to re-imagine their lives without fossil fuel. Though she did not conduct scientific focus groups with World Without Oil she reported positive feedback from a number of players who had changed their energy consumption as a result. Should this game prove successful, World Bank is looking to sponsor Arabic versions, and later sequels in Africa. With the infrastructure of online gaming available, McGonigal shows the potential to reach a large number of people. While the "game" component is more focused on real-world action,her belief in gamers is strong, so we can only hope gamers will rise to the challenge and prove her right.

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