The World of GovCraft

Inspired by the excellent Joanne Jacobs at the recent Likeminds event in Exeter to think more about the role of games and game play in solving problems and creating solutions.

I started to think about how Government in general could be seen as a game so that we could not only engage people in the problems and challenges we all face but actually inspire them to be part of the solution and help make changes happen.  In the lunchtime session that Joanne facilitated she spoke very passionately about the role of games and how we all play games all the time but just don’t realise it.

I kind of hit a blank wall as the big picture of Government is pretty boring, but the individual components that make it are actually interesting. So how do you start to get to a level of engagement and participation that inspires the average person on the street to want to get involved.

I then came across this excellent TED video of Game designer Jane McGonigal who spoke about harnessing the power of game mechanics to make a better world. Surely this is the stuff that Government innovators should be thinking about.

In the video she talks about “gamers” and the super powers they have developed and how these super powers can help us solve the worlds problems.

The 4 super powers that gamers have are:

Urgent Optimism – extreme self motivation – a desire to act immediately to tackle an obstacle combined with the belief that we have a reasonable hope of success.
Social Fabric – We like people better when we play games with people – it requires trust that people will play by the same rules, value the same goal – this enables us to create stronger social relationships as a result
Blissful productivity – an average World of Warcraft gamer plays 22 hours a week: We are optimised as humans to work hard and if we could channel that productivity into solving real world problems what could we achieve?
Epic meaning – attached to an awe inspiring mission.

All this creates Super Empowered Hopeful Individuals – People who are individually capable of changing the world – but currently only online /virtual worlds

So what is the chance of Government creating a meaningful game that inspires people to get involved, help change the world around them and contribute positively to the social fabric around them – Hold on a minute, haven’t we got something that is supposed to do this = Democracy? The challenge we have to make engagement and participation more engaging not just to young people but to people in general is to start inviting people into the game and make the game more interesting to start with.

So some observations:

If people have “Urgent Optimism” then what are we doing to tap into that to help solve and tackle obstacles?

if people have a “Social Fabric” what we are we doing to build trust with them and do we play by the same rules and share the same goals?

If people have “Blissful Productivity” then what are we doing to mobilise and optimise the people around us in our communities to work hard at solving real world problems

If people can be inspired around “Epic Meaning” what meaning are we providing in our engagement  and participation offering?

We should recognise that games are powerful in more ways than we can imagine, we need to think hard and fast about how we can develop the right kinds of games to engage people and to involve people in shaping their future and solving common problems

The video is 20 minutes but is well worth watching.


19 thoughts on “The World of GovCraft

  1. Hi Carl, really liked this post – I think gaming is incredibly interesting and needs more serious consideration – and yes was also struck by Joanne’s slot at Likeminds. I wonder however if one of the reasons that we don’t treat democracy in this way is that the element of competition that is a necessary part of gaming is just not accessible to people as they feel politicians – especially with respect to political parties – are just not something they can connect to? Why try and compete for votes when you feel disconnected from the ‘reward’ of being elected? C.

    1. Hi Catherine,

      Thanks for your comments, i’m starting to think that maybe “voting” is the wrong measure. If voting happens only once every 4-5 years, then what do we do in between that keeps the game going and maintains the participation. I think we need to think about this all over again and start to ask ourselves what is a true measure of participation.

      We seem to be judging the possible based on the current situation. Why don’t we ask ourselves what SHOULD the democratic process look like?

      That question is being addressed in your Virtualth project but i feel we need to go further.

  2. Carl,

    Two years ago I assembled young people, police, academic, youth clubs, games funder, games design company to discuss building a “serious game” or two for young people to play in areas where there is not a lot to do.

    The issue then was apathy among the public servants, and a degree of arrogance and “not invented here” syndrome. It has not changed since then. In fact now, with there being even less money to go round, I think it would be possibly even more difficult.

    Government does not innovate. Individuals and small groups do.

    What you and others are now discovering is that the potential for games and gaming to do well for society is great. However what you will also find is that we, society, is probably not really bothered to help government or public servants.

    There is not enough trust or respect. Society has not been treated well by politicians, so we are reluctant to do much for them.

    If I was in your shoes, I would find a number of un-employed Devon college / university graduates, get them paid for by DWP on the Future Jobs Fund for 6 months and then design a game with the aid of local or internet-based talent. If the initiative is led by the Local Authority, it might fly with the police or the schools community of whomever the game involves.

    45% of people gave up on democracy long ago ; at your local level I think it is nearer 70%.

    Do let us know how you get on if you follow the pilot route for a game

    1. Thanks Alex, there is a difficult challenge ahead for government to reconnect with people.

      It is also quite an exciting challenge at the same time, will let you know if we do anything.

  3. I was struck by Alex’s comment “However what you will also find is that we, society, is probably not really bothered to help government or public servants.” I agree, but I propose a solution to those who want to bring elements of fun to governance and other “serious game” projects: to create games where people don’t realize they are helping government or public servants. I don’t mean being deceptive; but rather creating a narrative game space that changes the way participants think about what they are doing. In this way the engagement and participation power of games can be harnessed. The challenge then, and requires some hard thinking, is how to map participation within the game space to the objectives of the sponsor organization. Great post.

    1. Thanks Nathan,

      There is a need for the hard thinking around mapping participation into a wider set of outcomes. To be honest gaming aside we in government need to do that a lot more as we haven’t created a sustainable participation method yet. It is an appears somewhat random an sporadic in nature and the participation isn’t rewarded and theninked into clear outcomes.

      Thanks again for your comment.

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