"A lark, a spree, it’s very clear to see"... that gamification can help you provide social and global benefit
“In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun”, opined that noted mind-gamer and organisational theorist, Walt Disney’s Mary Poppins (here in full flow):
You find the fun and - snap! - the job’s a game!
And every task you undertake, becomes a piece of cake
A lark, a spree, it’s very clear to see…
You could say that this was the founding statement of what came to be known, a few years ago, as gamification. This was an attempt to respect the passions and commitments that computer gamers brought to playing their platforms and titles, but redeploy them in the direction of work, health, community.
Often it was criticised as actually “points-ification” - as if the introduction of competitive team dynamics, victory-boards and all the rest would really improve people’s productivity or creativity.
It missed the core element of freedom in all gameplay - you’re freely choosing to subject yourself to the rules and conditions of this gameworld. So therefore, nothing worse than for it to be imposed at your workplace.
But with all our current urgencies - climate breakdown, the transformation of work through automation - we shouldn’t leave any behaviour-change stone unturned.
So let’s see how “gamifying” or “playifying” a situation, where toxic behaviour needs urgently changing, might be currently working.
Seesaws across the American border, uniting children and families on either side
Nine miles northwest of El Paso, a stretch of 18-foot-tall slats form the border wall between the United States and Mexico. In the last year alone, the site—located in Sunland Park, New Mexico—is where a group of armed vigilantes detained roughly 300 migrants, a crowdsourced wall went up on private land, and where a group of Trump supporters formed a human chain while chanting “build the wall.”
But in between each of the upright steel posts lie small gaps—just a few inches apart—where beautiful things have happened, too. Through those slats you can see children in Puerto de Anapra, Mexico, playing together. Families reunite there, and on Sunday, three pepto-bismol pink seesaws snugly fit into the wall allowed strangers on either side of the U.S.-Mexico border to come together.
The temporary art piece was the brainchild of California-based architects Virginia San Fratello and Ronald Rael (who helped design Prada Marfa). They originally dreamed it up 10 years ago, in response to the passage of the Secure Fence Act of 2006.
The duo then began a project that imagined different ways to subvert the meaning of a border wall and its implications. If the border wall acted as a stomping ground for political theater, for instance, then they might put up a screen on both sides and invite an audience to watch. If the wall was being used as an instrument of division, then they would turn it into a xylophone that could be played.
When they decided to approach the project again in January of this year, they decided that their 2009 idea (aptly named the “Teeter-totter Wall,”) would be the easiest to pull off. To make it happen, they collaborated with the architectural group Colectivo Chopeke and steelworkers in Ciudad Juárez to build the materials. When the team drove out to Sunland Park this past weekend, they didn’t ask permission, nor did they tell any news outlets. They just did it.
Toss your plastic bottle in the slot - tap your phone - get credits for public transport - easy!
It seems like an obvious transactional offer. But as you’ll see from the video tweet on the left, the way this physically works is pretty playful - people toss and aim the bottles at the collection point, as they hurry through the city. More on this deal globally, from the World Economic Forum website:
Rome is just the latest city to offer travel credits for recycling plastic bottles. A similar scheme was launched in Beijing in 2014, and in Istanbul plastic bottles can help pay for both tram and subway trips.
In the Indonesian city of Surabaya, buses accept plastic cups and bottles as payment for journeys. A two-hour bus ride costs 10 plastic cups, or five plastic bottles.
In the UK and Germany, supermarkets have installed “reverse vending machines” that issue vouchers for every plastic bottle deposited. Rewards range from £0.05 to loyalty points redeemable at the checkout.
Last year, the UK city of Leeds launched a scheme in which drivers could pay car park charges with plastic bottles. Each bottle was worth £0.20, so anyone who could fit enough bottles into their car could pay for a whole day’s parking with plastic.
And in Pamohi, in the Indian state of Assam, the Akshar Foundation School is tackling the problem by asking parents to pay their children’s school fees with plastic waste.
Globally, we buy 1 million plastic bottles every minute, according to the organizers of World Earth Day. Discarded bottles make up just part of the 275 million tonnes of plastic waste generated worldwide each year.
In a report examining the plastic packaging industry, the World Economic Forum noted that 8 million tonnes of plastic enter the oceans every year, while warning the material could take up to 500 years to degrade.
Play “casual” games that refine your capacity for global activism
It may not come through the multi-million dollar “console” video games like Red Dead Rebellion or Grand Theft Auto - but in the “casual” games sector, much cheaper and quicker to develop, activism and civic themes are increasingly being pursued.
Some of these are simply directly engaging and addictive, bringing automatic benefit. For example, take the UN’s FreeRice game (old and better version here) - where you answer enjoyable word-definition games, setting your own level, thus triggering a rice donation from the site’s sponsors. Their FAQs provides an interesting justification for gamifying this process:
Many people have asked us why it’s necessary or fair to ask people to play a game in order to help people in need. Why can’t the sponsors just donate the money in advance?
Freerice doesn’t work this way. There is no pre-existing “pile of rice” or money that can be paid out in advance. The funds are only generated when a correct answer generates a payment from a sponsor, who shows an advertisement on your screen.
We could, in theory, ask our players to just look at these sponsor messages, unattached to any sort of game. But answering questions and challenging yourself is more motivating than just re-loading a page over and over. Without the game itself, our users would have no reason to return to the site.
If you have fun with the game, and get smarter by playing it, you are more likely to answer more questions, see more messages, and generate more payments to WFP.
See also some of the games on Games With Purpose’s social impact category - like:
Fort McMoney - “a point and click adventure that puts you into the heart of the moral dilemma that is the Canadian oil business”
Fraxinus - “a Facebook game that uses the ash tree’s real genetic data, and challenges the player to manipulate patterns to match sequences. The game capitalises on human’s capacity for pattern recognition and gives scientists a helping hand sorting the genome of the Ash tree in pursuit of a cure for the disease” (it’s being attacked by a serious disease leaving some of the country’s few remaining ancient woodlands in serious danger)
Quandary - “a space travel themed game about diplomacy and ethical decision making. As the leader of a new human colony, the player must make decisions to which there is no clear right or wrong answer. Citizen dialogues, opinions, and facts are offered as tools to help the process.”
There’s many, many more… see here at Games with Purpose. And below, to conclude, Mary Poppins in full gamification armour: